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As with other industrial-business pursuits, a well-trained workforce is essential to safety and reliability performance. Process plants and utilities can reverse unfavorable trends in those areas by paying attention to training topics that limit exposure to philosophies. Good training will emphasize the tangible details to which operators and mechanical-workforce members will be able to respond.

In virtually every process plant today, we find operating, maintenance, and reliability/technical job functions. The most profitable of these facilities have managed to train their personnel. They also have implemented organizational and other procedural routines that ensure the three job functions practice/engage in cooperation, communication, and mutual consideration on a daily basis. (I know that I had first written about this matter in 1974, fully 47 years ago.)

Just as the most well-designed, best-maintained car will fail in the hands of a thoughtless or inexperienced driver, the best-designed, most reliable of machines will not perform optimally if the operator lacks training, motivation, or understanding. Skilled drivers accept the responsibility of viewing the dashboard instruments of a modern vehicle. Similarly, the operator in a modern process plant must accept equipment surveillance as his or her prime responsibility.

The purpose of surveillance is to spot deviations from normal operation. These deviations are then reported to maintenance or reliability personnel who must determine their significance and both schedule and implement necessary remedial action.  To this day, the worst operating refinery in the United States likely experiences twice the yearly failure incidents per 100 process pumps as does the best-performing competitor.  A good training program can pinpoint the many small, and generally overlooked reasons for drastically different reliability performance of essentially identical pumps.

To that end, though, some frequently misunderstood aspects of operator care and associated training should be addressed.

Clearing Up Misunderstandings Involving “Best Practice” Surveillance
Each best practice has its place, but a pacesetter “best practices” plant will carefully select and explain when, where, and why electronic, or console surveillance makes economic sense, and where only the operator’s eyes and ears will do the best job. Refineries and other plants would benefit from explaining to their operators:

    • Conditions that could cause bearings to be deprived of lubrication, even
      though constant-level lubricators are full of oil.
    • Operating conditions where plenty of cooling water is applied, but bearings
      fail more often than in pumps where no water cooling is used.
    • Situations where compressor-suction drums are free of liquid, but liquid is
      found in the compressor and causes serious damage.
    • Unacceptable flow conditions that will drastically reduce pump life.
    • Pump switch-over and warm-up issues that have reliability impact.

And while the aforementioned issues can often be remedied by informed operators, other misunderstandings are best addressed by informed engineers and managers.

Clearing Up Misunderstandings Involving Engineering and Specifications
Plants that subscribe to the logical premise that operations, maintenance, and technical groups must cooperate will encourage their engineers to participate in operator training sessions. At one successful training location, engineers and maintenance technicians benefited from the functionally overlapping learning experiences. They were appraised of (and learned) why and how:

    • Vented bearing housings are being phased out.
    • Lubrication by oil rings often has serious shortcomings.
    • The reason oil-mist is so successful at some locations and seemingly deemed
      of little value elsewhere.
    • Mechanical modifications that can extend bearing life.
    • In certain easily definable pumping services mechanical seals do not require
      external flush fluids.
    • A situation where catastrophic failure and loss of life occurred because there
      was an excess of water in the lube oil.

The bottom-line question should always be this: Do the operators know this? If not, why not?TRR

Editor’s Note: Click Here To Download A Newly Updated List Of Heinz Bloch’s 24 Books

Heinz Bloch’s long professional career included assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. A recognized subject-matter-expert on plant equipment and failure avoidance, he is the author of numerous books and articles, and continues to present at technical conferences around the world. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and is an ASME Life Fellow. These days, he’s based near Houston, TX. Email him at heinzpbloch@gmail.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, training, professional development, workforce issues