The biggest challenge for many plant owners and operators is sharing or publishing their field experience. Broadcasting past mistakes, existing shortcomings and underperformance may threaten the job security of plant management. Some plant owners even hesitate to educate others about successful operations. While this type of educational openness was popular in the 1960s, today's operators generally frown upon sharing too much, especially considering the pressure from company legal departments to prevent giving away any competitive advantage concerning proprietary material.
The first step plant owners can take to develop a successful equipment management strategy is to open their plants to independent consultants. These consultants can provide valuable insight into equipment management and help owners get accustomed to the idea of parts sharing. Owners must ask themselves several questions before starting the audit process to ensure the ultimate value from an outsider inspecting their procedures.
Consultants & Audits
Many plants would benefit from periodically engaging competent consultants with years of practical field experience. These consultants should conduct—and teach—periodic audits of oil refineries and major chemical plants. In such an audit, spare parts consumption and maintenance intensity of a facility's process pumps would be properly assessed. However, such an assessment should only be viewed as a first step. To be of deeper and lasting value, the assessment would have to identify the root causes of repeat failures.
As part of the audit, consultants would explain to plant management the details of tangible remedial steps and the net savings of upgrade options. An endless number of variables can determine how many spares are needed in different petrochemical plants. Managers must rely on the consultants' and their own experience and keep an open mind if they are to realize the greatest value for their facilities.
Repair Facilities & Vendors
Managers begin to add value by properly selecting experienced repair facilities. A well-executed audit would help managers decide between original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or non-OEM shops. Vendor personnel experience and overall capabilities of the OEM and non-OEM would be assessed.
Selecting from among the many pump manufacturers may not be easy, and selecting the right bidders may be an important prerequisite for choosing the best pump. Vendor qualifications change over time, but the following three characteristics will always stand out (see Reference 1):
- The vendors can provide extensive experience listings for equipment and will submit this information without hesitation.
- Their centrifugal pumps have a reputation for sound design and infrequent maintenance requirements.
- Their marketing personnel are thoroughly supported by engineering departments. Also, both groups are willing to provide technical data beyond those that are customarily submitted with routine proposals.
Data submittal is the first test vendors must pass. When the pumps must comply with American Petroleum Institute standards (API), such as API 610, a capable vendor will make diligent efforts to fill in all of the data requirements listed on the API specification sheet. A manufacturer's depth of technical know-how will show in the way a vendor-manufacturer explains exceptions taken to API 610 or supplementary specifications. Only the most qualified centrifugal pump vendors can convince users to waive specific requirements with soundly engineered alternatives.
Pump assembly drawings are another documentation requirement. Auditors and operators alike can discover potential design weaknesses when reviewing dimensionally accurate cross-sectional drawings. Two reasons should compel purchasers to review assembly drawings when evaluating a bid. First, some pump vendors may be unable or unwilling to respond to user requests for accurate drawings after the order is placed. Second, the design weakness could be significant enough to require extensive redesign. In the latter case, the purchaser may be better off working with a different pump manufacturer or inquiring about a different pump style or model (see Reference 2).
- Bradshaw, Simon; Bradshaw et al., Proceedings of the 17th TAMU International Pump User's Symposium, (2000)
- Bloch, H.P., "Pump Wisdom: Problem Solving for Operators and Specialists," (2011) John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ
- Bloch, Heinz P., (1998) "Machinery Reliability Improvement," 3rd Edition, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston, TX
- Bloch, Heinz P., and Allan Budris; (2013) "Pump User's Handbook: Life Extension," 4th Edition, Fairmont Publishing Company, Lilburn, GA
- Bloch, Heinz P.; Updating your Sealing Knowledge,\'94 Hydrocarbon Processing, March 2008