November 2022

Special Focus: Process Controls, Instrumentation and Automation

Reliability analysis of analyzers bridges the gap between assessing and addressing risk

For most refinery facility managers, the demands of running plants efficiently, meeting environmental regulations and maximizing returns on product specifications challenge even the most disciplined professionals.

Taylor, B., Anvil Corporation; Martin, S., CHS

For most refinery facility managers, the demands of running plants efficiently, meeting environmental regulations and maximizing returns on product specifications challenge even the most disciplined professionals. Managers whose schedules are consumed with urgent matters are challenged with finding time for proactive preventive maintenance, especially for necessary and mandated analyzers.

Despite their vital role in plant operations and protecting the health and safety of plant personnel, most analyzer systems do not receive the resources required. Decision-makers may be hesitant to make large-scale investments in the operations, maintenance and upgrades of analyzers. Poor (or no) business cases showing long-term returns on investment, or lack of defined risks connecting analyzer failure to the financial cost, are the underlying culprits.

Consequently, complex analyzer systems often run deep into obsolescence with multitudes of band-aid fixes and are only upgraded as a last resort. Projects are then executed with rushed schedules and shoestring budgets because they were never part of the master plan. Ironically, these installations cost the plant more money than if the system upgrade had been scheduled.

Reactive maintenance always costs more than proactive maintenance. Any plant manager can probably relate to the ever-present threat of being snake-bitten by an emergency analyzer upgrade project with limited options, high cost and high visibility, such as an emergency replacement of continuous emissions monitoring systems.

If your plant has numerous process and regulatory analyzers, there is a better way. Suppose decision-makers can be convinced of the value of an up-front effort to perform holistic surveys on analyzers and establish a long-term upgrade schedule. In that case, facility managers can reverse the cyclical pattern of putting out fires and begin to reap the long-term benefits of a carefully calibrated maintenance plan.

Developing a solid maintenance master plan can be challenging when competing for priority with smaller, less costly projects that can be considered quick wins. So, how can you effectively create a sustainable, long-term plan that pays dividends and keeps the plant analyzer systems out of the dreaded reactive maintenance cycle? Perform a holistic system survey, develop a master evergreen maintenance list, assign ownership early on and make sure to pitch projects by translating technical findings into financial terms leadership will understand.

Consider a holistic survey

Holistic surveys can be done on many systems, but the process becomes more complex for analyzers because of unique regulatory variables. For example, unlike electrical substations, the regulatory rules for analyzers change almost annually because they monitor and report emissions from the refinery. These emissions are highly scrutinized by regulatory bodies and the public, which may hurt the overall reputation and cause violations that impact regulatory decisions and environmental justice considerations.

Regulatory components strengthen the case for why a holistic survey is especially important for analyzers. If there is a failure and it is difficult to get parts, it directly impacts operations because safety and regulatory issues immediately rise to the top of the most urgent priority list for regulators. Stakeholders have no choice but to address compliance issues immediately, no matter the cost.

Consider a facility that has a failing critical emissions monitoring analyzer. Operational, financial and public-relations risks are high. If the analyzer is obsolete, spare parts are no longer available. In such a case, decision-makers must immediately spend whatever it costs to upgrade the analyzer, even if the project was not planned or budgeted. Sometimes, a short-term rental system is a viable option, but this can often turn into a long-term rental with costs quickly exceeding the costs of an upgraded system.

Beyond the bottom-line impacts of unbudgeted expenditures, organizations could face a public relations crisis and risk their relationship with governmental authorities because of faulty or absent regulatory equipment. While less critical equipment can be taken offline or bypassed during an upgrade or repair, this is not an option for a regulatory component. Regulatory bodies often require notification of analyzer malfunction with primacy, expedited costs/shipping considerations, extended downtime, etc. Additionally, the newly installed analyzer will require initial certification testing that will have to be contracted by third-party services that may not have the resources to support the project without significant unplanned cost.

In the cost-benefit analyses of holistic surveys vs. just-in-time crisis response, decision-makers must understand this will happen again, resulting in a cycle of focusing on the latest emergency and never addressing the root causes. However, no plant manager will approve an expenditure of resources on a system study if it is not directly tied to an actionable plan.

Pitfall #1: Asking for a site survey without a defined action plan

Before asking for funds to hire experts to produce an expensive report, ensure the team understands what the data will be used for: to create a master, evergreen maintenance plan.

Evergreen lists provide managers with a tool to paint a holistic, realistic picture of upcoming analyzer projects for leaders to understand and assess in the budgeting cycle. Although the cost of developing and maintaining such a list can create sticker shock, translating analyzer failures into financial risk can justify the plan and make it easier to convince the leadership of its importance.

Analyzers are complex, with sophisticated sampling and calibration systems. Many are housed in their shelters in the field and have heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems to keep the surrounding environment clean and stable. As a result, it can be time-consuming to get a complete picture of model numbers, obsolescence and parts availability. The picture gets complicated and costly if the systems reside in hazardous classified areas.

This is where a planning team can balance the insights of the facility manager’s technical counterpart, who may want to go into more detail than necessary, with what is financially feasible to decision-makers. Managers should also factor in the ongoing maintenance of the list. Paying for a holistic study makes no sense if the resulting upgrade plan is not maintained long term.

Pitfall #2: Performing a survey without identifying a long-term owner

Once decision-makers agree to the initial study, assigning an internal expert responsible for maintaining the data ensures the initial investment. The person who will be responsible should also be involved in developing the evaluation plan. This step is crucial; without an assigned person committed to the concept, any money spent on this effort will be wasted.

An internal evergreen expert can be trained to manage the evergreen spreadsheet or database efficiently. The system is intuitive to whomever has helped create it, and the feeling of ownership from the development encourages that expert to be more invested in maintaining it.

The first step in building this internal skill set is to identify the primary internal content expert and ensure that person understands the project’s goal and their role. The expert must see the evergreen list as a smart strategic investment.

For example, despite their extensive knowledge on the subject, maintenance and reliability personnel may not be ideal candidates for maintaining the evergreen list because they often deal with emergencies, which naturally interfere with long-term maintenance projects. Successfully creating and maintaining the evergreen list takes time and planning.

The task is well-suited to a project leader or engineer with the bandwidth and organizational skills to reliably manage and maintain the list. Field technicians who are in the plant or the field every day working on the analyzers and know their operational status can provide technical input.

The internal evergreen list expert must take the input provided by the technical and maintenance staff and drive the tasks, keeping staff on schedule, managing the budget and acting as the intermediary to translate technical language into dollars-and-cents proposals that can be understood and accepted by leadership. Typically, these efforts fail because the technical needs are not converted into financial costs and risks. In addition to maintenance plans for monitoring equipment and analyzers, upgrades and ongoing support to data acquisition systems must be included to maintain streamlined compliance reporting and data reviews.

Pitfall #3: Failing to translate and quantify risk into financial terms

Familiarity with the reliability of analyzers is valuable to decision-makers for safety and regulatory reasons and for the general planning of maintenance and replacement.

Reliability—or the absence of it, in the form of equipment failure—is one piece of the risk analysis puzzle. Risk is a combination of the likelihood that a failure will occur, along with the consequences of that failure. Many technicians and maintenance engineers excel at describing scenarios and predicting the likelihood, but they may need help balancing that information against other competing interests to determine where that risk fits in terms of priority for capital expenditure.

That balance is a key part of any meaningful discussion with leaders about what deserves budgetary priority. In many cases, the underlying issue is an inability to convey what is most important (e.g., breakdowns, equipment failures and the inability to make repairs because of obsolescence). Technicians and planning professionals must take this a step further and balance the identified risk against the cost and the effort that will be required to mitigate that risk.

Experts with a technical background know these things are important, but they often struggle to communicate them using the language of risk analysis that will resonate with decision-makers. An experienced project leader or engineer brings the skills to translate such vital analysis.

Consider the scenario where an analyzer is old and will break down. A leader may ask what the risk would be if it fails. The risk may be fines to the organization from regulatory agencies when a boiler is forced to be taken offline because an analyzer breakdown inhibits emissions monitoring.

This is an accurate description of the consequences of an analyzer failing. However, risk analysis is a multi-faceted examination of consequences and likelihood of failure in concert. A project team expert can ask the right questions to understand the entire risk spectrum—the likelihood and how to plan for it.

A holistic survey helps organizations go beyond planning for failure. For example, a particular analyzer is obsolete, which means spare parts are hard to procure, but the facility has one set of spare parts on hand. On average, spare parts are needed about once a year, but that has been increasing. In the subsequent 5 yr, it is reasonable to expect one failure will use the spare parts, and a second failure will result in a shutdown. In this case, the internal expert can forecast a high chance of being out of commission within 2 yr–3 yr and certainly within the next 5 yr.

Equipped with a reasonable time frame, a facility manager can make a plan that balances the consequences with the likelihood the analyzer will reach the end of its lifecycle by a specific date. The manager can then determine an acceptable level of risk and isolate the point at which that risk becomes unacceptable, enabling the organization to set priorities. This contrasts with operating in crisis mode, which demands addressing whatever emergency is most pressing at a given time.

Finally, with the likelihood and consequences defined and quantified, the last step is translating that data into financials. Consequences like regulatory fines and/or lost opportunities during shutdowns can be translated into monetary costs. Talk with key plant stakeholders to help define those costs so managers do not need to. Get an accurate estimate of the project’s total costs to replace the analyzer system. Additionally, always be prepared to give a cost for the do-nothing option, such as short maintenance outages and costly spare parts. Armed with the risk (likelihood and consequences) quantified into financial terms, you are ready to present a strong case to management to replace those problematic systems.     Remember, the goal is not necessarily to win project approval but to provide leaders with as accurate a picture as possible and a defined plan. Sometimes, the correct answer is to accept the risk for a time. Do not become so invested in the project proposal that you lose sight of the overall facility.

With this template, return to the evergreen list model. After compiling the data analysis into a compelling case to replace a system, apply the principles of holistic planning in the appropriate level of detail to all the analyzer systems on your evergreen list.

Pitfall #4: Drowned in detail

Performing the in-depth analysis as outlined for every analyzer in the plant could range from daunting to despair-inducing. Do not drop the ball at this point! Prioritize your systems and give complete treatment only to those that need a thorough evaluation. For systems that are in good shape, use your best judgment. Define the framework for the risks and costs, but if risks are low, provide a rough order of magnitude estimate. The list should be ordered from immediate to long-term needs. Ideally, each upgraded system should move to the bottom of the list as it is addressed. The data collected to identify risk scenarios and costs move with the items on the list and will only need review and updates in the future. At this point, the hard work is done, and what is left is a maintainable, long-term action plan that can readily convey the status and risk of any analyzer in your plant.

With a dedicated analyzer maintenance plan or a group devoted to managing such plans, plants that utilize key performance indicators (KPIs) to communicate performance and reliability will have better data. It is to be expected that KPIs that track downtime will most likely increase (or perform lower) in the short term. However, the long-term health of the plant’s analyzer programs will increase and should begin to improve, and that improvement will be reflected in the KPIs for the program. HP

The Authors

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