Archive | Maintenance

15

6:29 pm
April 25, 2017
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White Paper | Making Machines Smarter Through Machine Learning

1704iicwpA new white paper from the Industrial Internet Consortium (www.iiconsortium.org) , titled, “Making Factories Smarter Through Machine Learning,” offers a great read on how machine learning can allow for better edge analytics, reduce data streams and promote better data fidelity.

A passage from the White Paper below:

The other capability provided by the software is the ability to read complex sensors and perform pre-processing in terms of data reduction: For example, vibration is sampled at least two times the vibration frequency. In this case, a fast Fourier transform is performed and only the frequency of interest is stored. This is an area where there is high opportunity for more efficient processing – effectively using machine learning for pre-processing and feature selection.

Therefore, it (SoC) can sample each variable with smart criterions: For example, temperature may not be measured with the same frequency of vibration

The white paper provides a real roadmap solution on how to move from preventive, SoC machine learning and simple industrial networking solutions to make this happen. The link to the white paper can be found here.

Download the White Paper >>

Industrial Internet Consortium
http://www.iiconsortium.org/

1601Iot_logoFor more IIoT coverage in maintenance and operations, click here! 

34

4:23 pm
April 25, 2017
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Vibration Machine Learning from the Industrial Internet Consortium

machine learning architecture for CNC machines

Figure 1: The elements and the connectivity being utilized to develop and provide updates to the production system.

Some industry analysts aren’t happy with overused buzzwords like “machine learning” or even “deep machine learning” taking the place of “IIoT” in the hype category. I agree these new buzzwords are ubiquitous in many media corners and deep machine learning is mostly found in R&D.

However, a white paper or deep dive is a great way to see what is possible for predictive analytics in the field or factory. A new white paper from the Industrial Internet Consortium, titled, “Making Factories Smarter Through Machine Learning,” offers a great read on how machine learning can allow for better edge analytics, reduce data streams and promote better data fidelity.

The white paper examines the ability of CNC machines to reduce data streams via machine learning with the use of the Plethora IIoT platform and system-on-chip engineering (SoC). The SoC technology allows for customized software to create application-specific requirements, such as data filtering unneeded data from machines.

A passage from the White Paper below:

The other capability provided by the software is the ability to read complex sensors and perform pre-processing in terms of data reduction: For example, vibration is sampled at least two times the vibration frequency. In this case, a fast Fourier transform is performed and only the frequency of interest is stored. This is an area where there is high opportunity for more efficient processing – effectively using machine learning for pre-processing and feature selection.

Therefore, it (SoC) can sample each variable with smart criterions: For example, temperature may not be measured with the same frequency of vibration

The white paper provides a real roadmap solution on how to move from preventive, SoC machine learning and simple industrial networking solutions to make this happen. The link to the white paper can be found here.

1601Iot_logoFor more IIoT coverage in maintenance and operations, click here! 

46

2:55 pm
April 18, 2017
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On The Floor: Management Rapport? Thumbs Up and Down

Mechanical and electrical plant roomsBy Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

For some reason, the following question about management rapport really kicked MT Reader Panelists into high gear this month. Lots of them (more than usual) wanted to express their opinions (some in far more detail than they typically provide). The result is that we can’t include all responses on these two pages. (You’ll want to check out a greatly expanded online version at maintenancetechnology.com.)

Q: What was the state of rapport between their sites’ plant-floor reliability and/or maintenance teams (or their clients’/customers’ teams) and upper management, and why?

Here are a few of the responses we received. As usual, they’ve been edited for clarity and brevity.

Industry Consultant, West…
Management rapport [with maintenance and reliability teams] is one of the main indicators I use when working at a new [client] site. If there’s tension between these departments, there will be communication breakdowns—virtually every time.  Performance will suffer greatly, and each group will blame the others.

In general, I find a good, strong, open, and honest working relationship in less than 30% of my clients’ operations.  If I can resolve issues between the groups, and improve relationships, the parts of the maintenance and reliability puzzle fall into place rather easily. In the age of e-mail, texting, and voicemail, however, it’s much easier for silos to exist and not handle issues face-to-face.  In my opinion, it seems to be getting easier to let site relationships erode rather than repair them.

Maintenance Technician, Discrete Mfg, North America…
Not the greatest here (always a struggle because upper management is constantly looking to cut corners). They call it risk management, yet when something goes wrong, they panic. Some of our older equipment has been paid for many times over. Now, though, we’re into a stage where it’s hard to get parts for this equipment. We [our team] really tries to stress the importance of preventive maintenance (PMs) and taking care of things, as in “if you take care of your stuff, your stuff will take care of you.” But it becomes frustrating when that idea seems to fall on deaf ears and they [management] seem to dodge another bullet. (This opinion is based on personal experience; I’ve been working in this plant for many years.)

Industry Supplier, Southeast…
With regard to my customers, management rapport, in most cases, is still not very good. I work with a lot of plants where plant-floor staff need help, but must get upper management to buy in. Most preventive-maintenance (PM) personnel don’t have the knowledge to make their case. When I’m able to meet with both sides at the table and pitch ROI (return on investment), it seems that they begin to understand each other better, i.e., that the ROI for Management is dollars and the ROI of PM teams is reduced failures and workload.

Reliability Specialist, Power Sector, Midwest…
Our team has an excellent rapport with all levels of the organization.  The secret to good rapport is to not only talk the talk, but to walk the talk. The site’s PdM/PM program mission is to use our knowledge and appropriate technologies on the facility’s assets to provide the operating group safe, efficient, and reliable equipment.  In the same manner, we are to use our knowledge and available technologies to safely and effectively reduce the facility’s operating and maintenance costs.

Industry Supplier, Midwest…
It’s ugly (management rapport, that is)! Many of my plant-floor customers have lost budgets and been reduced to performing reactive work, as opposed to proactive maintenance. They’re dealing with plants that are already in bad shape and disrepair, and answering to management that still wants to run full production. They have no inventories, no spares, and no orders for items with extremely long lead times. It’s not a pretty picture. One ray of hope [a slight improvement] is that site management is now being forced to go to corporate for monies and also discuss why equipment was allowed to go so long without repair. The overall situation, though, leads to pain and agony for those having to do work, that, if it had been done when needed, would have been a simple fix, not a catastrophic fix.  

Industry Consultant, North America…
There’s no guarantee that upper management has a solid understanding of reliability excellence. This is especially true if no executive-level stakeholder exists. Quite often, the focus from the top is solely on cost management (not on failure prevention or defect elimination.) In my experience as a consultant, a common complaint at the working level has focused on incoherent, ongoing initiatives that aren’t solidly linked to goals. This issue could be resolved if long-range plans were created based, say, on ranking of each initiative by priority and benefit and then stretching them out over a period of time. Leadership should encourage these types of plans for excellence, and involve plant personnel in their definition.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…
As noted in some of my past Reader Panel responses, maintenance used to be the redheaded stepchild at our facility. The problem started with the fact that plant managers and senior managers seemed to come and go [change] frequently. Because of this, “flavor of the month” programs were the norm. This changed with the arrival of an outside consulting firm. When upper management listened to suggestions and our plant-floor personnel saw that their ideas were listened to, maintenance took ownership. This made a big difference with proactive versus reactive work. We’re now getting our preventive maintenance work done as well. Things are looking good.

Reliability Engineering Leader, Process Mfg, South…
If I had been asked this question a couple of years ago, I would have characterized the relationship between management and plant-floor teams as indifferent. It wasn’t adversarial, but more a matter of management viewing maintenance as a necessary evil than a competitive advantage.  That has changed significantly. Last year, leadership announced PM Completion Rate (with a target of 95%) as one of the top metrics for the company. That was a real game changer. Suddenly, everybody was interested in preventive maintenance—it had become part of their personal-performance expectations. Respect for the importance of scheduled maintenance compliance made a dramatic shift, and we exceeded our PM-completion target.  This coming year, unscheduled asset downtime is being added to the top company metrics and will be reviewed on a monthly basis by executive management. This is a clear example of how leadership from the top can really drive change. 

Industry Consultant, International
In answer to your question, this situation [management rapport problems] is brought on by local company politics, lack of training, and basic mismanagement among, other things.

While I’ve worked with various clients, including some where severe adversarial relationships existed between Maintenance and Production/ Upper Management, by coaching ALL responsible parties that state of the art reliability and maintenance saves money, increases OEE (overall equipment effectiveness), improves uptime, and increases productivity, etc. I have convinced maintenance and top management that maintenance/reliability is a business partner NOT a “ we break it/you fix it” stepchild.

After training of top-level maintenance, production and sometimes even general management personnel by professionals in reliability and maintenance management, common goals are identified and cooperation is much improved. Accountants watch the bottom line weighing these additional consultant/training costs against expense reductions and production improvements. Results are that teamwork builds and floor-operations to staff-level relationships smooth out.

“Equipment Ownership,” in selected cases, brings hourly production and maintenance crafts together and reinforces the hourly–personnel through management relationship. Although this has, at times raised, the eyebrows of union officers, they usually go along when the benefits to all are obvious.

Yes, I have seen too many operations where maintenance and production departments, which usually have the ear of top management, DO NOT have a smooth relationship. However, with the proper training and education of all concerned, this can usually be much improve to the economic and management benefit of all.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest
With regard to management rapport, for several months, maintenance (trades) forepersons at our institution have had to attend not only new-construction meetings, but even small-project meetings. The idea is that we (Maintenance) can add our concerns before, during, and after projects are completed. The problem with all this is how much time it takes. With so many projects and associated meetings [at our site] and the number of normal maintenance-type meetings we have, we almost always have at least one supervisor sitting in meetings 30 to 40 hours per week. Work for anybody attending these meetings gets pushed back and can delay repairs. It also creates more work for the people not attending.

Another problem we have is that only the person attending the meeting knows what was discussed and/or is coming up. Consequently, that individual has knowledge that other supervisors don’t. The system would work a lot better if one person could attend all the meetings and email a recap of each event so every supervisor would know where each project stands and what’s coming up, whether in his or her area/zone or not.

While most meetings cover such a wide variety of subjects that only 10% to 20% of their agendas can be devoted to individual trades, attendees must listen to everything. It would be better, if you were going to have a one-hour meeting, to break it down into four parts, i.e., plumbing, electrical, mechanical, architectural/structural. This way, a supervisor could attend only the part of the meeting during which his or her area was discussed, not the entire meeting, and, if email recaps were sent out, could still keep up with everything that transpires.

Engineer, Industry Supplier, Southeast
Management’s responsibilities are meeting production deadlines and goals while keeping operating costs to a minimum. The relationship between management and maintenance depends on how management views their maintenance program. Some management personnel look at maintenance as a cost center while others recognize it as a cost savings mechanism or in best case, the profit center. Understanding that maintenance is a part of the cost of the product being created softens the financial burden but also gives management a better perspective regarding the value their maintenance teams bring to the table.

Ours is an equipment-service operation that’s deeply involved in working with our customers to improve their PdM programs. As such we continue to invest a great deal of time educating upper management regarding the benefits of early detection of issues that will lead to premature failures as well as on-going inefficiencies. The more informed management becomes about heading off potential problems, and the tools and preventive measures available, the more they become involved with their maintenance teams. Informed managers will interact with their teams quicker and to a greater extent. Sometimes comparing the benefits of outsourcing major PdM activities is more appealing and acceptable to management personnel as it leaves their operators and technicians time to complete their daily routine assignments.

Maintenance personnel generally understand the need for planned routine maintenance. Their relationship with upper management is greatly improved when their leaders are also informed. Education is the key to improving the relationship between upper management and their maintenance teams as well as a way of improving efficiency and operational success of the facility. MT

Tip of the Month

“Add RED and GREEN colors to the face of standard pressure gauges. This allows anyone who looks at or takes readings on a single gauge (or dozens) to tell right away if a pressure is too low or too high. I’ve worked on equipment and in test labs where this little addition could have saved a lot of time and money, and helped any operator.”

Tipster: Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest (an MT Reader Panelist)

What about you?
Tips and tricks that you use in your work could be value-added news to other reliability and maintenance pros. Let us help you share them. Email your favorites to MTTipster@maintenancetechnology.com. Who knows? You might see your submission(s) highlighted in this space at some point. (Anyone can play. You don’t need to be an
MT Reader Panelist.)

62

7:53 pm
April 13, 2017
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Prevent Cable Failure in Dynamic-Cable Tracks

Paying attention to these details can help you reduce the risk of unexpected and costly downtime.

Paying attention to these details can help you reduce the risk of unexpected and costly downtime.

Cable failure within a dynamic-cable track can lead to costly, yet, in most cases, easily avoided, downtime. David Smith of U.S. Tsubaki Power Transmission LLC (Wheeling, IL) points to several important considerations for maximizing the performance life of cables running through your plant’s power-transmission-equipment systems.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Proper cable selection

Incorrect cable designs are often installed in a dynamic-cable track. Given the high rates of motion and speed under which cable tracks perform, be sure to select and install a cable specifically designed to operate in your particular environment or application.

Proper cable-track sizing

To achieve maximum life from your cables, assure ample amounts of free space within the cable track. At a minimum, cables should have 10% free space around them, with a maximum fill rate within the cable track not to exceed 60%. As the speed and cycle rates of a cable track increase, the cables must have adequate space to operate properly.

It is also imperative for the cable track to have the proper bend radius. Dynamic cables are generally designed to operate with a bend radius that’s greater than 7.5 times the outside diameter of the cable. A tighter radius will reduce the performance life of your cables.

randmStrain relief

Every cable requires effective strain relief as it enters and exits the cable track. This strain relief ensures that proper cable length remains within the track as it cycles back and forth. Insufficient strain relief is one of the most commonly overlooked considerations during cable installation.

Proper strain relief often can be accomplished by simply zip-tying the cables to the strain-relief fingers that have been molded into the cable-track brackets.

Internal vertical dividers

Another often-overlooked consideration involves the use of internal dividers within the cable track. Vertical dividers between the cables ensure that each cable is confined to its proper location and spacing within the track and is unable to cross over or “tangle,” with the other cables. Keeping your cables in proper alignment will help extend their performance.

Cable-carrier material selection

Even with proper strain relief, relative motion between the cables and cable carrier crossbars can result in some scuffing of the cable jackets. By selecting a crossbar design/material that best interacts with the cable jacket material, you can reduce or eliminate that scuffing.

For example, a nylon cable track with aluminum crossbars is much friendlier to the PVC jackets of most electrical cables than a standard glass-fiber nylon cross bar. MT

David Smith is director of sales for the Milwaukee-based KabelSchlepp Division of U.S. Tsubaki Power Transmission LLC. For more information on dynamic-cable tracks and other power-transmission topics, visit ustsubaki.com.

80

7:42 pm
April 13, 2017
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Top Tips For Maintaining Air Compressors

Use these tips to improve air-compressor performance and increase uptime.

Use these tips to improve air-compressor performance and increase uptime.

Air compressors and their output are valuable assets on which countless plants depend for efficient daily operations. Regular attention to and proper management of the health of these critical equipment systems can save time and money in all manufacturing systems.

John Skalka, service manager for Sullair (Chicago) offers several tips for maintaining your site’s air compressors. According to Skalka, following these procedures to help monitor and maintain air-compressor performance can result in reliable equipment and reduced downtime.

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Maintain filters and separators.

Proper maintenance of a compressor’s consumable filters and separator elements will not only help to ensure maximum unit uptime, but also maximize its efficiency and performance.

Air intake and oil-filter maintenance should be conducted every 2,000 hr. Monitor the oil filter for contamination and wear metals, leading indicators that air-end maintenance is required.

Air/oil separator elements should be changed every 8,000 hr., along with compressor fluid. Proper air/oil separator maintenance will ensure oil carryover stays within the manufacturer’s specifications.

Remember that use of OEM service parts and lubricants in compressor maintenance will help ensure optimal equipment performance.

randmSample oil.

Regularly acquiring and analyzing oil samples helps monitor the condition of the compressor lubricant, as well as the unit itself. A robust oil-sampling and monitoring program will alert the user to fluid degradation resulting from increased viscosity, ingestion of chemicals or particulate, and high water content. It can also identify the presence of wear metals, which is a sign of bearing degradation, prior to catastrophic failure.

Oil-condition monitoring makes it possible to change the lubricant only when necessary to maintain peak performance. Samples should be drawn quarterly, during routine service maintenance on a compressor.

Remember to always draw your samples through a clean oil-sample port or from the center of the oil sump. Doing so will ensure that the results are free from particulate contamination.

Keep variable-speed drives clean.

Many of today’s compressors are equipped with a variable-speed drive (VSD) that increases efficiency and reduces energy consumption. While VSDs are electrical components, they are not completely maintenance free.

Most VSDs contain cooling fans and heat sinks that can accumulate dust and dirt during regular operation. Maintenance activities will help them run cooler and prolong their service life.

Eliminate the guesswork.

For plants that are unable to ensure regular compressor maintenance with in-house resources, outside support is available. Check with your local air-compressor sales and service center about plans that allow skilled, factory-trained technicians to routinely service your compressor(s) and related air-system equipment.

Finally, keep in mind that proper maintenance will help you realize years of reliable service from your compressor. MT

Sullair, part of Accudyne Industries (Luxembourg and Dallas, accudyneindustries.com) has been developing and manufacturing air compressors since 1965. For more information, visit sullair.com.

34

7:25 pm
April 13, 2017
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Surge Vessels Address Hydraulic Shock

Properly implemented surge vessels can optimize pump/piping-system performance and address hydraulic shock.

By Frank Knowles Smith III and Steve Mungari, Blacoh Fluid Controls Inc.

Damage to pumps and piping systems from hydraulic shock, also known as water hammer, can often result in catastrophic failure, along with expensive repair and downtime. 

In the world of petrochemical processes, hazardous conditions resulting from pump damage or line breaks can also bring about significant liability concerns, along with very negative publicity. With many plants and facilities currently in operation without protection against hydraulic shock, what can be done from a maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) standpoint to avoid this inevitable problem? 

The issue

Under steady-state conditions, a plant’s pumping system will tend to operate near the nominal working pressure unless there is change of flow velocity. This change is defined as hydraulic shock and immediate mitigation efforts are needed to prevent damage from occurring. 

This fluid acceleration or deceleration can be attributed to several likely causes, with the most common being from either “pump trip,” or sudden valve closure. A pump trip, generated by sudden loss of power to the pump station or by a pump stop without warning, can drop the working pressures near the pump’s discharge side to negative levels and cause possible vapor-pocket collapse.

The sudden valve closure from electrical, hydraulic,  or mechanical failure, or from human action, can result in a dramatic increase in pressure at the inlet side of the closed valve. That pressure increase is experienced as high-velocity (potentially exceeding 4,000 ft./sec.) transient pressure waves that will oscillate throughout the piping network unless the transient wave energy can be suppressed. 

Pipes that shake violently, even occasionally with restrained piping, and with loud banging noises are the ones typically experiencing hydraulic shock. Pumps and motors are also likely to be damaged concurrently as the transient-pressure energy waves travel back through the pump until the check valve slams shut.    

Weak points in the piping network, such as flange connections and pipe elbows, tend to bear the brunt of the pressure wave’s damaging effect and are often the first to break.    

In a single-pump system, several transient-mitigation options are available to address the transient wave’s effects. Some of the most popular are surge vessels, air-release/vacuum valves, pressure-relief valves, surge-anticipator valves, and vacuum breakers. Even with an existing facility or pipeline, space is often readily available to accommodate which specific pieces of mitigation equipment are necessary to solve the problem. However, what does the facility do when the plant is pumping in series?

Case in point

A large oil-industry customer, involved with a chemical-process application, was looking for a way to protect their pumping system infrastructure from damage and repair expenses, along with reducing lost product costs from the breaks. 

For their application, a booster pump (which requires a minimum of 100 psi NPSH (net-positive suction head) is located approximately 10,000 ft. from a high-pressure injection pump. When power is lost at the booster pump’s location, with the high-pressure pump operating, a transient negative-pressure wave is generated. 

This wave causes a sudden pressure drop at the booster pump’s discharge side and travels at approximately 4,000 ft./sec., making contact with the high-pressure pump. In this situation, it’s important to protect the high-pressure pump from cavitation damage and maintain a minimum 100 psi NPSH on the booster pump.

Monitoring and protecting

Should the high-pressure pump trip when the booster pump is running, a high-pressure “up surge” transient pressure wave will be created at the inlet flange of the high-pressure pump. High pressure can also bypass the check valve and cause additional damage.

A properly sized surge vessel, with the sizing calculated through the use of computer surge-analysis software at the high-pressure pump, will accept energy from the pump trip. It will also be able to accept energy (compress vessel gas volume) on a high-pressure pump trip. 

On the high-pressure pump trip, the flow will stop, based on the system demand, and will pump dynamic head. However, there is a concern of reversal of flow back through the high-pressure pump from the up-surge transient wave due to check-valve closing time. 

1704pumpcase01g

Fig. 1: Negative-pressure transient wave. Graph shows a transient negative-pressure wave on a pump’s discharge side that occurs when power is lost to a booster pump. Green shows booster-pump pressure and red shows high-pressure-pump pressure.

A properly sized surge vessel will accept the transient energy, but check-valve closing time will vary,  based on factors such as type of valve and pipe size. With the specific closing time a critical factor to the accuracy of the results from the computer surge analysis, this must be properly entered into the analysis. The results of the analysis can be verified at the time of commissioning using a report from a transient pressure-monitoring system, with the data being read and recorded at a minimum of 100 times/sec.

Fig. 2: Pressure variation without a surge vessel. Fig. 2 shows pressure variation in a system that is not equipped with a surge vessel. Green is the booster-pump pressure and red is high-pressure-pump pressure.

Fig. 2: Pressure variation without a surge vessel. Fig. 2 shows pressure variation in a system that is not equipped with a surge vessel. Green is the booster-pump pressure and red is high-pressure-pump pressure.

When evaluating how to size a surge vessel to deliver energy, or to keep the high-pressure pump’s NPSH correct in time to de-energize, further computer surge analysis is needed. In this example, the graph in Fig. 2 shows the booster pump tripped (pressure shown in green) while the high-pressure-pump suction pressure is shown in red. In monitoring the liquid level and pressure in the high-pressure pump’s suction-stabilizer surge vessel, the high-pressure pump can be successfully de-energized in 15 sec.

Fig. 3: Surge-vessel pressure at booster pump. Figure 3 shows the pressure inside of a surge vessel at the booster pump.

Fig. 3: Surge-vessel pressure at booster pump. Figure 3 shows the pressure inside of a surge vessel at the booster pump.

The pressure drop to the high-pressure pump’s minimum NPSH will keep the pump protected. Figures 3 and 4 show the change in pressure inside the surge vessel placed at the booster pump and at the high-pressure pump.

Fig. 4: Surge-vessel pressure at high-pressure pump. Figure 4 shows the pressure inside of a 106-ft3 surge vessel at a high-pressure pump.

Fig. 4: Surge-vessel pressure at high-pressure pump. Figure 4 shows the pressure inside of a 106-ft3 surge vessel at a high-pressure pump.

By making use of computer surge analysis to correctly assess the conditions with the booster and high-pressure pump conditions, the customer was able to understand how properly sized and placed surge vessels can assure optimize operational performance by confirming proof of design with transient monitoring of pressure and flow.

With the surge vessels properly located, potential damage to the pumps and piping network from hydraulic shock was eliminated. As a result, considerable time and equipment cost savings were realized.RP

Frank Knowles Smith III is executive vice president of the Surge Control team at Blacoh Fluid Controls Inc., Riverside, CA (blacoh.com). He has three decades of academic, design, and application experience. Steve Mungari is the business development manager at Blacoh. He has more than 20 years of process-control experience in the areas of fluid measurement and control technologies.

61

7:11 pm
April 13, 2017
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Pump OEMs Address Oil and Gas Trends

Pump suppliers discuss trends and challenges in the oil and gas industry involving smart technology, competitive delivery, and optimized equipment efficiency.

As the use of vapor-recovery units (VRU) at oilfield storage-tank facilities grows, so does the need to understand that proper skid-assembly installation will help guarantee their reliable performance.

As the use of vapor-recovery units (VRU) at oilfield storage-tank facilities grows, so does the need to understand that proper skid-assembly installation will help guarantee their reliable performance.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

Speed, portability, and reliability are key factors in optimizing production times and the bottom line in the oil and gas industry, according to experts from major pumping technology companies.

Glenn Webb, senior product specialist for Blackmer, Grand Rapids, MI, a leading brand from PSG, (Oakbrook Terrace, IL) said that the most obvious positive manifestation of the ongoing oil and natural gas production boom in the United States can be seen on street corners across the nation. At the end of January 2014, the average price at the pump nationwide for a gallon of gasoline was $3.28. One year later, the price for a gallon of gas had plummeted to $2.04.

Increased production in such prominent shale fields as the Bakken in North Dakota, Eagle Ford in Texas, Niobrara in Colorado, and Marcellus and Utica in New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, has increased the demand for gathering, transport, and terminal systems that can store raw crude oil and natural gas until it can be shipped by truck, train, or pipeline for refinement and consumption With these increased challenges come innovative solutions.

Smart instrumentation

Some companies offer valve and pump products with smart instrumentation to monitor factors such as motor vibration, pump vibration, inlet pressure, outlet or discharge pressure, pipeline temperature, gear-box oil temperature, voltage, amp draw, supply pressure to valve controllers, actuator blow by, and smart-wear monitoring of internal wear components, according to Todd Loudin, president of North American Operations and VP Global Sales for Flowrox Inc., Linthicum, MD.

Loudin said Flowrox has experienced three major challenges for the oil and gas industry:

The price of crude. Many oil producers, especially within shale regions, require a minimum of $30/barrel. But only about 50% of the wells in the Bakken or Permian Basin break even at $30/barrel. The other 50% break even at around $60/barrel. There are some wells that have difficulty breaking even at as high as $100.

Capital investment has been slashed by the industry. Of course, investments will occur that are imperative to continued production, but budgets have been constrained, Loudin said.

A significant reduction in work force. One solution that the oil industry has embraced, according to Loudin, is intelligent instrumentation and monitoring for the production and refining process. “Some of these systems are not ideal and useable to the people doing maintenance or rebuild work,” Loudin stated. “The main variables are typically displayed on a distributed-control system (DCS) with an operator who can provide information on pressure, temperature, flow, and other variables. However, the person in the field does not have easy access to this information. One way we are helping companies in all industries is through our Malibu Smartware. This system creates a 3D visual of the process and process equipment. Key operational information on a given asset can be viewed by an operator or maintenance person on their smart phone, tablet, or PC, wherever they are. They can be standing right in front of the asset and see operating parameters, maintenance videos, drawings, past work history on the asset and even can get confirmation about spare parts in stock for repair.”

This software captures data regardless of where it is stored in the facility or offshore rig and provides it at the device level with only one username and password. To further expand on the use of smart software, it can allow condition monitoring of all kinds of assets, Loudin added. Through predictive analytics, the system learns what a normal condition looks like. When anomalies occur, warnings are sent to maintenance personnel.

These solutions can be cloud based or housed on the owner’s servers or their own secure cloud. The system uses the same encryption as the Internet banking industry.  

Quality manufacturing

Mark Weidmann, vice president sales-Midstream/Downstream O&G at PumpWorks610, a DXPE Company (Houston) said that customers ask him everyday, “Do our pumps, products, and services address cost, quality, efficiency, and reliability issues?” He said the simple answer is “yes,” however, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Weidmann explained that his company is experiencing seven key trends:

Speed of delivery. “The longer you wait for your pump supplier to get back to you with what you requested, the more money you lose,

“Investment in manufacturing efficiencies and getting pump selection information into the hands of customers is vital. The issue that we now face is that demand has outstripped supply. This is especially true in the case of centrifugal pumps engineered for specific applications and specifications.” 

Mergers and acquisitions. “We all see the acquisitions happening in the industry now,” he said. “The big companies get bigger and the lead times for projects are getting smaller and tighter. DXP Rotating Equipment Divisions’ ability to remain nimble and supremely focused on the engineering, manufacturing, testing, and delivery of these highly specialized centrifugal pumps remains key to our core values.”

Price. Material selection has become critical, Weidmann stated. “For example, carbon steel can save money over ductile iron,” he said. “But it’s not just about the quality of the metallurgy, it’s also about intangibles.” Companies who offer in-house engineering and testing, and extended warranties, are getting a competitive edge.

Supply and demand imbalances seem to be tightening. Most outlooks call for supply and demand equilibrium by early 2017.

Moderate demand. Global and U.S. oil demand continues to show moderate but steady growth.

LNG export. More U.S. LNG export capacity is expected to hit the market.

Cost control. Oil companies have learned how to operate in a lower-price environment, returning to a healthier focus on capital and operating cost discipline.

Weidmann said his company tackles these challenges with vertical integration of its manufacturing processes.

Vapor-recovery units

The increase in oilfield activity has also meant a corresponding increase in the amount of vapors that are created and emitted during production, transportation, and storage, according to Webb. To prevent the escape and loss of these vapors—which are saleable assets in addition to being potentially dangerous to the environment—many operators installing vapor-recovery units (VRUs) at their oilfield storage sites.

“The growth in the amount of vapors that are a by-product of oilfield production activities is not going away,” Webb said. “Neither is the attention that regulatory agencies will be paying to the levels of vapors that are emitted into the atmosphere and whether or not they can be harmful. That’s because many oilfield vapors have been classified as hazardous air pollutants or volatile organic compounds by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Basically defined, a VRU is a system composed of a scrubber, compressor, driver, and controls designed to recover vapors that are formed inside completely sealed crude-oil or condensate storage tanks. During the VRU’s operation, the controls detect pressure variations inside the tank and turn the compressor on and off as the interior pressure exceeds or falls below pre-determined settings. When the compressor is running, it passes the vapors through the scrubber, where any liquid is trapped and returned to the tank, while the vapor is recovered and compressed into natural-gas lines.

As the oil and gas industry faces changing demand, low per-barrel prices, large supplies with varying extraction costs, and competition from renewable resources, producers are turning to manufacturers of pumps and related control equipment for increased reliability, efficient performance, and solutions for product handling and storage. Pump manufacturers are delivering, resulting in higher efficiency throughout the oil-and-gas handling process. RP

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc. She specializes in coverage of the industrial processing industries. Please contact her at michelle@navigatecontent.com.

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6:23 pm
April 13, 2017
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Maintenance Efficiency: Understand It To Drive It

Various factors and measurements affect an organization’s ability to improve workforce efficiencies.

Worker of oil and gas refinery

By Al Poling, RAM Analytics LLC

It’s a given: Maintenance is the largest fixed cost in manufacturing. Maintenance-workforce efficiency has a profound effect on that cost and, in turn, overall business performance. Can that efficiency be improved and, if so, how?

The common metric used to measure this efficiency is wrench time. Research on wrench time has revealed maintenance workforce efficiencies ranging from 18% to 74%. In other words, inefficient maintenance operations will spend exponentially more on maintenance labor than the most efficient operations to complete the same amount of work.

To illustrate the significant financial impact of maintenance workforce efficiency, a highly efficient operation with 74% wrench time spends $100 million/yr. on maintenance labor. A highly inefficient maintenance operation would spend more than four times that amount (or more than $400 million annually) to complete the same volume of work. Translation: The inefficient maintenance operation would waste $300 million a year due to inefficiency.

Critical factors

Numerous factors influence effective use of maintenance labor resources. At the top of any list, however, is a well-defined maintenance-work process. This type of process describes, in detail, each step of maintenance work from identification through execution and closure. Despite claims to the contrary, there is effectively only one universally used maintenance workflow. The five major components are identification, planning, scheduling, execution, and closure:

Identification is the timely pinpointing and prioritization of maintenance work. These activities are performed by equipment operators who use a well-defined work-prioritization matrix or by maintenance coordinators who base priorities on business and related needs.

Planning is formal organization of the work to be done, including scope assessment and identification and procurement of the labor and materials required to complete the job.

Scheduling includes setting the optimum time period in which to complete the planned work. It takes into account the overall resources required at the site and attempts to level the resource load to use normally available maintenance resources.

Execution is the actual hands-on work performed by skilled maintenance craft personnel. This includes company personnel and contract maintenance workers.

Closure involves capturing work history, including critical information on failure modes used to facilitate reliability analysis.

Failure to have or follow a well-defined maintenance-work process results in chaos and, therefore, grossly inefficient resource utilization.

Tools and prep

The next factor that influences maintenance-labor efficiency is the availability of tools and materials required to complete the assigned work. Without that availability, work can’t be completed in a timely manner.

Wrench-time studies consistently reveal that traveling for tools and materials is the most common barrier to maintenance-workforce productivity. If highly skilled (and costly) maintenance-craft personnel have to spend time retrieving tools and materials, it will take significantly longer to complete the work, including possibly delaying completion. It’s troubling why so many organizations depend on highly skilled maintenance resources to perform such mundane work (material and tool transport) rather than assigning those tasks to less costly storeroom and/or delivery personnel.

Next in line as a detrimental impact on maintenance-workforce efficiency is the interface with operations. Equipment must be prepared in advance of maintenance work. Examples include equipment decontamination, lockout/tagout, and work permitting. If these types of tasks aren’t performed in a timely manner, wrench time will suffer. Paying highly skilled maintenance workers to stand around while operators perform such work—that should have been done in advance—is absurd. Yet, as wrench-time studies show, this is a common occurrence in today’s plants.

The culture effect

Empirical evidence suggests that particular work environments, or cultures, are more prone to maintenance workforce inefficiency. At the top of this list is an environment in which unreliable equipment reigns. In this type of reactive environment, it is virtually impossible to achieve high levels of maintenance-workforce efficiency. Unplanned failures, by their very nature, don’t facilitate planning and scheduling, leading to extremely inefficient and expensive reactive corrective work. As if this weren’t bad enough, it is invariably the value of lost production and subsequent lost profit that causes the greatest economic harm to the site and business. Sadly, these costs are often overlooked.

The next environment most prone to maintenance workforce inefficiency is one where maintenance labor costs are low. Southeast Asia, for example, experiences severe inefficiencies—often at appalling levels. In those regions, it’s not unusual to find human labor being utilized instead of equipment. For example, you might find large numbers of maintenance workers with shovels doing the work that a single bulldozer could complete in short order. Sometimes, though, this is by design, i.e., to create more jobs to support a growing middle class. Nonetheless, while it’s an expensive way to operate, the costs can be more easily absorbed due to exponentially lower-skilled maintenance-craft wages.

Surprisingly, highly reliable operations represent yet another, although not necessarily obvious, area where maintenance inefficiencies can be found. In such environments, the business is typically enjoying very high profit margins as a result of achieving maximum production with existing assets.

Of course, it’s human nature for people to focus on what’s important and overlook anything that’s deemed less so. Thus, in a highly reliable production environment, as profits rise, maintenance-cost management can take on a lower sense of urgency. In extreme cases, the inherent inefficiency can lead to anywhere from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary maintenance expense. Interestingly, this situation may also occur in less-reliable operations when the market is tight and profits are high. (It’s not uncommon for managers to remove any maintenance cost controls as long as sales demands are satisfied.)

In both of those scenarios, however, maintenance inefficiency will only be tolerated as long as profit objectives are being met. As soon as market conditions change, pressure will once again be applied to maintenance cost and, subsequently, to maintenance-workforce efficiency. The reaction to this often-sudden change can be quite ugly as arbitrary rules with the potential for unintended consequences, e.g., discontinuing proactive maintenance as a way to reduce maintenance labor costs, are put in place.

Effective measuring

In an ideal production environment, skilled maintenance resources are used efficiently and effectively. As the father of statistical process control W. Edwards Deming advised, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

To ensure that maintenance resources are being efficiently and effectively utilized, they must be measured. Although not used extensively today, the early 20th century methodology of maintenance-work sampling provides an effective means to measure wrench time. (Despite exaggerated claims by some that this sampling is akin to Frederick Taylor’s infamous time and motion studies of the late 19th century, it is not.)

Maintenance-work sampling is simply a statistical tool that, when used effectively, can measure maintenance-workforce productivity. Identification and elimination of barriers to productivity can significantly increase the value-added contribution of existing maintenance resources. Work sampling is the process of capturing and analyzing a statistically valid number of random observations to determine the amount of time, on average, that workers spend in various activities throughout their normal workdays. Non-value-added activities are then targeted for reduction and/or elimination using root-cause analysis.

The maintenance-work sampling approach is based on the proven theory that the percentage of observations made of workers doing a particular activity is a reliable measure of the percentage of total time actually spent by the same workers on the activity. The accuracy of this technique is, naturally, dependent upon the number of observations. To achieve a 95% confidence level in the results, approximately 3,000 observations must be made and recorded. While this might seem excessive, a single trained observer can collect that number of observations during a week of single 8- or 10-hr.maintenance work shifts.

Keep in mind that maintenance-work sampling makes it possible to measure utilization of work groups and the overall maintenance workforce. Key opportunities that warrant attention can be isolated and examined. A good example is that of travel time involved in obtaining requisite maintenance tools and materials and delivering them to where they will be used. That time can be accurately measured and a cost assigned simply by taking the number of total hours consumed by the activity and multiplying by the hourly rate.

Additionally, with maintenance-work sampling, unique factors that affect maintenance wrench time can often be identified. For instance, if inadequate means of communication exist between a work group and the supervisor, valuable time can be wasted tracking each other down. Radios or mobile phones, can solve this problem.

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The accompanying charts (Figs. 1 and 2) are based on a real-world case study where work sampling was leveraged to identify and eliminate maintenance-workforce inefficiencies. Figure 1 depicts a decline in non-value-added activities, while Fig. 2 depicts an increase in value-added activities.

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As these charts show, initial measurement of the site’s maintenance-workforce wrench-time revealed a mere 28% value-added work (wrench time). Through the systematic reduction and/or elimination of non-value-added activities over the course of three years, the wrench time rose to 74%. What really matters here, however, is the recovery of the value of time that was being wasted, as shown in Table I. (Efficiency gains can also be measured in terms of full-time-equivalents, as shown in Table II.)

As part of its development and publication of standard reliability and maintenance metrics, the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP, Atlanta, smrp.org) published its work-management metric, 5.6.1 Wrench Time, in 2009. The stated objective of this metric is “to identify opportunities to increase productivity by qualifying and quantifying the activities of maintenance craft workers.”

The Society also published the SMRP Guide to Maintenance Work Sampling, in 2012. As one of three co-authors, I can state definitively that the intent of this publication was to educate younger reliability and maintenance professionals who had not been exposed to maintenance-work sampling. Although adoption has been slow, several companies are beginning to include this sampling methodology as a valued component in their reliability and maintenance tool kits. Ironically, sites are often introduced to maintenance-work sampling by maintenance contractors who want to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of the skilled maintenance-craft personnel they provide.

(Editor’s note: SMRP’s Guide to Maintenance Work Sampling is a simple “how to” document that includes statistical tables designed to help users understand the correlation of the confidence level associated with a number of observations. The guide can be purchased for a small fee at SMRP.org. The co-authors donated their time to the development and publication of this document and receive no royalties from its sale.)

Last words

While it might be enticing to simply reduce the number of skilled maintenance craft workers on site as wrench time increases, a more prudent path may be to redeploy resources and invest in failure-prevention activities and/or infrastructure.

Increased wrench time may also provide an opportunity to reduce overtime as resources become available and/or to reduce the reliance upon third-party maintenance resources. With today’s critical shortage of skilled maintenance workers, however, displaced workers would likely be able to secure employment elsewhere.

In summary, maintenance wrench time plays a significant role in measuring efficient utilization of skilled maintenance-craft personnel. This valuable metric can be used by any manufacturing operation to ensure that it is realizing the greatest return possible from its investment in human capital. MT

Al Poling, CMRP, has more than 36 years of reliability and maintenance experience in the process industries. He served as technical director for the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals from 2008 to 2010. Contact al.poling@ramanalytics.net.

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