December 2019


Digital: Better maintenance through better data

When I talk to professionals in the refining and petrochemical businesses, they are always interested in how new technologies can improve operational efficiency, make plants safer and increase profitability.

When I talk to professionals in the refining and petrochemical businesses, they are always interested in how new technologies can improve operational efficiency, make plants safer and increase profitability.

One fascinating area is how the unglamorous world of plant maintenance is being transformed by better data—recording data, analyzing and putting it at the fingertips of workers in the plant. Whether it is historical asset data, information on past maintenance activities or the most up-to-date engineering specifications, putting this information in the hands of the workers responsible for keeping plants in operational running order is having a transformational effect.

On-demand asset data increases maintenance effectiveness

Systematically storing the maintenance history of each piece of equipment and providing technicians with immediate access to that information can deliver more efficient maintenance. Traditionally, most of that data has been isolated on scraps of paper or on individual departmental computers.

Consider a polymer process plant. If the reactor agitator goes down, the polymer can harden inside the reactor within an hour. When the polymer hardens, cleaning the reactor takes 2 d–4 d. In addition to the maintenance costs, cleaning days also mean production losses. When prior work order history is not readily accessible, it takes more time for the maintenance technician to repair the agitator.

However, with new, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), the agitator’s entire work order history is easily viewed, speeding up the technician’s troubleshooting and getting the agitator back into service quickly. Technicians’ work can also be accelerated through easy access to operational documents, procedures, flow diagrams and up-to-date engineering drawings through integration of the CMMS with engineering document management (EDM) technology.

Historical data drives preventive maintenance

In the past, maintenance work was primarily reactive. Schedules—usually established manually—lacked consideration for the capacity and availability of resources. As a result, maintenance schedules were followed loosely, if at all. At present, a CMMS-generated schedule can assess the availability of skills and parts and automatically perform optimization.

When maintenance management has the right historical data in its system, it can identify trends to reduce the number of reactive, unplanned downtime events. This creates time and energy to deliver more uptime through proactive preventive maintenance. For example, by analyzing the work order history of a motor, it can become clear that the motor typically fails after 5,000 hr of use. With this data, automated maintenance software can schedule preventive maintenance when actual usage approaches the equipment’s limit.

Why is this shift to the preventive maintenance approach important? A recent report from ARC Advisory Group indicates that manufacturing companies lose $50 B/yr in unplanned downtime. When unplanned downtime occurs in a chemical plant during off hours, labor costs increase because of overtime, expedited materials and equipment needed for repairs.

When equipment maintenance is planned, the parts can be available, the labor scheduled, and the maintenance performed in a more efficient manner. When a CMMS is used to make production downtime predictable, operations planners can build product inventory levels in advance, so customer shipments are not interrupted for necessary maintenance.

Mobile data access reduces time to repair

ARC Advisory Group recently reported that 50% of maintenance technicians worldwide are using mobile devices for work orders. The author expects that trend to continue increasing in the future because anytime/anywhere access to maintenance data improves labor productivity and helps technicians spend more time using their expert skills.

Mobility adoption can make a big difference in labor efficiency and time to repair completion. With a tablet or phone, a technician can call up key information without walking back to the shop, saving significant amounts of time.

In addition to the time-saving value of delivering data to a technician’s location, mobile systems can enable the technician to record information more accurately. For example, when a technician records work completion on their mobile device, future task time estimates can be more accurate, and planning can be improved.

By embracing the changing maintenance landscape and focusing on these key elements, companies can reduce downtime, improve productivity and lower maintenance costs.

Is your operation capitalizing on maintenance data through modern CMMS and EAM systems to make your plants safer, more productive and profitable? Make sure your maintenance and engineering data is always accessible to your technicians, with a full history for each piece of equipment available on technicians’ mobile devices for just-in-time optimization. HP


FIG. 1. Putting information/data into the hands of plant personnel is having a transformational effect on plant operations.

The Author

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