June 2022

Special Focus: Process Optimization

Advanced cleaner technology: Leveraging tailored solutions for reliability goals

Operators at refineries, petrochemical plants and power generation companies are under constant pressure to reduce maintenance and operational costs, boost productivity, minimize risk of unplanned outages and maximize time between overhaul periods.

Hannon, J., ExxonMobil Fuels and Lubricants

Operators at refineries, petrochemical plants and power generation companies are under constant pressure to reduce maintenance and operational costs, boost productivity, minimize risk of unplanned outages and maximize time between overhaul periods. As a result, many oils used in commercial settings are engineered to provide extended performance in severe conditions, with the goal of keeping critical assets online. However, non-oil related events (e.g., localized hot spots) can still lead to significant problems associated with oil oxidation, which impedes overall oil performance, protection and reliability.

In response, advanced oil-soluble cleaner technology has emerged as a promising solution to address these issues and to provide operators with peace of mind when it comes to reliability. However, taking advantage of this technology is not as simple as applying an oil-soluble cleaner product every time there seems to be an equipment issue. Operators should be informed about the full potential of the technology itself, and how it should be leveraged for their unique operational goals.

Leveraging advanced cleaner technology to improve reliability and cut costs

Advanced oil-soluble cleaner technology can help address many issues that hinder equipment reliability, but it is important for operators to understand the differentiation between the solutions available to them.

For example, some of the products on the market for issues like high bearing temperatures and deposit buildup only offer temporary fixes, with the potential for additional problems down the line, including anything from risk of severe deposit buildup and phase separation to accelerated degradation and potential incompatibilities that impact foam and demulsibility. While most oil-soluble cleaners can help with conversions between oil changes and offer some aid in troubleshooting unplanned threats to equipment reliability, few are able to accomplish both effectively, while mitigating the risk of future issues and even extending the life of the current system oil.

When it comes to identifying a solution that is both seamless and highly effective for long-term operation, this is where a product’s technology becomes effective. For example, the author’s company’s proprietary oil-soluble cleanera stands out from other oil-soluble cleaners on the market based on its technology-enabled benefits. The oil-soluble cleanera is based on proprietary technologyb, which enables it to be a high-performing solution designed for power generation and petrochemical equipment. For example, the product is engineered to be compatible with most API Group 1–4 lubricants and hydraulic oils, so it has no adverse impact on in-service oils. Therefore, it can used as a leave-in cleaning solution during oil changes and systems facing issues like high bearing temperatures and varnish buildup without requiring those systems to be taken offline. The proprietary oil-soluble cleaner can also help with oil life extension, allowing operators to have the protection they need to mitigate future issues with performance. Additionally, it can be used in these scenarios at a much lower concentration that most competitors, with only 3%–5% of total oil volume typically added to these systems.

Advanced oil-soluble cleaners continue to show proven success in helping companies across various industries avoid operational shutdowns, improve oil performance, and prevent future and reoccurring issues. However, it is important that operators pay close attention to long-term performance to avoid causing problems beyond the immediate issue. Technical experts can assist in implementing an effective condition monitoring program to monitor long-term performance.

The proprietary oil-soluble cleaner has led to cost savings, as well as helped avoid potential equipment shutdowns by assisting in conversions, troubleshooting ongoing issues and extending current oil life. For example, a refinery was replacing oils and wanted a clean system for the new charge. The author’s company’s engineering team and reliable industrial group recommended a varnish flush with the proprietary oil-soluble cleanera in lieu of a traditional flushing method, which led to savings of $104,000 on two turbine fills. In another instance, a company in the petrochemicals industry had high-speed cryogenic compressors with frequent bearing temperature spikes that were stabilized within 30 min of the technology being added to the system. Another plant was able to extend compressor oil service life to 3 yr with the use of the proprietary oil-soluble cleaner to mitigate prior varnish issues.

Preventing downtime in critical moments and planning

Sometimes, operators must quickly troubleshoot an issue to prevent critical equipment downtime and avoid a major shutdown that could cost the company millions of dollars. While a rapid fix in these moments is crucial to prevent high costs, it is also important for operators to plan and mitigate the need for aggressive, short-term solutions down the line—resulting in more savings for the operation over time.

For example, the product solutions used should also extend equipment performance and reliability. In addition, operators should rely on technical expertise from their lubricants provider to implement the right products and maintenance procedures to get ahead of the next critical situation, cutting operational costs in the long term.

In 2021, a refinery requested the author’s company’s assistance in troubleshooting progressive issues with rising bearing and oil temperatures, as well as water contamination on a critical air blower after an unexpected oil cooler failure. At the time the problem was reported, temperatures had risen to 227°F (108.33°C) and were rising approximately 2°F/d. If these bearing temperatures were not stabilized, the refinery would face a potential unplanned shutdown (30 d–60 d outage), which would lead to a significant cost and loss of productivity.

Through a bearing inspection, the author’s company’s engineering team was able to identify the problem causing these temperatures—contaminated oil and varnish buildup. Through fast action and the team’s recommendations to implement the proprietary oil-soluble cleaner-based technology for its varnish dissolving properties, the refinery was able to identify the root cause of bearing temperature escalation and oil contamination, stabilize temperatures to avoid costly refinery shutdown and maximize productivity. By avoiding this shutdown, the refinery was able to enhance safety, while avoiding costly workforce and equipment costs, saving the company nearly $8.3 MM.

The proprietary oil-soluble cleaner can not only be added to systems suffering from reliability problems, but can also be deployed proactively to minimize varnish deposits and increase reliability. Its unique chemistry provides a long-term solution to deposit formation, even in thermally stressful applications.

Marrying tailored solutions with technical expertise

As the industry continues to evolve with new technologies to maximize efficiency, operators must find tailored solutions that will address issues specific to their operation rather than incorporating a one-size-fits-all solution. No matter how effective, the latest technology innovation is not the answer to all operational problems. Partnering with technical experts that will advise on the right solution for an operator’s unique goals is equally important as the most advanced product solution.

For example, the author’s company’s engineering team and its integrated services partners make personalized recommendations for companies on what actions should be taken to get them the best results in the most efficient way.

Partnering with technical experts can also help operators find a solution tailored to their needs, rather than adopt a quick blanket fix. For example, while oil-soluble cleaners can be somewhat effective for common issues, there are many scenarios where an issue needs a more in-depth cleaning solution, with the bonus of extended oil service life. Therefore, implementing advanced cleaner technology must be coupled with the right technical expertise so operators can be sure they are utilizing the best solution for the problem at hand.

Operators should look for these custom solution plans from their lubricants provider, weighing all options and reviewing potential outcomes. For example, the proprietary oil-soluble cleanera—like any product or service—is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a tailored solution for the problem a company is facing. These experts should work diligently to properly diagnose these issues, finding the best solution for the immediate issue at hand, while also aiming for long-term operational success. It is also important for a lubricants provider to leverage partnerships with system cleaning industry leaders to allow for a seamless integration when offering solutions.

A technical team should also use various tools to formulate the proper diagnosis with solution options. For example, the author’s company created a turbine triage process to help show customers various maintenance scenarios and where their current issues fall. While some companies may take only one or two oil analysis tests, the author’s company’s engineering teams look at oil service hours, equipment application suffering points, visual inspection and a comprehensive lube analysis test slate to gain the full picture.

Ultimately, no technology or product can help reduce maintenance, boost productivity or minimize risk. The key to finding the right solution is to have the technical expertise behind it, with a team that works side-by-side with operators to define both short-term and long-term goals and find the best ways to achieve them. HP

NOTES

Mobil™ Solvancer®

Fluitec® DECON™ technology

The Author

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