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How a few Plants became “Best of Class” Performers

By: , Posted on: December 2, 2016


Not all professionals are what they claim to be, as the September 2016 issue of the AARP (American Association of Retired People) Bulletin reminds us.  This publication reported that “One percent of doctors account for about a third of malpractice claims paid.”

While we will perhaps never know to what extent the AARP’s notions are valid in other industries, plain common sense convinces us that there will be parallel findings.  In particular, an examination of repeat failure histories in the hydrocarbon and general process industries points in that direction.

I would never claim to know everything there’s to know about equipment reliability; then again, I haven’t exactly slept on the job in a 54 year professional career. There have been many unique insights into what works and what doesn’t, what mistakes are or aren’t repeated, and how explanations have ranged from sound and valid to totally bogus.

In the well-illustrated 750-page text “Petrochemical Machinery Insights” (Elsevier, 2016), I have captured and condensed answers to perhaps 200 gained insights. I included operating technicians, maintenance professionals, reliability engineers, mid-level and senior managers in my target readership. Some readers will be working in refinery and process plant shops; others could be field mechanics, millwrights, project engineers, mid-level managers and project executives. All of them are people whose actions influence asset reliability. For many years I have seen merit in giving these widely divergent job functions easy access to relevant material. I was always pleased when subject matter experts (“SMEs”) agreed with me and many SMEs, whether active or retired, are probably aware of the significance of this material. Yet, while this group of peers and colleagues are equally knowledgeable, they may not have had similar opportunities to transfer their experience into written words.  Time, motivation and opportunity have to come together as we publish relevant highlights of our work-related insights.

Over the years I found that basing one’s actions on vague generalities will be ineffective, wasteful, or even dangerous. Quite often the lack of success is rooted in a mere anecdote being passed down and applied outside of its original context. Regrettably, in the past, action was often initiated by listening to opinions instead of facts. The few books that allude to certain issues avoid the details and dwell on consultant-conceived generalities.

Where the core material originated

To be of actionable value the reader needs facts and details. Along these lines of thinking, I tackled this writing task with the primary intent of updating machinery reliability-related topics. Suffice it to say that more than ever modern industry is affected by equipment reliability. But it would be a serious mistake to assume that a particular facility or corporate entity can achieve its reliability goals without the support and cooperation of many interacting job functions. Moreover, equipment reliability is greatly influenced by the support and continuity given by management. I therefore included subject categories on organization, management and training. Equipment reliability is also affected by the implementation skills of the people in the trenches, so-to-speak, and by the perceptions of everyone between them and higher management. Every one of us fits in somewhere and every one of us influences asset reliability. By way of an automobile analogy, the driver and maintenance technician and design engineer carry equal weight. If one of them slacks off, reliability becomes illusory. We need to apply the same logic in our plants. We must accept that our respective responsibilities overlap, that everybody matters and fulfills a role.

For accessibility the material had to be neatly indexed and cross-referenced. Its relevance had to be re-confirmed by engineers and marketers who—like the author—were no longer compelled to submit their findings for approval to higher authorities whose agenda inevitably conflicts with theirs. Such approval is often withheld in order to discourage publishing anything that could even remotely be viewed as a competitive advantage, or viewed as an endorsement, or a critically important fact. But ignorance is as dangerous as information overload; I therefore tried to come down somewhere in the middle between silence and overload.

Conveying just the right amount of useful information to the intended target audience is one of the great challenges in reliability engineering. Failure analysis, remedial steps or desirable substitute approaches must be explained, perhaps more than just once. Good work processes encompass sound explanations. Even if impeded by an often unproductive up-and-down chain-of-command approach, good work processes must be adopted to be successful. Unproductive up-and-down wavering is occasionally found in stifling Pareto-confirming work environments. In places where Pareto’s Law prevails, 80% of the people are doing all the talking and 20% are doing all the work. I waited until the depressing possibility of being trapped in such a merry-go-round was no longer a concern of mine. I can now be critical whenever criticism is appropriate. When appropriate I can submit constructive criticism and lay-out and explain which reliability strategies and concepts have stood the test of time. I have found these strategies embraced by well-managed Best-of-Class companies; the strategies are interwoven and their implementation is shared among many job functions. In compiling this book I could finally take whatever time was needed to give readers pertinent facts. My hope was to explain these facts in a manner which gets to the point quickly and accurately, non-judgmental—but uncompromisingly truthful, nevertheless.

About the Author

heinz-blochHeinz P Bloch is the owner and principal of Process Machinery Consulting Co, and has been the reliability editor of Hydrocarbon Processing Magazine since 1990. He is the author or co-author of over 650 technical papers or articles, and 19 full text books. He was a founding member of Texas A&M University’s International Pump Users Symposium.

About the Book

Petrochemical Machinery Insights is a priceless collection of solutions and advice from Heinz Bloch on a broad range of equipment management themes, from wear to warranty issues, organizational problems and oil mist lubrication, and professional growth and pre-purchase of machinery.

petrochemical machinery insights

The author draws on his industry experience to hone in on important problems that do not get addressed in other books, providing actionable details that engineers can use. Mechanical, reliability, and process engineers will find this book the next best thing to having Heinz Bloch on speed dial.

The book is available now on the Elsevier store. Enter STC215 at the checkout for 30% discount!

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