With the correct tools and knowledge, these employees can provide solutions for chronic field problems.
by Julien LeBleu & Robert Perez
October 8, 2014

For example, many engineers may not have enough hands-on experience to realize the space requirements to maintain and operate a 24-inch valve. Mechanics know the space required to pull heat exchanger bundles and perform maintenance on rotating equipment.

A Plant’s Best Asset

Operators are near the equipment all the time. They know how the equipment sounds and what it feels like when it operates as it should. The best mechanics or engineers do not know what the operators know. Only the operator can answer the question, “What was this piece of equipment doing yesterday, last week or last month?”

The operator can identify an equipment problem in a particular plant process. For example, an operator might notice that a pump bearing fails two weeks after every plant wash down or that a certain piece of equipment has a reduced output after a plant process upset.

Operators are capable of providing critical information, such as requirements that both pumps be operated to make normal operation. This new normal means that a spare pump is no longer available in the event of a failure. Furthermore, if the two identical pumps do not run or pump identically, the operator can identify these deficiencies and alert engineering to the problem.

For these reasons, having equipment operators make the first pass at troubleshooting is a good idea. Once they have the tools and knowledge required, operators will be an asset in solving chronic field problems. Many operators have not received the training necessary to know how the equipment operates, so they may not know when a component is not performing as designed. They only know that a problem exists because the equipment is not performing as it had in the past or as the process requires it to perform.

Allowing these vital individuals to make mistakes is also important. If an operator is chastised after one mistake, he or she will get “gun shy” and not attempt to troubleshoot or make decisions based on observations.
Operators must be allowed to make mistakes as long as they do not make the same mistakes repeatedly. Making mistakes is how personnel learn and improve their observation and troubleshooting skills.