May 2021

Special Focus: Maintenance and Reliability

How maintenance and reliability in gas analysis supports hydrocarbon processing installations

Industrial plants depend on accurate, reliable gas analysis for process control, efficiency, safety and emissions monitoring.

Calvert, M., Servomex

Industrial plants depend on accurate, reliable gas analysis for process control, efficiency, safety and emissions monitoring. When analytical systems perform poorly, it can increase costs and affect the quality of the final product. If the system fails, it can lead to very expensive downtime.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for preparation into sharp focus for industrial plants. Maintaining equipment reliability and minimizing downtime have taken on new levels of importance, and it has become essential to ensure the right spare parts, consumables and other equipment are available when needed.

Even the most reliable analyzers benefit from regular, planned maintenance. Getting the necessary level of service support can be the difference that keeps a plant operating reliably and profitably, even during pandemic restrictions.

Industrial plants that have addressed this by being in a service agreement will be far better prepared to cope with the stress of unplanned downtime, as well as an emergency response when a crisis (e.g., COVID-19) makes rapid reaction much more challenging. It also ensures they have better access to tailored support, including staff training and critical spares packs, giving them full peace of mind that they are prepared for any eventuality.

The benefits of good maintenance

The most basic level of maintenance is to wait until something goes wrong and then fix it. What this means for industrial plants is potentially lengthy downtime while an engineer identifies the problem, obtains the necessary part(s) and rectifies the issue.

Often, the expense involved—primarily from lost production—far exceeds the cost of even the most comprehensive service support packages. Regular inspection is a far more proactive approach to maintenance that significantly reduces the risk of unplanned downtime. It helps to identify any developing problems or unexpected damage and allows for the planned replacement of consumable parts.

For example, if a process must be stopped temporarily to replace an aging sensor cell, properly planned maintenance means this scheduled window can be used to address any other problems that may have been identified. Otherwise, left unattended, these issues could lead to an unexpected breakdown or affect the accuracy of the gas measurements.

The other side of this process is that regular maintenance means plant operators have to make ‘just in case’ replacements—inspections will reveal if a product is working as intended and does not need servicing.

Many modern plants operate with minimal staff, with some functions carried out entirely remotely. Quite commonly, the time and expertise to carry out even minor maintenance is not available. In the past, plant personnel have built up a good knowledge of the gas analyzers they use over time and learned to spot any problems. Changing work practices and the movement of experienced staff out of the industry means that much of this onsite expertise has been lost.

Forging an ongoing partnership with a service network ensures that processing plants have access to trained, expert engineers who have a deep understanding of the gas analysis systems and how they work within an application. It means that busy personnel do not have to be switched from other tasks to carry out inspections—the maintenance becomes part of an organized schedule that supports the continuous operation of the plant.

In the author’s experience, visiting engineers are often seen as a key part of the plant’s team and build a strong relationship with the customer. Operating out of regional service centers, the author’s company’s personnel have an excellent knowledge of the technologies involved, as well as the process and application, which helps them achieve better results. By attending the site regularly, they increase their understanding of each plant’s individual needs, ensuring a tailored service beyond simple analyzer inspection and looking at entire process requirements.

How service supports industry

Reliability is achieved through good maintenance. However, this can mean different things to different operators, as plant requirements can vary greatly according to such factors as the applications involved and the gas analysis technology being used.

For this reason, the best approach is to offer a flexible, customized service that can adapt to meet the individual needs of each customer. This may range from the standard support and protection provided alongside every analyzer purchase, to a full partnership across the lifecycle of the gas analysis equipment.

Service support typically embraces several different products that can be combined into a custom plan to ensure the necessary assistance each plant requires. For example, regional service centers provide customers with rapid access to expertise, analyzer repairs, preventative maintenance and upgrades. They can also serve as hubs for locally based teams offering the onsite service support needs of industrial plants, ranging from emergency assistance to routine maintenance. This may also involve equipment health checks—where expert personnel attend to assess analyzer performance and detect anomalies before they develop into costly problems—and commissioning. Commissioning is the inspection of an installation—including the set-up and configuration of gas analyzers—by highly trained engineers to ensure peak system performance from the outset.

Service departments can get involved even before the commissioning stage by providing a factory acceptance test (FAT). This test is conducted in partnership between the customer and supplier to ensure the gas analysis system meets specifications prior to dispatch.

Service centers may also offer plant owners rapid access to high-quality spare parts and consumables for their gas analysis equipment. This service often extends to providing complete gas analyzers for hire, providing a temporary replacement that can be delivered quickly and with confidence that it will operate correctly.

Finally, many service networks are responsible for offering training to plant staff. This may be delivered onsite or at a training center and helps ensure that staff get the best performance from their gas analyzers.

Getting started with service support

The best way to begin a service partnership is to organize a health check for your gas analysis products. This validates the product performance and checks the state of the instrument. When engineers carry out these checks, they provide a written report on the work required, if any. Plant operators often want to go straight into a service contract. Even in these cases, a health check should be conducted to establish what sort of support is necessary. Once the health check has been completed, the level of support needed can be determined.

Commonly, plant operators are protective of their analyzers and dislike any interference with the product that might compromise the measurement. By partnering with the service division of an expert gas analysis supplier, they get total peace of mind that the engineer understands the product and knows how to get the best performance from it. Typically, onsite visits to inspect, service and maintain gas analysis equipment are scheduled for every 6 mos. The same regionally-based engineers are likely to attend each time, so trust is quickly established between them and the plant operator.

If it has been installed and configured correctly, a gas analysis system operates very reliably for many years, so this long-term relationship becomes very important. Additionally, the support required depends very much on the gas analysis equipment used. The key, of course, lies not merely in obtaining the diagnostic data from the analyzers, but also understanding it, which is where a partnership with an expert service network comes in. By monitoring the diagnostics, such as detector signals over the course of many years, any decline in performance can be identified early, allowing scheduled maintenance or replacement with minimal disruption to the process and no loss of measurement accuracy. In this way, the plant operator can be confident that the measurement they receive from their gas analysis system remains accurate, even late into the lifecycle of the analyzer.

The impact of COVID-19 on maintenance

The restrictions and safety concerns accompanying the global COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on how service is carried out for industrial plants in all regions. Having an established service network that operates globally but at a local level, works very effectively. It means engineers are familiar with local restrictions and international travel is minimized.

Having built a good relationship with the plant personnel, engineers are able to more quickly adapt to any new procedures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus. They are also able to put their existing familiarity with the plant and its processes to good use through remote support.

Many gas analyzers have advanced digital communications options, which can be used to send diagnostic data to the engineer without them needing to attend the site. They also have auto-calibration and auto-validation capabilities that support ongoing reliability and make remote monitoring easier. Additionally, an existing service partnership can provide more secure spares support. The engineer can advise what spares need to be kept onsite and has rapid access to global stockpiles of these parts, along with an existing distribution network. Therefore, if disruption occurs as an essential part is needed, the problem is mitigated by the service arrangement.

While the pandemic is, hopefully, becoming less of an issue, it is comforting for plant operators to know that the procedures and technologies already in place will help service networks to provide continuous maintenance coverage even when the unexpected happens.

Takeaway

Ultimately, the goal of service is to support the customer throughout the entire lifecycle of the gas analysis product. It ensures that the plant starts up correctly, on time and on budget, and looks after the equipment until the time comes when it eventually needs replacing.

Good maintenance ensures maximum uptime and the best return on investment. It goes together with analyzer performance, delivering the measurements that plant operators need, whenever they need them. HP

The Author

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