Plant Management 101: Common Work Processes

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Tags: Asset Performance Management Data Collection Data Validation Mechanical Integrity Process Safety Management Reliability Risk Management Training Work Process


This article deals with the dysfunctionality found in many refineries, chemical plants, and other production facilities. This can lead a facility to not reaching its value and reliability goals. One of the main reasons for this dysfunctionality is facility departments not using a common asset management work process.

Plant Management 101: Common Work Processes

Have you ever worked in a plant where no one talked to each other, especially from a departmental point of view? Why is that? One reason could be that as refineries, chemical plants, and other manufacturing facilities evolved their departmental work processes were created separately. We have all heard the saying, "let the experts do it" and that is what we did with the various departmental work processes. It was perfectly logical, we thought, that the head of the Engineering Department should create his own work process just like the heads of the:

  • Reliability Department
  • Maintenance Department
  • Production/Operations Department
  • Environmental, Health and Safety Department

The work processes we are talking about here are in regard to asset management. Why are we focused on asset management? Simple, correctly managing our assets are how we maximize value to us and the organization. Let's face it, the bottom line is that corporations are in business to make a profit as safely, environmentally friendly, and reliably as possible. As a corporation, we don't want to injure our employees, we don't want to cause environmental damage, but we want to produce a profitable product so that the company can remain a viable entity; meaning we all still have jobs.

So which asset types belong with each department? This can be a difficult question to answer. Very often, equipment types have become the responsibility of different departments at different times. What asset types are we talking about? Here is a high level list:

  • Fixed equipment including pressure vessels, piping, and tanks.
  • Rotating equipment including pumps, compressors, blowers, etc.
  • Instruments and controls including temperature gauges, temperature switches, pressure gauges, pressure switches, vibration switches, valve actuators, VFDs, etc. as well as the PLC's and/or DCS's that control them.
  • Electrical equipment including substations, motor control centers, etc.
  • Process safety equipment including relief valves, rupture discs, vacuum vents, flame arrestors, etc.

Regardless of which Department they are assigned to, each one per the example above, has its own work process. This may work very efficiently inside the department, but it doesn't work so well when trying to manage all of the asset types as a whole to achieve a common goal. The point I'm making, is that with siloed departments, with their own work processes, and the lack of communication between those departments, barriers to achieving optimum asset value have been created.

Here at Asset Optimization Consultants (AOC) we see the world in terms of three things:

  • People
  • Process
  • Technology

These three things have to work together in harmony to efficiently achieve any goal by any team. All three are important but it all begins with process. The term process here is defined as the work process being used to achieve the team's goal. Without having a common work process, we cannot buy or create a technology to facilitate it, and we can't train our people to carry it out. This common work process has to have targets to measure achievement and those targets must be understood by all plant personnel in every department. Therefore, let's re-calibrate our brains to think of a work process that can facilitate the achievement of those targets for a group of assets spanning the list above. This can be difficult to achieve because each of us thinks that our specialty is necessary and may be more critical than others.

Putting aside how to psychologically achieve this, let's look at a work process that most people will recognize and is common to the list of assets above. Due to the amount of detail on it, it follows on the next page.

Fig. 1 - Simple Asset Management Process

This work process is pretty simple. It really has about seven (7) steps:

  1. Equipment Identification
  2. Data Collection
  3. Damage Mechanism/Failure Mode Assignment
  4. Resource Prioritization
  5. Task Planning
  6. Perform Tasks
  7. Analyze Task Results

The realization is that these steps work for any and I repeat any equipment type. I won't go into the definitions of each of these steps since those of us who have worked in refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities already have common definitions for these and subsequent articles will deal with each individually. Once the owner/user has a common work process like this, then providing maximum asset value becomes possible. This means that pumps, valve actuators, pressure indicators, pressure relief devices, pressure vessels, etc. all go through this same work process in whichever department owns them.

I can hear facility managers and department heads all over the world groaning at this example. As a consultant when I have talked to facility management leadership teams, the response is that their requirements are too unique to blend with the other departments. This is obviously not true because most of them are running asset management software like SAP, Oracle, etc. They will also tell me that they have already implemented one of these software packages. My question, is did you define a common work process before you implemented the software packages or technology? We at AOC believe that the technology has to support and conform to the work process and that the people must be trained to it. Software is a technology, not a work process, and without the process it's useless or at least it's very inefficient.

So how do we get out of this mess we've created? Facility and company leadership teams need to do the following:

  1. Review and consolidate the various work processes for asset management that they have and come up with a common high level product with objectives and targets.
  2. Create screening criteria for all equipment types that should be managed through the process.
  3. Flowchart this high level common work process; including any details pertinent to its understanding.
  4. Create a list of requirements for any asset management software being used to facilitate the common work process.
  5. Compare this list to the technology being used to manage the assets.
  6. Revise the technology to fit the work process.
  7. Document in detail the accepted common work process along with its targets and goals.
  8. Train the people involved in executing the work process to it using the technology.

Steps 1 through 4 above are the hard work that should have been done prior to the consideration of any asset management software. Step 5 should be used to compare any asset management software while steps 6 through 8 should be used to facilitate the implementation or revision of the software. The good news is that starting this process even with software already implemented can be done. All it takes is starting at step 1.

I will look at each of the work process steps in subsequent articles. Let's continue the conversation! I am interested in your feedback. Please comment below or contact me directly to start the conversation.


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