Mechanical Integrity Snapshot: Asia-Pac

An Interview with Andy Saunders-Tack, Managing Director, Asia-Pac at Becht

January 15, 2024

Inspectioneering recently had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Andy Saunders-Tack, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific at Becht. With 30 years of experience in the oil and gas, chemicals, and power generation industries, our conversation delved into his journey, expertise, and insights into asset integrity and reliability, as well as nuances related to their application in Asia-Pacific.

Inspectioneering (IJ): You have had an impressive 30-year career in oil and gas, chemicals, and power generation. Can you share some pivotal moments or experiences that shaped your journey and led you to specialize in integrity management, materials, and corrosion?

Andy Saunders-Tack (AS): I can probably trace that back to my university days! After completing a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy and materials at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, I was approached by both Cambridge and Birmingham Universities to consider staying on for a PhD in the area of Fracture Mechanics. I chose Birmingham, ultimately because the project they presented interested me most and involved working with Rolls Royce in their aero engine division.

I was fortunate to have some great mentors at this time who gladly shared their knowledge and experience and challenged me to explore new and exciting scientific territory. For my thesis defense (called a viva in the United Kingdom), I remember having a 5-hour “chat” with Dr. Julia King (now Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS) from the University of Cambridge, who was clearly on a mission to inspire me to stay in the field of “practical” fracture mechanics. Once down the road of investigating and predicting how things fail with the support of those mentors, my career course was largely set.

IJ: The Asia-Pacific region has been a significant part of your career. Could you highlight some unique challenges or opportunities you have encountered in this region compared to other parts of the world within the process industries, particularly in terms of asset integrity and reliability?

AS: The experience of living and working in a region as culturally diverse as Asia-Pacific has been hugely rewarding. That said, within the energy industry, I think the integrity and reliability challenges in Asia-Pac are broadly similar to those elsewhere. We are, after all, dealing with the same technologies. The differences that crop up are mostly related to the business and sociocultural aspects in our interactions with the people working in this industry. In this respect, there are huge differences between countries within the Asia-Pacific region.

A critical factor for many Asian countries is establishing a long-term commitment and trust at a personal level and having the patience and tenacity to negotiate differing bureaucratic regimes. Business relationships in Asia are never simply transactional. Early in my career, when I was somewhat frustrated with some seemingly pointless red tape from a regional National Oil Company, my client contact gifted me a copy of “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. Upon presenting it to me, they said, “This may or may not provide any insight into our situation, but I think you will enjoy the read” – I did!

IJ: What role does regulatory pressure play in driving initiatives related to asset integrity and reliability in this region? Are there notable differences in regulatory frameworks between Asia-Pacific and other regions?

AS: The level and nature of regulation vary from country to country in Asia-Pac. Fortunately, the majority of jurisdictions recognize and accept a broad range of international codes, standards, and best practices, including API, NACE, ASME, and British Standards (BS). A key challenge in a number of jurisdictions is working with an operator to help them engage with the regulator on specific issues where local expertise may not be present in-depth. I see knowledge sharing and education as a key part of my role and enjoy this aspect very much.

IJ: Sustainability is always a concern for organizations. What, in your opinion, are the key factors of creating and maintaining sustainable asset integrity and reliability programs?

AS: The sustainability of any integrity management initiative is largely dependent on maintaining an effective culture within the operator, which is set from the top. Ensuring, at all levels, that there is a shared understanding of what we want to achieve and a culture of constructive challenge and improvement to ensure goals are met in the most effective way is key. All too often, organizations can slip into the mode of following a procedure for a procedure’s sake, without stepping back and examining what it is we are really trying to address.

IJ: Collaboration and breaking down silos are also crucial. Can you share strategies or insights from your experience on how to engage different parts of an organization effectively to promote asset integrity and reliability initiatives?

AS: It sounds so easy, but we all know this is a critical issue that very few organizations get right. As consultants, we often find that we can operate as an independent “agent of change” within an operator’s established organizational framework to accelerate de-siloing.

I recall an example when investigating a serious corrosion incident in a crude unit for a regional operator. I suggested to the site manager that it would really help if we had key inspection, process, maintenance, and scheduling personnel in the same room for an hour to share knowledge. After explaining that this was not something they had done before, he arranged the meeting and it became apparent very quickly that many of the group had not spent any significant time together or understood the roles and responsibilities of their co-workers. It is a credit to the leadership at this site that they subsequently realized the importance of this meeting and went on to institutionalize multidisciplinary stewardship of assets. Sometimes as a consultant, you find yourself uniquely positioned to be an agent for change.

IJ: Do you see any differences in the priorities and risk tolerances of operators in the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to making decisions with regard to asset integrity investments?

AS: I don’t think there's any fundamental difference. However, there are differences from site to site in how well risk is assessed and addressed and how priorities are assigned. I am privileged to work with many multidisciplinary global subject matter experts with a career’s worth of operational experience who understand an operator’s perspective, and importantly, know how to help the operator implement a practical, workable solution. It is sometimes easy to take for granted what you have learned over the span of a career, but when I see (or am part of) a team of SMEs working to help a client solve their most intractable challenges it always energizes me to see how the combination of knowledge, experience, and the free flow of ideas among the team leads to some outcomes that really deliver for the operator.

IJ: Over the past decade, what have been some of the most exciting developments or innovations in this field that you've witnessed?

AS: I think, without question, the most exciting developments have been around how knowledge is managed. There has been a shift away from industry institutional knowledge being largely locked up in the heads of a few industry experts and baked into weighty, sluggish procedural tomes maintained by the majors, to a far more dynamic knowledge management environment where advances in the digital space incorporating AI can be used to provide bespoke design and engineering and operational practices drawing on a breadth of source material that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. What’s more, these practices can be linked seamlessly to the reference sources to ensure full validation and traceability regardless of how bespoke the application may be. Whilst there will, for the foreseeable future, be a requirement for the succession of human subject matter experts, the role and function of these SMEs will likely change as technology evolves. We see this as a mission-critical function for the industry—so much so, that we have a division dedicated to developing and maintaining engineering standards and practices within a digital environment that optimizes their application and effectiveness.

IJ: As we wrap up this conversation, what do you anticipate as the future trends and advancements for the next 10 years, both globally and within the Asia-Pacific region? How should organizations prepare for these changes?

AS: The elephant in the room here is surely energy transition. I recently chaired a session at a regional conference on the “Achievability of the Road to Net Zero” and it was immediately apparent that there is a glaring gap between public expectation, industry reality, and government policy and lawmaker drivers. In the next ten years, there will be some key moments of truth on this journey and they will almost certainly seismically impact how the world functions economically and sociopolitically. The only thing I am confident in predicting is that the role of technology, engineers, and SMEs will be pivotal in driving the change the world needs to see.

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