Unleashing the Hidden Plant through Improved Operational Discipline (part 1)

Reducing unplanned downtime and increasing asset utilization are the single biggest opportunities for financial improvement in operations. These opportunities typically generate very high returns due to the low requirements for new capital investment. Most industry experts refer to these strategic priorities as means to “unleashing the hidden plant”.

Industry benchmark studies show that most companies are deploying “early failure” strategies to detect equipment/process issues and evidently reduce unplanned downtime and increase asset utilization. These strategies include technologies such as; Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Monte Carlo Simulation, Reliability Centered Maintenance, Predictive Analysis, PPM Optimization, Industrial Integrity of Things, Reliability of Indoor Positioning, etc. As you can see, most of these interventions are targeted at improving either process or equipment reliability

However, several publications including a book by industry expert Ron Moore titled; “Making Common Sense Common Practice”, have basically revealed that poor operating practices and inadequate operating procedures account for a larger percentage of losses than actual equipment failures. The most common causes for these losses occurred during infrequent activities and unsteady state conditions such as unit and equipment start-ups and shutdowns, and discontinuous operations such as equipment switching, etc. See the adjacent graph titled:

Figure 1. “Unleashing the Hidden Plant” (link)

An underlying issue for the losses is the lack of operational discipline including; shift to shift inconsistencies, procedure accuracy, training variances, operator knowledge and experience typically in the field operator position. Most companies have extended automation to include process start-ups and shutdowns for the DCS (console) operator position to offset the inexperience phenomena. In addition, investment in dynamic simulators for the DCS operator position have been deployed, but this is not the field operator position. The field operator assignment remains primarily manual in nature and their training usually entails reading procedures, operator shadowing, and time on assignment. Consequently, becoming competent and knowledgeable of equipment functionality, location, and the proper sequence of critical and/or infrequent operating tasks take a long time and are dependent upon equipment availability or non-availability.

Data collected from newly qualified field operators revealed that they only knew about 30% of the total job assignment after being considered “qualified”. This was largely due to the trainees limited ability to train and/or practice while the unit was in production. Additional data collected indicated that qualified field operators with job service ranging from 3 to 5 years identified tasks and procedures that they had not executed since being in the job.

High turnover and attrition continue to challenge manufacturing organizations. An efficient and effective means of addressing field operator knowledge and competency is an absolute must if an organization intends to prevent unplanned events due to human error and “unleash the hidden plant”.

Solving this will require a solution that provides the field operator with the chance to train and become competent on infrequent, critical, and complex tasks without the availability of the actual plant equipment or the full-time dependency of a trainer/SME. Simulating the operating procedures is the alternative that enables an operator to learn by doing.

It is well documented that a person retains 70–80% of what they practice through simulation versus only 10–20% of what they read (link).

Voovio Technologies offers procedure simulation with its enhanced reality proprietary technology.

Sources of data

1. Book by industry expert Ron Moore titled; “Making Common Sense Common Practice”, namely “Causes of Losses from Ideal Production”.

2. Various Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Industry conferences focused on improving Asset Management.

3. Independent studies and initiatives conducted by Industry Consultants on Improving Asset Productivity

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