Consider Taking a Long-Term View in a Shortsighted World

Consider Taking a Long-Term View in a Shortsighted World

Production facilities are all about what can we produce today.  Everything can be rushed.  When problems arise, people want the answer now and there is pressure to take the most expedient solution.  Consider taking a step back and have a look at the historical data to see what has been going on long term.  Is this really a new problem, or has it been occurring for years, as either a slow degradation or typical for end of turnaround cycle performance.  Are you really worse off than the past or just the same.

The refining joke when I started, over 40 years ago, was “When given a problem to solve, go find the report from 10 years ago.”

Reading into this axiom, the quick fixes you are thinking of have likely been tried, so be sure to ask about that.  If they worked, there would not be a problem.  This does put the issue in perspective and takes some pressure off.  It did not happen overnight and probably will not get solved overnight.  It may just be more difficult or have a completely different root cause than considered up until now.

One site I supported had a horrendous reciprocating compressor problem with valve failures every two to three weeks on a high margin processing unit.  There were parallel compressors and so the unit did not shut down but had to take regular production cuts while teams of workers turned around valve replacements as quickly as possible.  The rotating group tried everything they could and just settled on being very good at changing valves.  I know, from other sites, these type of compressors should be reliable for a year or more.  This means something was very wrong and has been for a very long time.  I was not looking for a small thing.

I started pulling inspection data and had the site take some special samples. It was clear to me,  this site was having a massive chloride problem in the gas they were compressing. I explained my findings to the business team leader and strongly advised, they will never solve their compressor problem if they do not solve their chloride problem.

Trapping chlorides is a well known technology.  It just means getting the best adsorbent and changing it regularly, as needed.  Trapping chlorides did increase their maintenance budget, but that was pennies compared to the savings of having a steady unit with valves lasting up to two years as they should.  We were also able to recommend a better valve, based on experience, from another site.

Bottom line, it was not a compressor problem as such, it was a process problem across different units.  The fix was not quick, it took time, but is now a permanent solution and a massive success for the site.

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About The Author

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Lawrence ‘Larry’ Keon has over 40 years’ experience providing process technical support for a number of refinery and lube facilities during his career with ExxonMobil and various ExxonMobil entities worldwide. He has extensive troubleshooting, project support, optimization/process improvement, and commissioning experience with a number of refining and lube manufacturing units include Crude Units, Hydroprocessing, FCC, Alkylation, Reforming, and Sulfur/Amine Units.

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Consider Taking a Long-Term View in a Shortsighted World

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