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Making the Case for Scalable Accuracy

By Greg Alvarado at Inspectioneering Journal. August 12, 2013

In the next few blog posts, we will be going in depth on scalable accuracy. This post walks through the thinking needed prior to initiating. Then we will discuss two technologies immediately available to plant operators for fixed equipment life-cycle maintenance: Risk Based Inspection (RBI) and Fitness for Service (FFS).

These best practices optimally work together or can standalone, and utilize scalable accuracy from more qualitative modeling, with debits built-in for lack of information in the prediction and erring to the conservative. Like all processes, remember that technology is only one part. Having the “right” people engaged at the “right” junctures in the work process are equally, if not more, important. For additional guidance on FFS for RBI teams and qualifications, refer to API RP 580.

As always, it is important to realize equipment reliability is often important for health and safety, environmental and business success, whether market conditions are favorable or not. Notice I said “often” and not always. There are many times when reliability at all costs does not make sense, the criteria, whether stated or not, is “fluid”. Hence the need for effective Equipment Life-Cycle Management (LCM) practices, programs and policies. The risk and business worlds are dynamic, not static, as demonstrated by the spinning, not static, Swiss cheese model as illustrated in API RP 754.

As Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved from the same level of thinking at which they were created.” So how do we manage tens of thousands of pieces of equipment, especially complex piping systems, in a dynamically, changing environment, effectively?

Doing a good job of due diligence is important to achieve maximum effectiveness. As I’ve already stated, identifying the right people to steward these processes, and identification of effective technologies and work practices, are more important at the outset than finding efficient ones. If we are not doing the “right” things and are being highly efficient, we may just be doing the “wrong” things faster. So often we place efficiency at the forefront instead of effectiveness. After performing your due diligence, try piloting a new approach first to achieve effective results, then work on maximizing the efficiency of the work process.

While Pareto works well in nearly all cases, i.e. a small percentage (e.g. 10 to 20%) of equipment contributes the vast majority of risk (80%+), there are units which, while still following this principle, are inherently more risky than others. You will see this in the overall risk comparison from unit to unit. For instance, you may see a lower risk in general for a merox unit compared to an HF alkylation unit.

Here are other factors to consider:

  1. Most operators do not have unlimited funds for equipment inspection.
  2. Most operators do care about safety and reliability of equipment.
  3. It is vital that we do (inspection, FFS, repair, replace, re-validate information, consider operating conditions, changes, operating practices) the right things, at the right times, to the right equipment, in the right locations.
  4. Many operators’ staffing levels are spread thin, people are very busy and effective prioritization is important
  5. The lead inspectors’ jobs have changed over the last 20 years or so. Many do less analysis and more management of resources.
  6. Depending upon the company/site culture, inspectors and materials engineers are often pressed to drop equipment from the recommendations lists.
  7. Margins on many refinery and petrochemical products are tight and reliable operations are very important to eke out as much product as they can to show a profit or minimize losses.
  8. Margins on some products are high and therefore, once again, reliability is very important to capitalize on favorable market prices.
  9. Knowledge is king, but not at all costs. It is situation, i.e. risk dependent.
  10. Risk is dynamic and constantly changing
  11. Operating conditions that can affect equipment integrity often change.
  12. The Deep Water, The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Off Shore Drilling, Report to the President, January 2011 stresses the importance of using good risk models and shows what can happen when deficient risk models are employed.

There are solutions for the “significant problems” above, which we will cover in the next few posts. Our first task is changing the way we look (paradigm) at work, and then demonstrating the value of very useful technologies we have at our disposal. It is important that we show true lasting value to management and that it be credible, in order to sustain the changes and benefits these new technological work processes present. We must make the change, improvements “worth it”, i.e. worth the change in order for the organization to have the motivation to sustain the change. It is important not to fall back into ineffective practices. Once we prove their worth, justification for the other elements to sustain the change should be evident.

Next week’s post will cover the Scalable Accuracy approach to Fixed Equipment Life Cycle Management. (Then we’ll get into RBI and FFS) To get notified about new blog posts, along with the latest news and events for the asset integrity management industry, sign up for our free email newsletter.


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