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Bottoms Up!

The benefits of taking a bottom up approach to maintenance

When it comes to maintenance, the oil and gas industry has operated with the same top down approach for decades. A conservative, risk averse mentality combined with a lack of financial incentive has held back moves toward more advanced solutions even as technology has become embedded in every aspect of our lives. I believe, the time for a technology-based, ‘bottoms up’ predictive approach to maintenance has come.

Maintenance has long been a ‘process’ for most oil and gas plant managers. It involves a lot of planning and time-consuming checks on equipment that may, or may not require updates or replacements. Then there is the issue of calibrations and measurements. This requires expensive and challenging inspections of pipelines and flows, all of which need to be verified with a reliable, traceable standard.

Smart technology, smart business
Although many large oil and gas producers have invested in some smart tools and technology, they are not utilizing the massive amounts of data that is collected by them. For example, they use sensors on equipment for real-time temperature measurements, but not to compare the time difference or to alert the plant manager that a part is dirty and needs changing at that moment. The real-time data being collected and read needs to be turned into quality data. To do this, a company needs to invest in a system that can extract the data from these different sensors in a variety of areas and turn it into useful, actionable information. It’s a bottom up versus the old, top down, system of change.

This is especially true with calibration and metering, which usually only gets updated once every few years. This is a major, and inevitably costly, mistake on the part of executives because the future maintenance costs on older systems can become immense. By starting off with the correct measurements that are also verifiable, a company will end up saving much money and time in this crucial aspect of the business.

Human error
As I’ve mentioned before, the figures don’t lie. There is plenty of evidence showing that 90 percent of errors are caused by people and only 10 percent by equipment. Of the 90 percent caused by human error, 80 percent are from the incorrect interpretation and application of engineering standards, lack of the right competency skills, interpretation differences in procedures and work instructions and lack of software tools. Online predictive maintenance can reduce human errors and provide useful feedback to plant workers about how better to do their jobs.

What I’m talking about here are online tools to automatically validate instruments and in turn to determine uncertainties of measurement systems in order to collect relevant diagnostic data on which to base business decisions. With the right IT solutions, companies can truly trust their measuring systems and save money at the same time.



First mover advantage
As I have seen over the last few years, the Middle East is moving quickly towards updating its systems. It seems to be much harder to convince European and American oil companies that they need to look to the future and make changes now.

The drive for change must be led by the management. This can be difficult to accomplish because managers do not always have sufficient technical knowledge to understand how important it is to invest in the preliminary phase of a project. Often, they mainly see costs and don’t possess a long-term view.

It’s in the interest of the entire industry to adopt a bottom up approach and invest in online predictive maintenance systems that can help optimize all of their processes. In the end, online predictive maintenance makes for better management decisions and lower lifecycle costs.

Wouter Last, president Hint