Curious About Chemical Plant On-Stream Time? An Interview with Paul Harker
“Trade Value for Value– If you are not putting in more than you’re taking out, you are either a thief or a mooch. I don’t want to be either.” –Paul Harker
Paul Harker is a Senior Operations Manager at USCCG and has been with the firm since 1988. He has been among the leaders within USCCG in developing our Inventory Management and Sales & Operations Planning processes. Paul has conducted approximately 160 implementations in projects for over 75 clients located in the US, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, and China. Despite his busy schedule, he was kind enough to let me ask a few questions about his recent work with clients in the chemical industry, and I’m excited to share Paul’s insights with all of you.
Chemicals is a broad industry, what types of clients do you work with most often?
In terms of process types, our work has been with Continuous and Batch Processing facilities. The Continuous Processing facilities conduct production campaigns, often lasting many months on a single product. The Batch Processing facilities manufacture discrete batches of various products in self-contained loops of vessels.
The product types range from pharmaceuticals, surfactants, and amines to petrochemicals. Their uses range from industrial applications to additives enhancing our medicines, our food, and even our beer.
How is this industry different from other business sectors?
Chemical manufacturing is extremely capital intensive and frequently requires high research and development costs. This industry is stringently regulated on product specifications, sanitation, environmental impact, and employee and public safety. The high cost of entry makes the competitive landscape relatively stable and the operating margins can be quite attractive.
What kinds of issues are your current clients facing?
Because of the capital invested and the margin opportunities, it is critically important that the On-Stream Time of their plants remains very high. Obviously, if they are not producing, they are not making any money. The percentage of On-Stream Time typically needs to be in the mid to high 90% range.
In addition to being On-Stream, the processes within the facilities need to be operating at or near their Rated Capacity. It does our clients little good if they have 98% On-Stream Time, but are only running at 10% of their Rated Capacity. Both indices need to be impacted in order to elevate the output of the plant.
For some clients, the largest erosion of On-Stream Time takes place during their planned Turnarounds (sometimes referred to as Shutdowns). These are periods when the plant is taken down in order to complete maintenance tasks or process improvements that cannot take place while the facility is running. These Turnarounds may occur annually and require two or more weeks to complete. Keeping these as effective and as short as possible are of huge value.
Other clients may have their Turnarounds well managed, but have smaller bites taken out of their On-Stream Time by thinly managed Down Days. A Down Day is a generic term for when a plant goes down due to an unplanned event, or for a planned maintenance or construction task. The duration may be a few hours or a day or two, but are still referred to as Down Days. Although smaller bites, these also need to be well managed in order to get the maximum value in the shortest amount of time
These facilities are tremendously complex and, even with state of the art Distributed Control Systems (DCS), there are typically thousands of steps required to start-up, run, and ramp-down the plant. Well defined and linked procedures are necessary to safely and effectively operate. This is particularly important as the industry expands and the experienced work force approaches retirement.
Virtually all of these clients face an ever-increasing number of regulations and regulatory bodies. The amount of data required concerning the process, equipment configuration and condition, and maintenance task definition and recording has been growing exponentially. This places more requirements on all levels of the organization as well as on the Information Technology infrastructure and support.
What kinds of solutions and benefits can you bring to your clients?
We can have an impact on On-Stream Time by managing Turnaround (TA) events and Down Days (DD) differently. To knock a few days off of an annual TA we have developed a Turnaround Management Operating System that is a comprehensive, closed-loop system that contains the tools, procedures, and practices to manage the balance between the speed and the effectiveness of TAs. We can get more out of DDs by enhancing the use of the Computerized Maintenance Management Operating System (CMMS), overlaying additional planning steps, and restructuring the responsibilities within the planning and materials groups.
We can also have an impact on the Rated Capacity through shifting the maintenance organizations from a Response Centric approach to a Reliability Centric approach. A plant that runs reliably spends more time at or near the rated capacity. This often means building a Reliability Function with dedicated planners and crafts persons. Within that function, we place inspections, lubrication routes, and Preventive Maintenance tasks as well as Down Day and Turnaround events. Additionally, this often requires conducting Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) in order to define the correct work plan and frequency for each piece of equipment. Through the years, we have developed a number of templates that dramatically speed up this otherwise daunting task.
Are there any other industries that could benefit from some of the solutions implemented at your clients’ sites?
Any continuous flow manufacturing facility could benefit from these approach elements. Food processing, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, petrochemical production and transmission, waste water treatment, and power plants all come to mind.