Early Detection as Continual Improvement

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What’s new?  Why?
Oil refineries such as Lion Oil Company (LOC) located in El Dorado, Arkansas, Ergon Refining, Inc., (ERI) in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Ergon – West Virginia, Inc. (EWV) in Newell, West Virginia, must continually improve their processes to stay competitive in the manufacturing market.  Accepting the status quo in operations and maintenance practices is no longer acceptable.  Adoption of new and innovative reliability technologies is one way to engage in continual improvement of operational processes.

Early detection of equipment failures is one of the best and most economical ways to maintain equipment reliability in any facility.  Early detection results in a direct, positive impact on improving the safety, environmental impact, operation, and maintenance of the facility.  These companies have focused their attention on methods and tools that help in the detection of functional failures of equipment earlier in the failure curve.  This is why these refineries have adopted the use of a personal digital assistant (PDA), a “palm top” or handheld computer used in performing operator surveillance rounds and equipment inspections.

Early detection of equipment faults can also result in financial savings by greatly reducing the cost of maintaining equipment.  If an equipment fault is not detected early, the ensuing failure can be very costly.  Not only can failure cause lost production time, but it often entails “rush ordering” parts and paying overtime to get the equipment back on-line.  Increasing the percentage of scheduled maintenance while decreasing emergency work and/or unplanned shutdowns can drastically improve a company’s bottom line.

The PDA program also allows companies to eliminate paper inspection forms along with the associated cost, labor-hours of processing, and file cabinets
and/or computer disc space required to store such records.  Data collected on paper forms can be prone to error.  Entries may be illegible, different operators may use their own terms to describe problem conditions, or values could be transcribed incorrectly.  The inspection check sheets also offer little additional support to the operator when a problem is discovered, since there is no immediate way to review previous inspections or query the check sheets for further help.

How does it work?
In a refinery, the “outside” operator is the first line of defense for early detection of equipment faults.  The PDA gives the operator a more automated and consistent method of recording, storing, tracking, and analyzing pertinent data concerning equipment operation.  Use of handhelds in the refineries places the instrument directly at the piece of equipment when inspections are being performed.  This prevents the information being lost through paper-based records and minimizes the possibility of error while transferring the hand-written field values to a database or spreadsheet.

The equipment inspections and numeric parameters are contained within a “surveillance round.”  Surveillance rounds are conducted at defined time intervals to ensure adequate coverage of the equipment and/or as defined by standards such as Process Safety Management (PSM) and environmental regulations or permits.

The first step in the process is scanning the barcode at an inspection point.  The PDA sign-on identifies the Operator, and scanning the barcode automatically records the identification of the equipment as well as the time and date stamp of when the inspection was completed.  When an operator scans the barcode, the corresponding inspection is brought up on a data collector.  The handhelds can contain numerous equipment inspection checklists, as well as numeric operating parameters such as temperature, pressure, level, and vibration readings of rotating equipment.

When the operator’s surveillance route is complete, the operator simply uploads the information into a computer from the PDA’s docking station.  The collected data is stored electronically (using a historical format that operators can access and trend for analysis) in the Maintelligence system.  Problems noted during the surveillance round and numeric values that occur outside of their acceptable range appear on an “alarm page” which is reviewed daily by Operations Unit Supervisors.

This process has quite an advantage. As Ergon – West Virginia, Inc.’s (EWV) Operations Manager Sam Schupbach notes, “Operators working a string of night shifts might not see their supervisor for days.  With Maintelligence, the operator can notify the supervisor of a potential problem on the unit directly from the handheld, and the supervisor will see it the next day. This is a very effective method of communication when word of mouth sometimes fails.”

Using barcodes also assists in setting default values for the automatic generation of equipment maintenance notifications in the SAP (Systems, Applications and Products) system. Generating these notifications, or requests for maintenance service, directly from the handheld ensures that problems being detected by the operator in the field do not get lost or forgotten before being entered into Ergon’s SAP data processing application.

What’s been accomplished?
Lion Oil Company – El Dorado, Arkansas – LOC
Program Coordinators
Wayne Feazel-Equipment Reliability Coordinator
Jean Sewell-Reliability Maintenance Specialist
Program began August 2005

Progress: LOC
Lion Oil was the first of the three refineries to start its PDA pilot program. As such, the use of the handhelds is significantly advanced. After four years, all of the refinery’s operating units, plus a portion of the northern pipeline, have established inspection rounds that operators perform every day. Lion is also using the PDA’s for monthly fire extinguisher inspections and weekly environmental checks for drains and seals. Currently, Lion’s system contains over 17,000 data points.

But, as Wayne Feazel says, “Building and adding to the system never stops. It seems like every week we’ve found another use for it.” Ongoing and future projects in the Lion Oil system include monthly safety shower checks, ladder inspections, and SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) inspections, as well as more inspection points and vibration analyses on the pipelines, including the southern route that stretches to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ergon – West Virginia, Inc. – Newell, West Virginia – EWV
Program Coordinators
Bobby Smith-Training Coordinator
Rick Steffen-Compliance Operator
Program began August 2008

Progress: EWV
After a few months of planning and training in the summer and fall of 2008, the program was first rolled out to the tank field areas. Oil Movements operators started using the PDA’s for tank field and pump pad inspections in November 2008. As of July 2009, when the Utility Area and Wastewater Treatment Plant were brought on-line, outside unit operators were performing surveillance rounds using handheld devices on every operating unit in the plant.

For the immediate future, EWV plans to follow Lion Oil’s lead in adding inspection rounds for fire extinguishers, safety showers, relief valves, and ladders, as well as environmental inspections.

Vibration monitoring of rotating equipment remains a long-term goal. DMSI (Design Maintenance Systems, Inc.), the software developer of the Maintelligence system, is developing wireless technology for vibration monitoring. EWV PDA team members decided to wait for that technology to be produced before starting their vibration monitoring program.

According to Bobby Smith, “We didn’t want to have one technology for just a little while then have to change (and pay) for something else when the wireless sensors came out. We thought there was enough on our plate for now just building all of the surveillance rounds for the units and training operators.”

Ergon Refining, Inc. – Vicksburg, Mississippi – ERI
Program Coordinators
Sam Haas-Refinery Expansion Projects
James Lee-Operations Shift Supervisor
Program began April 2009

Progress: ERI
ERI began its pilot project in the spring of 2009 and has made significant progress in a short amount of time. Currently, ERI is using handhelds to perform surveillance rounds on the Crude Distillation Unit and for safety shower and tank roof drain inspections.

Equipment and inspection points are built into the system for several other operating units (HPU, HP2, SWS, ARU, NAHS, WWT, HG2, and HG3). As additional handheld units become available, James Lee will integrate these into the Maintelligence system, and Operators can begin performing their surveillance rounds on those units as well, with the HPU first on the list. ERI is also set up to add fire extinguisher and hose house inspections, as well as environmental (LDAR [Leak Detection and Repair] and surface drains) checklists.

According to James Lee, ERI is already seeing positive results from PDA implementation: “The first week we started using them, we found two local temperature indicators that were incorrect. The program flagged them, and they were replaced. Also, new operators might not know what a certain pump’s pressure should be. With this program, the operator can access that data instantly.”

How have operators adjusted to the change?
Program coordinators understand that changing from paper-based rounds to handheld computers is a challenging transition for operators to make. They have found three methods that have helped ease the process:
1. Train, train, train – In the field and at the computer, one-on-one with each operator has been the most effective method of training.
2. Keep the operators involved with the building process. According to Bobby Smith, “You want the operators to feel a degree of ownership of this program. After all, they are the people whose lives change the most because of it.”
3. Be progressive, but deliberate. According to ERI program coordinator James Lee, “You want to show consistent progress, but you don’t want to do too much, too fast. Give the operators time to get comfortable with it.”

EWV program coordinator Rick Steffen, for one, has been pleased with the operators’ acceptance of the program. He states, “Operator buy-in is very important to the success of implementation.”

According to EWV Crude Unit operator Randy Burch, “At first you’re just out there searching for tags to scan. But once you get used to it; you see this is a much better way to make your rounds, submit readings, and communicate findings.” Added MEK/Utility operator Carl Childers, “For me, this just makes more sense than writing out data on paper log sheets.”

Using this new technology is allowing Ergon refineries to improve the key three resources in business–more effective and efficient use of our time, costs, and people.

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