Having reliable process manufacturing operations begins with reliable components and reliable control strategies to handle changing conditions. Emerson’s Jennifer Sandstrom, a senior industrial energy consultant, highlights the role of consultants in unpeeling the many aspects of designing and maintaining reliable operations.
Reliability is something (equipment, software, etc) that produces similar results under consistent conditions. Well, that’s easily said and easily understood but if you, and if you’re reading this blog you probably do, live in a process world, the conditions are consistently dynamic meaning similar results could be quite a challenge!
And, speaking of similar, similar in the way that a Timex is similar to a Rolex? After all they are both time pieces that monitor the passage of time but the connoisseur of chronometry or horology may beg to differ about similarities and results. One of the challenges then in delivering reliability is to understand the context and for us that means the client, his pain and his process.
Emerson has a longstanding background in the supply of reliable technology—Fisher valves or regulators, Rosemount and Rosemount Analytical measurement devices, DeltaV hardware, etc. (too many to include!) all with documentation to prove and certify mean time between failures (MTBF) and other key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that define reliability.
With thanks and praise, we (consultants and employees) march forward with the confidence that our recommendations of tangible equipment to process manufacturers are solid and reliable in theory as well as practice. So one concern is assuaged on the front of reliability but what about the other concerns? Reliability of design, or more importantly the reliability of the Solution, and then thinking back to the nature of a process and thinking, again, about the definition of reliability.
The challenge then becomes how do we take a process, which due to physics or nature could be inconsistent, and make it consistent? Or worse, how do we take a process input that by its nature is inconsistent, like a variable-BTU fuel, and make its inconsistent make up look and feel consistent in our control process? And once we’ve done that what have we gained and have we resolved the question of reliable? Well, isn’t this just the challenge that keeps Emerson’s Industry Consultants up at night and make their brains churn with the possibilities and pitfalls? It turns out that is quite an onion to peel!
First, they listen and listen a lot. One of the resounding themes they hear is that operators struggle to respond to normal variations in utility demands and that becomes even more difficult under abnormal circumstances. The abnormal circumstances they discuss are things like process trips or process variation in the form of up or downstream upsets, equipment issues, and human error due to lack of information or a deluge of information, the general stress that comes with unexpected events.
Now starts the opportunity to help and begin to create order out of what seems to be chaos! So, barring a very specific complaint that would direct a consultant to a particular problem first, the team goes to the basement and starts at the beginning. I know it sounds ridiculously basic, but we all know the acronym (K.I.S.S.), Industrial Energy consultants attack in a systematic methodology; they go out, look and listen to what the equipment and process tells them.
What is the condition of things? Are the critical items installed correctly and do they work? What does the air flow measurement installation look like? Is it installed correctly? Is the tubing crimped or bent? What type of airflow is it? What maintenance history does it have?
We look at dampers that sometimes groan and creak at the thought of movement not exactly the picture of “reliable”. So goes the step-by-step examination of the patient. You may ask, why; why start here and not with the control system?
Well, it won’t do much good to tear out the parking lot in a vehicle without wheels, why would I think reliable control is within reach if I don’t have reliable instrumentation and control elements. We know this because as a consulting group, it would frighten most of the team to quote the combined years of experience invested in looking, listening, and analyzing equipment and processes, and then revising and testing new ideas.
And if it should be a greenfield project, we take the same lessons learned and look at P&ID‘s, instrument lists and performance specifications. How will this process unit fit into the whole picture? How does it have to contribute the surrounding process?
This basic survey helps start to identify what the major “reliability” challenges are as related to equipment and gets that first layer off. In my next post, we’ll talk about where to go from here what’s in the solution that makes it special.