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Reliability, like safety, should never be taken for granted. To proactively predict and improve equipment and system reliability, leaders in industry apply design-for-reliability practices to their capital projects. However, these good intentions are diminished if inadequate tools or resources limit the scope and quality of the practice, or if they fail to encourage ongoing reliability improvements beyond the design stage.
The best outcomes for new or retrofit plants, equipment, and systems are realized when reliability engineering strategies begin at ideation and continue through design, construction, installation, commissioning, operation, and maintenance. If that continuity is lacking and reliability efforts break down, it introduces risks to uptime, safety, and operational performance and limits the asset’s life cycle.
Example design-for-reliability strategies include RAM analysis, which applies reliability, availability, and maintainability (RAM) modeling to identify and mitigate production system risks; and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to identify and mitigate design or process risks. The strategies yield actionable information now and facilitate future inspections, maintenance, and continuous reliability improvements.
Extending the practice to construct for reliability tests and validates the findings and enables reliability refinements. In this phase, it is essential to update the bills of material (BOM) from as-conceived to as-built in order to prevent outdated information from passing into the production systems. A disconnect occurs when design and construction tools are not integrated and the asset data is incomplete. This, in turn, hampers reliability when the deficiencies are carried into the operations and maintenance systems.
For advice on closing the gap, I sought perspectives from an industry analyst and a reliability consultant. One stressed establishing an integrated, complementary enterprise architecture (EA) for visibility, control, and continuity of information for the life of the asset. The other emphasized the importance of proper software configuration and having experienced engineering and maintenance personnel champion best-practice maintenance processes and KPIs from the earliest stage. Together, their sage advice provides a roadmap to reliability.
Prepare a platform at ideation
Dan Miklovic, research fellow at LNS Research, recommends leveraging the connectivity enabled by the industrial internet of things (IIoT) to capture asset master data starting at conceptualization and carry reliability right through to retirement of the facility.
“One of the greatest problems with the traditional ‘build then toss over the wall’ model of past plant design and construction approaches was the inability to readily take the as-built data, and accurately and easily load it into the asset performance management tools used to operate and maintain the plant,” explains Miklovic.
Asset-intensive industries need to ensure that the entire plant life cycle can be managed, he says. A critical step in this process is understanding how to create and maintain an asset master data structure that will suffice over the complete life cycle of the plant/asset, which may be many decades. For instance, throughout an asset’s life, there will be as-conceived, as-engineered, as-designed, as-manufactured, and as-maintained BOMs.
Best-in-class physical asset owner-operators also address concepts such as functionality, quality, and reliability during ideation. “As soon as the need to construct new facilities surfaces, you need to start capturing and documenting the critical requirements. This must include not only the production requirements, but also the reliability and performance requirements,” says Miklovic.
The importance of crafting an enterprise architecture that embraces technology choices that support the asset environment throughout its entire life, including the retirement or disposal phase, can’t be over emphasized, he adds.
To ensure you can achieve operational excellence from your assets, Miklovic recommends:
- Manage your assets across their entire lifespan
- Design reliability in from the very first stages, at conceptualization
- Leverage the enterprise architecture to ensure that you have the technology portfolio to support the assets over their lifespan
- Select solution providers that either offer that platform approach or support a standardized environment that reduces the integration and data integrity burden
Configure the software for best practices
Richard “Dick” DeFazio, president and CEO of Performance Consulting Associates (PCA), observes that not many new plants are being built; instead, most capital spending is in rebuilding or retrofitting existing facilities with modern equipment without changing or upgrading the software. In either case, the software is not always configured properly, either in its original set-up or for new equipment, to enable best maintenance practices for planning, scheduling, preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM), or shutdowns. It is a critical and fundamental breakdown that begins in the design-build phase.
“There is a huge disconnect between a plant’s asset management (EAM/CMMS) software capability and its practical application, primarily due to poor setup,” suggests DeFazio. “In the average manufacturing plant, only about half of the full potential of the EAM/CMMS software is used.”
For example, PCA is currently helping a large home goods manufacturing plant that spent millions on a new facility and new equipment but discovered at start-up that the software wasn’t configured to facilitate maintenance best practices. “The guys in the plant are just now figuring out what they need,” says DeFazio. “They can’t manage their backlog, set up work order priorities, optimize PM schedules, generate the right KPIs and reports, or properly schedule and launch projects or shutdowns. It’s an enormous dilemma.”
He cites three reasons for this problem:
- The EAM/CMMS software and its implementation are so expensive that companies are cutting out critical configuration steps. The BOM file is not complete; the asset numbering and naming conventions are inconsistent; and users don’t have all the right codes and functionality. More importantly the maintenance staff has not been given enough individual training on the new software. These steps are skipped at the expense of the maintenance teams who need them.
- EAM/CMMS software is a very low priority for those involved in plant design, build, and commissioning. All the other software for accounting, payables, receivables, manufacturing execution, customer and vendor management, inventory, and more, all too often take precedence. “You don’t always see people on the capital projects construction side concerned about capturing asset information to turn over to the plant maintenance department,” says DeFazio.
- The Engineering and Maintenance organizations who will use the software are often at the mercy of the company’s IT people who have inadequate maintenance or industry experience. The IT personnel can get the software running but not consistent with maintenance best practices.
DeFazio urges companies to spend more time and effort before commissioning and turnover to ensure that the EAM/CMMS software is properly set up and configured, whether it means assigning internal resources or contracting the engineering design and construction firm or a reliability consulting firm to do it.
Pulling it all together
Establishing the right architecture and configuration from the outset of a capital project allows companies to achieve greater levels of reliability and continuous improvements for the life of the asset. The reward is greater uptime, safety, performance, and total cost of ownership. Choosing an EAM/ERP solution provider with a strong partner network and expert services helps to ensure the proper foundation for designing and constructing for reliability.