Let’s Be Frank: Make “Future You” Happy

By Inspector Frank. April 30, 2020

Editor’s Note:  Writing under the pseudonym Inspector Frank, the author of this column offers a first-hand, candid view of what he has witnessed throughout his career. His purpose in sharing these experiences and opinions is to encourage readers to think deeper about what they do, why they do it, and the possible impact of their decisions.

Inspectioneering is committed to protecting the anonymity of pseudonymous authors. We do, however, hold these contributors to the same editorial standards as those writing under their own name. In this, we know the author’s identity and maintain communications regarding the author’s published works. If you have any questions, feedback, or concerns stemming from this article, please send an email to and we will forward your correspondence to the appropriate party.

Bad data is the bane of equipment integrity — and I don’t just mean test data that is questionable. As a quick exercise, consider some of the key data issues you have encountered. Do any of the following ring a bell?

  • Original drawings and data sheets missing — or copies/scans so poor they are practically illegible
  • Older equipment with multiple revisions and/or versions of drawings/data sheets where it is not always clear which is the latest and greatest
  • Boxes full of nondestructive examination (NDE) reports that are no longer filed in any useful way
  • Computer data management systems with poor organization and multiple versions of the same document
  • Thickness monitoring location (TML) data points with historical values that make no sense — especially when combined with a lack of assessment or repair/replace documentation
  • How about TMLs that were selected with no discernible rationale? Should we pull those points from being monitored, or did somebody know something and pick those locations for a reason?
  • Older inspection reports where we all tried to be vague and cryptic, which now have almost no use as a historical technical record (plus no digital cameras...)
  • Speaking of digital photos, unsorted mass dumps of digital photographs from various outages

I know I’m not the only one who has puzzled through the data mines on a piece of equipment trying to find something as simple as the original thickness and corrosion allowance. I’m also not alone in having read an old inspection report that said things like “extensive pitting was found throughout” or “ok for continued service” with no further data or photographs.

Now, in most companies, things are getting better, although I still see organizations that can’t find the last inspection report or data (sometimes from only a year ago).

In a perfect world, we would assign someone to sort out this data mess, and sometimes we do. But there are three fundamental issues that generally interfere with the process, and the first two are related to money:

  1. Companies generally don’t want to spend money to correct historical document control issues unless it can directly be shown to have a benefit, e.g., a revamp where having the data sorted out will lower the cost from the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company.
  2. Companies don’t want to spend money on the people who are doing the work. Sorting through old equipment data is best done by someone who understands it. Typically, a company wants to bring in cheaper admin or temp labor that doesn’t have an understanding of the data and documents they are going through.
  3. In a processing facility, the needs of production tend to permeate all elements of the business. As in any dynamic business, what happened yesterday doesn’t matter anymore. It’s what is happening today and what we are doing tomorrow that drives the actions.

As an equipment integrity professional, what can be done?

Unfortunately, for older data, I have never come across an easy answer. Historical issues will have to be deciphered as required, unless you can get someone engaged in sorting it out.

But what about going forward?

Here is a list (not comprehensive) of some of the things you can start doing today to make “future you” hate “current you” just a little less. And just maybe, start making the mass of data a little easier to understand and use down the road.

  1. If your company has no document management system, make up your own. Document how to use the system well enough so that the personnel who put data in will do it in a consistent way. Come up with a simple revisioning system to either clearly indicate the most up-to-date data or to purge things that are obsolete from the active filing system. Then, at least going forward, people will know where to find what they need and what to do with the data they generate.
  2. Adopt some standards around report writing for your visual inspectors — especially on how you want damage mechanisms documented. There is a lot of information out there on this topic, but in the simplest form, you want damage mechanisms documented in such a way that the next inspector can ascertain if anything has changed. The example I always give when someone listed: “extensive pitting on the bottom head” on the report line. What does that even mean? Why not have your inspector document it in a way that can be compared in future inspections? What can this look like, you ask?

    “Pitting was found on the bottom head up to the vessel tan line. A 1’ x 1’ area was marked out on the north side of the head 3’ below the tan line as an exemplar section. Within this section, approximately 80 pit indications were found with depths ranging from 0.015” to 0.065”. Random ultrasonic testing (UT) points were taken from the OD of the head and confirmed this exemplar section is indicative of the current pitting damage on the bottom head.”
    This is one way to do it but not the only way. At the end of the day, you just need to be able to compare “apples to apples” in the next inspection period.
  3. Come up with a protocol to follow up on questionable data. For example, if the UT reading seems to be outside of what was expected, what do you do to ensure it isn’t a technician error? A good rule to follow is that any UT corrosion monitoring locations (CMLs) in question are rechecked by a different tech with a different UT machine. If his data matches the first tech’s, then carry on with assessing what the change in corrosion rate could be driven by. If his data is different than the first technician’s, now you have another issue.
  4. Take the time to document changes or decisions that have been made to the equipment integrity program so that future personnel know exactly why something was changed or is being done. Some companies already have “critical decision” logs or “equipment integrity change sheets.” You can create a simple system using just basic memos. This way, if an inspection was added, dropped, or modified, you have a memo sitting in the equipment file to explain the rationale. I also like logging the rationale for things right in procedures and specifications. Put the rationale documentation in an intuitive location — a place that one would logically look for that particular issue. It saves a lot of questions down the road. As an example, let’s say to increase process throughput, the Rich DGA system’s velocity was increased enough that flow assisted corrosion started occurring in the carbon steel Rich DGA piping. You alter all of your TMLs on the circuit to measure areas of abnormal flow/eddying effects (downstream of welds, changes in direction, etc.) and increase the frequency of inspection so that you can catch damage occurring early on. If you put a note on file explaining why those changes were made, some poor inspector in the future will know why all of the CMLs “got moved that one year” and also, “why the monitoring was put on a one-year frequency.” Plus, it’s a great learning tool for new inspectors who otherwise may have no clue about the effects velocity can have on steel piping in Rich DGA service.

With a little bit of effort, you can solve a lot of your data issues going forward. Regardless of what your company may be doing overall, you can make sure the data that is critical for equipment integrity becomes more useful and easier to find. It is well worth the effort to do, as the payoff is almost immediate and will continue to pay off for years to come.

“Future you” will look back with smiles and joy rather than frowns and hatred.

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Don MacIsaac on May 4, 2020
Good article. Some years ago, when I worked for... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

(Inspectioneering) Posted by Inspector Frank on May 28, 2020 (Edited on May 28, 2020)
Don, Thanks for the excellent comment. I... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Rob Smith on June 1, 2020
Great points. I would caution against purging... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

(Inspectioneering) Posted by Inspector Frank on June 4, 2020
Very true Rob. The real issue arises when they... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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