Why Best Practices Don’t Always Lead to High Reliability

Why Best Practices Don’t Always Lead to High Reliability

There are numerous standards, recommended practices, and guidelines which provide clear direction on how to manage equipment integrity. By now, many petrochemical operators have implemented Risk-Based Inspection (RBI), Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), and Root Cause Analyses (RCA).

All these risk management controls, as well as many others, are critical:

  • Equipment, which is well designed to a recognized standard, with input from appropriate subject matter experts (SME’s), has a high chance of performing well.
  • Quality RBI programs should recognize credible damage mechanisms and allow an asset owner to manage associated risk.
  • Operation within well-defined Integrated Operating Windows (IOW’s) improves the chance of damage mechanisms being predictable and trendable.
  • Effective application of RCM principles can maximize reliability and availability of rotating machinery and electrical equipment.
  • Mature RCA processes allow us to avoid repeat failures and implement systemic learnings from adverse events.

Despite this, one interesting question often gets asked…. “With all these risk controls in place, why do we still have equipment failures?”

In many cases, one of the individual controls listed above has not been effective. Perhaps the RBI has not been updated, or even correctly executed in the first place. Maybe RCM was only applied to “critical” equipment. One study concluded that over 70% of RCA investigations recommend nothing higher than procedural updates.

One factor which is often overlooked, and contributes to a significant proportion of failures, is that design/ construction, inspection, and operation controls are inherently interdependent.

  • RBI cannot be fully effective if equipment was not designed and constructed to recognized standards and industry best practices.
  • RBI is a much less effective control if robust IOW’s are not implemented.
  • The best design will still fail if equipment is not operated and maintained/ inspected appropriately.
  • Optimal equipment operation may still result in a failure if RBI intervals are wrong, or inspection is not executed to schedule.

An RCA may uncover technical gaps in one of these controls (eg wrong RBI assumptions, operation outside of IOW, missing IOW, wrong alarm/ trip points, ineffective Management of Change (MoC), poor maintenance work prioritization). This may trigger a flurry of activity, such as a targeted RBI review or MOC revision. A good RCA will also investigate why there was misalignment between multiple controls.

The best solution is to proactively identify ineffective risk controls, before we experience a near miss or loss event. Becht has developed a comprehensive syngas reliability assessment, based on industry experience and case studies, which provides a comprehensive review of interrelationships between design/ construction, inspection, and operation controls within critical equipment in ammonia and methanol plants. Specific focus is placed on contributing factors to known industry failures.

This assessment supplements existing risk management programs (such as RBI, IOW) by considering the effectiveness of our risk controls through an alternative lens. In many cases, new improvement opportunities are discovered, unknown risks are identified, and our client gains more understanding about their plant.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post which will go into more detail about Becht’s Comprehensive Syngas Reliability Assessments and how you can benefit from utilizing them at your site!

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About The Author

Andrew Cleverdon is a Mechanical Engineer with 20 years’ experience in design, maintenance, and reliability management of static and rotating equipment in Hydrogen, Ammonia and Methanol Plants, globally. He has held site-based positions including Company Engineer, Reliability Manager, Maintenance Manager, and Global Rotating Equipment Engineer. Andrew has provided equipment integrity technical support globally on numerous syngas plants, hydrogen, ammonia and methanol, implementing RBI and IOW programs, conducting equipment failure investigations & facilitating equipment repairs during outages and turnarounds.

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Why Best Practices Don’t Always Lead to High Reliability

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