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Capturing Corporate Memory with Internal Best Practices – Retaining Knowledge After the Great Retirement/Resignation

By Joel Andreani, Senior Vice President of Consulting Engineering at The Equity Engineering Group, Inc., and Susie Szymanski, Director of Practices at The Equity Engineering Group, Inc. November 7, 2022
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Introduction

In an effort to capture and transfer knowledge as well as define corporate requirements to improve facility reliability, many corporations consider developing a collection of best practices. With the “great retirement/resignation” hitting all industries, now more than ever, capturing corporate memory is crucial. A ‘best practice’ is defined as a technique or methodology that, upon rigorous evaluation through experience and research, has demonstrated success, had an impact, and can be replicated. Best practices are frequently used by facility owners and operators to provide their requirements and guidelines for construction and maintenance. As required by Recommended and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices (RAGAGEP), best practices must meet minimum industry requirements, but may be more stringent based on experience and unique attributes of a facility. For this reason, best practices typically utilize and direct users to a published industry standard to set baseline requirements and then clarify options or provide additional requirements above the industry standard based on company preferences and experience.

When companies seek to add documented best practices to their organization, the options most often considered are purchasing a general industry best practices collection and using it without customization; utilizing an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EP&C) firm’s collection previously used for projects; or creating an internal best practices collection by updating a legacy collection. Building a best practices collection becomes more complicated for companies that have gone through mergers or acquisitions because of cultural differences and varying approaches to new construction and mechanical integrity.

In this short blog article, we will explain why developing an internal best practices collection is preferred over other options, and provide recommendations on how to best develop, implement, and maintain an internal best practices collection.

OSHA Interpretations and Recommendations

In June 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published new guidance for industry standard 29 CFR Part 1910.119 “Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals” with interpretations for Process Safety Management (PSM) and RAGAGEP, including clarifications and interpretations regarding the following:

  • The definition of RAGAGEP and its sources
  • The use of “shall” vs. “should”
  • The use and acceptance of internal employer documents such as RAGAGEP
  • Considerations for maintaining compliance with the standard

In this published memorandum, OSHA not only provides clarification that appropriate internal standards are considered acceptable RAGAGEP documents, but it also includes reasons that OSHA recommends facilities develop and use internal standards. Per the memorandum, facility internal standards can serve the following purposes:

  • Translating the requirements of published RAGAGEP into detailed corporate or facility implementation programs and/or procedures
  • Setting requirements for unique circumstances for which no published RAGAGEP exists
  • Supplementing published RAGAGEP that partially or inadequately address the employer’s needs
  • Controlling hazards more effectively than available codes and standards
  • Addressing hazards when the codes and standards used for existing equipment are outdated and no longer describe good engineering practice [1]

In addition to the reasons identified in the OSHA memo, internal best practices can offer other benefits such as:

  • Promoting safety, managing risk, and improving reliability
  • Capturing corporate memory
  • Transferring knowledge
  • Providing cost-effectiveness

Lifecycle Management and Improved Reliability

To improve reliability, facility owners and operators need to address the overall process of whole lifecycle management for their equipment. Lifecycle management (LCM) is the process of managing the cradle-to-grave life of assets including design, construction, in-service use, repair if required, and retirement. The LCM process for fixed pressurized equipment (including pressure vessels, piping, and tankage) is shown in Figure 1. Each step is required for comprehensiveness. It starts with consideration of potential damage mechanisms in the design process and selection of appropriate construction codes to ensure reliable designs. LCM continues with the establishment of in-service inspection programs to monitor anticipated damage and determine the presence of unanticipated damage mechanisms, application of fitness-for-service (FFS) technology if unanticipated damage is discovered, and implementation of effective repair procedures as required to ensure mechanical integrity of in-service equipment [2].

Figure 1. Asset lifecycle management.

The LCM framework shown above utilizes published industry codes and standards to implement the process. Figure 1 illustrates how the industry codes and standards relate to the LCM, creating a common technology core. While technology integration provides the relationship roadmap, the current challenge is that most industry codes and standards do not provide complete guidance, and additional information in the form of corporate memory and best practices is required for complete guidance. Best practices overlay the LCM framework to document requirements from construction to in-service equipment issues (e.g., inspection, FFS, and repair guidelines). With the “great retirement” following the pandemic, it is becoming even more difficult to cultivate corporate memory and/or expertise.

Customized Best Practices – A Best Practice

The challenge in selecting a best practice platform is that neither general industry best practices nor an EP&C firm’s best practices account for the retention of corporate memory. Corporate memory is the total body of knowledge, comprised of both documented and undocumented memories and experiences, created over the course of an individual organization’s existence. Corporate memory may also come from an organization’s documentation of equipment deficiencies and failures through its mechanical integrity (MI) program and/or lessons learned. To take full advantage of corporate memory, each organization should have a goal to document accumulated knowledge so that information is not lost over time. As its core function, an internal best practices collection provides an ideal forum to document corporate memory and capture lessons learned from the MI program as the organization’s experience evolves. 

Knowledge Transfer and The Why 

It is well-documented that many organizations battle with the potential gap in expertise further aggravated by the “great retirement.” If these experienced employees’ knowledge and expertise are not recorded as corporate memory, years of practical experience and knowledge will be lost.  That is why organizations should prioritize capturing corporate memory in order to support knowledge transfer. By making the effort to transfer expertise, organizations can be confident their next generation of employees will be trained and provided with valuable resources to continue operating the facility safely and with improved reliability. Furthermore, an internal best practices collection should provide context and indicate the SMEs’ reasons and background for specific requirements and recommendations (aka, “the why”). For instance, why a certain pressure vessel nozzle detail is used to make future rerating more practical or improve fatigue life, or why annular rings are used in many tank designs for total lifecycle reliability. 

Cost-Effectiveness

The LCM serves as a reminder that costs may occur at different stages during equipment’s life. Components purchased at a lower cost may be sufficient for certain applications, whereas the same components may lead to significant long-term expenses stemming from unanticipated damage in a different application. By documenting these lessons learned as corporate memory in best practices, corporations can greatly improve their MI, resulting in higher equipment availability.

To greatly increase long-term savings, internal best practices should indicate where over-engineering is not required and where there are benefits to larger initial purchase costs to limit the need for ongoing inspection and maintenance activities. For example, if a certain type of pump seal proves to be successful for a particular application, an organization should document its use as a best practice to prevent over-engineering and over-spending on similar future designs. In addition, for some wet H2S services, carbon steel clad plates are initially more expensive, but the upgraded material significantly reduces inspection and maintenance costs over the life of the equipment, making the decision to upgrade material cost-effective.

There are costs associated with maintaining internal best practices, capturing corporate memory, and transferring knowledge. However, the benefits from reducing risk through improved reliability, minimizing future engineering efforts, and reducing costs by reducing inspection for unanticipated damage greatly outweigh the costs to maintain the collection.

Conclusion

At a recent API Inspection and Mechanical Integrity Summit, a panel of experts talked about the future of MI. The eight panelists represented almost 300 years of experience in the MI field. As they spoke, one big concern resonated – the capture of the expertise on that panel and among the dozens of other SMEs in the audience so the next generation could continue the important work of maintaining safe, reliable, and profitable facilities. Best practice collections are a critical step to capturing that knowledge and transferring it to future generations.  

References

  1. Galassi, T., 2015, Memorandum for Regional Administrators and State Plan Designees, RAGAGEP in Process Safety Management Enforcement. 
  2. Osage, D., 2009, European Federation for Welding, Joining and Cutting. Presented at Eurojoin 7. Modernization of Pressure Vessel Design Codes, ASME Section VIII, Division 2, 2007 Edition and Fitness-For-Service Codes, API 579-1/ASME FFS-1, 2007 Edition with Applications.

Comments and Discussion

Posted by Rajaram Chidambaram on November 21, 2022
Knowledge Transfer is also hampered by companies... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Knuth Schweier on November 22, 2022
I am not a native speaker in English, so maybe I... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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