Companies in the chemical process industries (CPI) face a wide variety of risk and compliance issues, which can complicate processes, slow efficiency and eat away at profitability. However, compliance and validation are essential, with zero tolerance for neglecting maintenance, bypassing built-in system safeguards or sloppy documentation for the audit trail. Assets throughout the plant must perform at peak ability, according to stringent parameters, so they can mitigate risks, such as valve leaks, temperature variances and escaping exhaust.
Companies that fail to meet regulation and validation mandates face steep fines, possible product recalls, emergency shutdowns and the risk of a tarnished brand. In the worst-case scenario, the health and safety of workers or the community may be jeopardized. The high stakes of juggling regulations, safety and efficiency can be challenging, even overwhelming. Fortunately, modern technology can help facility engineers and maintenance teams fully understand the risks and take preemptive actions to prevent dangerous or costly safety breaches.
Further defining the problem
Like all manufacturers, those in the chemicals industry are facing fast-paced change and pressures to digitize their operations in order to meet market expectations for speed, value and product innovation. This type of whole-system upgrade can monopolize attention and budgets. For example, resources may be stretched as growth-driven companies expand into emerging markets and invest in research and development (R&D) for new product offerings.
Modernizing the shop floor and warehouse also stresses the cash flow. Adding robotics, automated equipment and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can consume large capital reserves. With so many pressures, it is easy to see how maintaining existing assets can become a secondary priority. However, this is dangerous. With severe ramifications at stake, manufacturers must remain focused on monitoring and protecting the infrastructure and operational assets.
Few enterprises have unlimited budgets. Risks must be evaluated to set priorities and create a strategy for ensuring compliance with federal, state and local mandates, as well as the company’s own quality-control processes. Validation of processes ensures strict adherence to prescribed methodology. While the benefits guarantee quality, the layer of documentation adds to the administrative complexity and time-consuming reporting required. A structured plan, as well as executive buy-in, is needed to ensure that resources, funds and people are available as necessary. To earn executive support, the maintenance team will need to thoroughly research potential ramifications of unplanned downtime, equipment failure, fines or potential harm to the environment or workforce. With that, claims will need to be supported with reliable data — historical, as well as predictive, insights.
Technology can help generate and manage the data needed to make such projections. A modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solution can create a holistic risk-based asset-management strategy for daily processes, as well as longterm management of asset lifecycles. This pragmatic, data-supported approach will lead to greater operational stability, maximize value from the physical assets, and achieve a high level of safety and quality compliance.
How to get started
Chemical companies often have complex processes, workflows and operational procedures dictated by science, industry best practices, validation protocols and proprietary product features or formulations. These interdependent processes, if disrupted by a machinery failure, can quickly escalate into disastrous situations. Entire batches may fail to meet quality guidelines, requiring disposal. A single cooling-water circulation pump that fails can cause an exothermic process to overheat. The pump failure is only one part of the risk equation. The associated downtime to repair the failed pump, the bottleneck and delays placed on other lines, as well as any ruined batches requiring disposal, must also be factored into the risk assessment.
Each physical asset in the plant plays a role and the impact must be considered, whether it is a conveyer belt for moving ingredients, sensors that control the temperature in the warehouse, or light fixtures in the hallway. Some assets, of course, are more critical to safety than others.
Condition-based asset assessments use a score-based evaluation system to define and rank existing attributes and impact. Because the assessments are based on consistently defined characteristics, the rankings are objective, reliable and immune to interdepartmental debate.
Multiple criteria to evaluate for a holistic plan
In the chemicals industry, assets must be carefully evaluated for their potential impact on a wide variety of criteria. Issues related to health and safety are typically where companies focus first. Chemical incidents can range from a first aid injury to incidents requiring reporting to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA; Washington, D.C.; www.osha.gov). Multiple onsite fatalities are rare, but plans for an equipment failure that threatens lives, must be considered.
Environmental impact also requires careful examination. Incidents can be categorized by potential onsite release/spill, onsite contained releases or uncontained releases affecting vegetation or waterways offsite.
Furthermore, equipment failure can affect product quality, from jeopardizing the effectiveness of a compound to interfering with environmental control factors, like temperature or vibration. Whether the impact is direct or indirect, the cost and time involved in tracing and solving the issue can be staggering.
The following are some critical issues to consider:
- Order completion: It is important to consider how the asset influences the ability to fulfill customer orders.
- Maintainability: The mean time to repair (MTTR) an asset and put it back in service should be taken into account. The longer the repair takes, the more potential for serious interruption to order completion.
- Validation: It is necessary that the asset’s performance complies with industry validation requirements. Recording the “as-found” and “as-serviced” conditions is vital for an accurate, easy-to-trace audit trail.
- Utilization: The more frequently an asset is used determines the importance of necessary back-up parts or replacement units on hand.
- Continuity: Establishing a continuity or contingency plan in case an asset fails, and recognizing how long this plan will take, is key.
- Replacement cost: Can the asset be replaced, and what related costs would be required? If the asset involves unique technology, extreme size or logistical issues, the asset may be very costly to replace, making maintenance of the existing unit more important.
- Decommissioning: Some assets may require costly decommissioning efforts, which can be logistical challenges. For example, equipment in remote locations or in extreme weather conditions may require technicians to wear protective clothing, use specialized safety gear or be certified with advanced training.
Assessing assets’ current conditions, and the risks associated with failure, lay the foundation for a sound strategic plan. With the comprehensive list of assets and dynamic view of conditions and potential risks, the facility managers can make well-informed decisions about use of resources and how to prepare for incidents that may arise. This helps prioritize upgrades, replacements and preventive maintenance. However, it is important to note that assessments cannot be done once and left. Monitoring asset conditions and evaluating prescriptive needs requires continuous attention. Compliance validation is a continuous responsibility and not to be taken lightly.
Monitoring assets, collecting data and being prescriptive
Essential assets, and ones at high risk, require careful, realtime monitoring. Some assets in the latter stages of their lifecycle, may be allowed to run until they fail and receive little intervention or attention, besides planning the removal and decommissioning. Most assets will fall in between those two extremes and call for steady monitoring and maintenance.
Whether the plant uses walk-through inspections, scheduled maintenance checks or IoT technology and embedded sensors to monitor performance, it is essential that asset performance data is captured and monitored for changes. The goal is to spot variables or anomalies, which may be early warning signs of a failure.
Advanced technologies identify issues
Modern EAM solutions use advanced technology to boost productivity of the maintenance team and apply insights that may have been overlooked before. IoT applications use sensors to measure and communicate a wide range of physical attributes, from temperature to vibration, moisture, density or speed. These data points, with relevant context attached, are sent to a data lake in the cloud, where they are aggregated and sorted, looking for predefined anomalies. Data points that fall outside of prescribed limits trigger an automatic response, such as signaling a maintenance check. If the data indicates a severe issue or threat, the entire line may be shut down or batches rerouted to other machines.
By catching warning signs early, intervention can take place before the impact is severe. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) help the system refine its recognition of patterns and predictions of outcomes. The longer the process is in place, the more accurate the system will be in predicting outcomes.
Such augmented analysis of data can be valuable to the maintenance team in many ways, such as:
- Meeting process validation requirements and documenting the proof points
- Predicting the replacement parts that will be needed and when
- Forecasting workforce needs, such as training or hiring technicians to keep pace with demand
- Predicting when an upgrade or replacement will be more economical than frequent repairs
- Understanding the true underlying costs associated with frequent repairs
- Finding patterns in use of consumables (like oil or ink) and replaceables (like filters or belts) so that inventory is on hand.
These tactics not only help the maintenance team manage assets with efficiency, they also help the plant stay on schedule, control risks and keep the workforce and community safe. ♦
Edited by Mary Page Bailey
Kevin Price is a technical product evangelist for enterprise asset management (EAM) at Infor (50 Datastream Plaza, Greenville, SC 29605, Website: www.infor.com). He has more than 20 years of experience in the EAM solution area. He has served in multiple leadership roles in sales, service, development and product management. He is currently the senior product director for the Infor EAM portfolio, which includes EAM Enterprise, MP2, CloudSuite Facilities Management and Spear Technologies. Price graduated with his B.Sc. in business administration from College of Charleston.