A Lifetime of Integrity - Overcoming the Challenges in Maintaining the Life-Cycle of Aging AssetsBy: James Wilson and James R. Widrig, Quest Integrity
As seen in the May/June 2018 issue of Inspectioneering Journal. Download the PDF version.
Life-cycle management, more commonly known as
Asset Integrity Management, like with anything, begins as a concept. Thought is
then given to the design, the metallurgy, the thickness, resistance to
degradation, and many other factors that give an asset its character and allow
it to perform in the environment it must operate. Once conceived, designed and fabricated, the
stamp of approval is placed and its life-cycle begins.
Throughout its life, the management of an
asset’s integrity may involve some challenges. The dynamic nature of operations, including start-ups and shutdowns, process
upsets (excursions), environmental factors, and external incidents may alter an
asset's ability to achieve and maintain its desired levels of integrity and
reliability. Despite these challenges,
through properly implemented mechanical integrity, maintenance and operations
programs, assets can produce a favorable return on investment and operate
optimally for many years. Though they may experience a few "bumps” and "bruises”,
with effective integrity management, an asset’s health can remain intact throughout
As assets get older and production demands grow, it becomes
increasingly critical to implement sustainable, effective long-term asset
integrity management (AIM) strategies and programs. This can be challenging due to a number of
factors, including age of plant equipment, availability of information required
for assessments, a retiring workforce of industry experts with the potential loss
of many years of valuable industry knowledge, a new generation of integrity
management professionals entering the workforce, and ever-developing and
emerging technologies (IT, NDE, technical and management analytics). According
to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, "energy worker retirements are occurring at a
rate more than double the percent of new energy apprentices are being trained. The average energy worker is seven years older
than the average worker across all industries in the United States, and more
than 500,000 workers are expected to retire in the next 5 to 10 years.”  This compilation of challenges and contributing
factors is most recently known as "The Great Crew Change.”
The ever-evolving digital offerings and instruments
required to implement said solutions, and the task to maintain compliance and
relativity in the AIM realm can often seem daunting leaving some with a "do it
how we’ve always done it” mentality and a reluctance to innovate and frustration
in trying to retain knowledge in this generation of digital transformation.
This article will focus on the first of these
challenges, aging assets, and offer an optimistic overview of the elements that
will largely assist in the success of managing equipment throughout their life-cycle
well into their golden years, facilitating change and offering opportunity. Effectively managing aging assets is a
challenge requiring operators to address where to start, where to invest, and
how to best institute and sustain effective practices and programs.
Figure 1. Example of critical aging
MANAGING AGING ASSETS
aging. In the United States, new refineries of significant capacity have not
been constructed in about 40 years.  Many were constructed in the early 1900’s with
the invention and popularity of the automobile, and others were constructed later
as a source for refined fuels during WWII. These facilities have expanded in capacity and complexity over the
years. While some of these very early
processing units have been abandoned, many are still operating and are key
assets to the facilities. As assets get older, they deteriorate
and typically require increasing levels of maintenance to sustain both
integrity and reliability. Decisions must be made to approve and
direct expenditures for things like inspection, to increase the level of confidence
in the known condition of equipment, assist in remaining life predictions and
plan for subsequent repairs or replacement, if needed. The tug and pull between production,
equipment integrity, reliability, and regulatory compliance, is typically the
first and most critical balancing challenge for most owner/operators in this
asset integrity management effort.
"What is the primary driver for change within your asset integrity management organization?,”
more often than not, the owner/operators answer will simply be "maintaining
compliance,” with risk (usually consisting of safety, environmental and some
other owner/operator-defined parameters like production or reputation)
following close behind. Following major
release incidents and casualties in Bhopal (1984)  and
additional disasters at chemical facilities and refineries in the United
States, the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard became law (1992).  This standard requires facilities to develop
and implement program elements to assess risks, maintain information about the
process and equipment, properly inspect and maintain equipment, train and
qualify process operators and maintenance personnel, and to develop emergency
response procedures in the event of a release.
Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) became law in 1990 and also require the
elements of OSHA’s PSM program with further emphasis on risk management and
protection beyond the facility fence line. Penalties for non-compliance can be
in the millions of dollars, as evidenced by fines levied over the last several
we live in a time full of technological advancements that, when aligned and
implemented effectively, afford owner/operators a more secure, manageable, and
available set of asset information and analysis and reporting tools that ultimately
make the task of compliance more achievable.
integrity management software solutions, whether at the site and/or enterprise
level, provide several capabilities that we, as humans, would not be able to
achieve without them. Their ability to collect,
centralize, categorize and store massive amounts of data relevant to asset
integrity, then sift through said data to determine how sensitive each data
point is to the task at hand makes data retrieval, analysis and reporting more
effective than ever.
these tools and their ability to effectively analyze data with the common sense
of qualified Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and the academic force of
experienced engineers, and the solution to the compliance effort is at the very
least achievable, if adopted and implemented from a proactive maturity level.
new technology and advancements sound promising, they fall on mute ears if a
champion for change is not identified and appointed as captain to this
initiative. Adoption of these tools to
assist in achieving our regulatory compliance begins with someone willing to
invest the time, money and resources to implement such changes and see them
through to fruition. Sometimes these
ideas are identified where the boots meet the ground and sometimes they are enforced
by corporate mandate. Either way, buy-in
and employee engagement are imperative to success. A culture change is often required,
or the initiative will stall and ultimately fail, ultimately generating large
amounts of unexpected and discouraging expenditures along the way.
INVESTMENT IN PERSONNEL
pitfall in this drive to achieve compliance is investment in people. Employing and maintaining qualified,
competent, and willing personnel is imperative to long-term success. The people you place in positions of change-management
will either improve or derail your chances of achieving your objectives. The process doesn’t end with selection. People need grooming. They need development and a pathway to personal
and professional enrichment. They need
purpose. Without these primal human
elements and an investment in their future within your organization, retention
is difficult and the sustainability of a mature asset integrity program is
futile at best.
Figure 2. Asset
integrity management is not only reliant on strategy and engineering
assessments. Investing in personnel is critical in the long-term management of
risk, a by-product of age, is another primary driver for the adoption of new
methods and technology. Risk, and the
categories that they are comprised of, is defined and a line is drawn in the
sand. Acceptable vs. unacceptable, the
choice has been made. The categorical
choices like safety, the environment, productivity, reputation and other
drivers will collectively relate to some level of cost (e.g., risk) which the stakeholders
are willing or unwilling to take. It is
then left up to us engineers, analysts and boots on the ground folks to manage
such risk at or below that level, if achievable.
inspection (RBI) typically begins with identifying high-risk assets followed by
an assessment of equipment condition, evaluation of inspection strategies,
study of operating protocols, and estimation of life consumption of priority
assets. This process takes into account the combination of likelihood and
consequence of loss of containment. This
information is then used to modify and optimize inspection plans, strategies,
audit procedures, operating limits, and safety information.
of risk, usually a set of activities assembled into some sort of strategy, is at
times achievable with or without the support of tools such as RBI software,
which can be deployed as a stand-alone program or as a module of an Asset
Integrity Management solution, as mentioned above. Although, again, in the spirit of time
management and cost to complete, the utilization of these tools can greatly
improve productivity and accuracy if used and managed by qualified personnel.
an accepted set of strategies can be applied, producing a consistent, organized
and applicable set of activities that are optimal to address risks. These strategies consist of activities to
manage assets and mitigate risk, typically based on the degradation, equipment
type, and risk level. For example, these
activities will include recommendations to define inspection requirements based
upon the level of risk and damage mechanism identified and the when, where,
what type, and how much to do questions, to be included in your planning
efforts. Now, albeit most solutions
offer a developed set of strategies for the masses, most of these solutions also
allow for the modification of the aforementioned strategies, which may allow
for increased refinement and optimization of your AIM/RBI program and overall
return when managing by exception.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
benefits of the adoption of RBI methodologies and technology to facilitate the
management and overall reduction of risk consist of both immediate and sometimes
delayed or lagging returns.
and immediate return is visibility or awareness of risks and vulnerabilities, and
the identification and understanding of risk drivers. The benefits of the availability of data and analytics
can be invaluable, depending on the baseline availability and health of your
information. Data gaps and inaccuracies
can also be closed as they are discovered and processes can be developed or optimized
during this journey to ensure completeness and fidelity of the program.
The return on investment of risk-based asset Integrity
management strategies can include, for example, a 30-60% reduction in the number
of pieces of equipment that require inspection, although in contrast to this
reduction, the following conditions may contribute and impact your results:
- The extent of cost savings from the reduction
in inspections also depends on the quality of the existing program. If little
or the wrong things are being done then it will likely result in a cost
increase. We typically find that most operators will readjust their focus once
they understand the risk drivers.
- When RBI is implemented, the cost of
inspections may initially increase due to the lack of previous inspections and
- The long-term cost savings will be realized
once basic inspections are conducted and confidence in the data allows accurate
analysis of the risk.
Plant reliability improvements and cost savings from the
prevention of on-stream failures is where several have experienced big payouts (100
times cost over 10 years). Based on research we’ve conducted, the level of
savings from implementation of RBI is typically on the order of 10 to 20 times
the initial investment over a 5-year period.
and then setting up an RBI program typically requires a significant amount of
front-end engineering and SME support to develop. Expertise is required to
define and select damage mechanisms for a particular process and corrosion
control documents should be developed for this purpose. Asset strategies need to be defined, verified,
and selected based upon knowledge of key parameters affecting the likelihood of
a specific damage type and the appropriate methods for detecting and
quantifying the rate of deterioration. Information which may affect asset
integrity, such as process operational deviations, maintenance and repair
history, and management of change history, needs to be understood and well-documented. This level of information and the decisions
made in the setting up and maintenance of an RBI system requires well-qualified
and experienced personnel, both from the facility owner as well as those
assisting or leading the implementation.
Figure 3. The numerous factors that
ensure effective Asset Integrity Management.
costly upfront, investment in technology can save and be a wise ROI, if managed
correctly. The following cost-saving
actions may be realized through the implementation of applicable technology and
inspection activities may be eliminated
of low risk items may be eliminated
- On-line or
non-invasive inspection methods may be substituted
effective and infrequent inspections may be substituted for less effective and
more frequent inspections
addition to the above changes, solution and strategy optimization can also contribute
greatly to the ROI. Inspection activities and resources should be optimized
to focus on high-risk assets, as they have the potential to cause serious
disruption in plant operations or unplanned shutdowns. This priority treatment of high-risk assets
must be balanced with providing sufficient inspection and mitigating actions
for other lower-risk equipment in order to avoid the emergence or growth of
problems over time.
ASSET HEALTH VISIBILITY
information and trends are continually updated in the AIM system, visibility
into the health of assets becomes identifiable. Process operations,
maintenance, reliability and inspection engineers and technicians have access
to data from which they can make informed decisions and define improvements. Improvements such as material upgrades,
changes in inspection or preventive maintenance, evaluation of key process
controls, integrity operating windows, can be integrated into the system.
damage is discovered or to evaluate the potential, Fitness-for-Service
assessments can be undertaken. These
assessments can help extend and avoid costly premature repairs and/or
replacements. Engineering assessments for general or local metal loss, pitting
corrosion, hydrogen damage, weld misalignment, and creep can be performed when
damage is found or may be expected.
also include brittle fracture assessments, operation at changed process
conditions. The availability of
information and data enhances the ability to make informed engineering decisions
throughout the asset life-cycle, along with technology and solutions, to help mitigate
risk and drive down cost.
While effective integrity management is based
on a number of symbiotic factors, one thing is clear - our industry is
changing. Facilities are not only aging,
but are now required by increasing industry demand to maintain optimal output
while avoiding loss of containment. The
"Great Crew Change” is putting further pressure on owner/operators as decades
of experiential knowledge leaves the workforce, and an overwhelming number of
new technologies are available for adoption. By utilizing new technologies with proven engineering solutions and
qualified Subject Matter Experts, owner/operators are able to better ensure the
successful management of assets throughout their life-cycle and well into their
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on Energy & Natural Resources, "Building an Energy Workforce for the
21st Century," August 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=4269D9FB-3713-4371-AD66-CE9117A54E5D.
Committee on Energy
and Natural Resources, "The Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act,"
2006. [Online]. Available: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-109shrg31099/pdf/CHRG-109shrg31099.pdf.
"Bhopal: The World's Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later,"
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and Health Administration (OSHA), "Final Rule on Process Safety
Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals; Explosives and Blasting
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