Plant Manager’s challenge – inspecting for asset obsolescence

Years ago I was involved in a team working through a number of maintenance improvement initiatives for an Operator that we thought were quite innovative.

When we put our initiatives to the Plant Manager of the client’s largest processing plant he dismissed most of them because they didn’t help him with his largest problem – obsolescence. Inspecting the asset won’t tell you if the Manufacturer still supports it.

Why does obsolescence keep the Plant Manager awake?

For effective control of major incidents, Plant Managers that operate assets that include products from Manufacturers are required to implement a procedure to identify obsolete assets, and either hold a stock of suitable spares or define what products the obsolete assets should be replaced with when they fail.

If a replacement product is proposed then an engineering assessment of the replacement product will be required as with any other plant modification. All of which takes time, and if something has failed then time is something in short supply.

What does that all mean in the real world? When the Plant Manager was describing why obsolescence was what kept him awake at night he related the story of their newest processing facility that had been delivered a few years earlier. When the contractor delivered the plant it included a control valve that was obsolete. In fact the control valve had been obsolete for at least two years at the time the plant was delivered – but nobody was aware.

The plant had achieved full production and was generating revenues of ~$5M per day when the control valve failed. It was only when the valve failed and a replacement was being sought that the Plant Manager realized that he was dealing with an obsolete asset.

A new product had to be proposed. An engineering assessment of the product in the context of a plant modification had to be carried out. A procurement cycle for the new product had to be carried out and finally the new product had to be delivered and installed. The control valve failure had shut down the plant, so the plant had to be restarted again. Net result was 4 days lost production at a cost of ~$20M. All for a product with a cost of a few thousand dollars that nobody knew was obsolete until it was too late.

“No amount of inspection tells you if an asset is obsolete”

ORDITAL: Understanding obsolescence in real time

The best tool available to a Plant Manager up till today was to engage a contractor on a periodic basis to ring around all of his Manufacturers and update the asset status. Of course if the asset becomes obsolete the day after that call then the Plant Manager will be unaware until the next time a call is made – or the asset fails! ORDITAL is changing this picture.

ORDITAL is delivering the Social Network connecting Assets & Products. In much the same way as LinkedIn alerts you when the status of people in your professional network changes, ORDITAL alerts you when the status of a product that is linked to one of your assets changes.

Information is only of value if it is provided through a relationship we trust. In the case of LinkedIn people we know ask to connect to us and if we agree we accept that connection. Similarly ORDITAL provides a mechanism where Operators & their Contractors are able to make claims for products that are accepted or rejected by the Manufacturer. Once a claim is accepted then the network is established to enable updates on important information, such as product obsolescence, that Plant Managers can use to sleep a little easier at night.

Stephen Crampton