Utilities Manager: Uptime, Availability, Reliability…

William C. Livoti

What do we mean by "uptime," "availability" and "reliability," and how do these terms figure into our quest for energy-efficient equipment systems?

Uptime refers to a plant’s ability to remain on line/ produce product. With an uptime rating of 100% as maximum, any unscheduled downtime will reduce the rating. We’ve all experienced unscheduled plant shutdowns. Since such events affect our uptime rate, it goes without saying that they have an impact on an operation’s bottom line.

Some plants/industries operate at varying capacity or loads. Availability for these sites becomes an issue when the plant cannot respond to increased load or capacity on demand. Again, this impacts an operation’s bottom line.

While different industries have varying perceptions of reliability based on their specific operations, given the background of this magazine’s readers, there’s little need to define the term here. What’s important to understand, though, is that equipment reliability goes hand in hand with uptime and availability—and energy efficiency. All of these things impact an operation’s bottom line.

So what are we really talking about? It boils down to sustainable growth in perhaps the most dynamic economic times in modern history. In other words, how do we maximize uptime, availability, reliability—and energy efficiency? Speaking strictly from an equipment perspective, the answer is "by optimizing our systems/ equipment." If your operation is anything like countless others throughout industry, ample opportunities await you. Take, for example the following symptoms that indicate potential for improvement in pumping systems:

  • Systems controlled by throttle valves/dampers;
  • Recirculation lines normally open;
  • Cavitation noise at valves or pumps;
  • Multiple parallel pump systems with the same number of pumps always operating;
  • Constant pump operation in a batch environment or frequent cycle batch operation in a continuous process;
  • Systems that have undergone a change in function;
  • High system maintenance;
  • Motors that trip out.

All of these symptoms could impact your plant operation and ultimately your company’s bottom line. In many cases, these system issues can be corrected easily. If you don’t need a pump, shut it down. If a motor is tripping, you may need to throttle the discharge valve as an interim corrective action, then plan to investigate root cause as time allows. There are plenty of other simple, cost-effective solutions.

Your own bottom line If your operations fail to address existing issues that impact plant uptime, availability, reliability—and energy efficiency—there is a very good possibility your company may not survive the ongoing economic crisis in which we’ve found ourselves. Consider these two facts:

  • Since 1962, of the 1000 largest companies by size, only 160 stayed in that group.
  • Of S&P 500 companies in 1957, only 74 were still in existence in 1998 and only 12 gained in position.

Why? For the most part, it was companies failing to adapt to the changing times.

It should be fairly clear by now, in order to survive these changing/challenging times, we must adapt. "Business as usual" will not provide stability or sustainable growth.

Think uptime, availability, reliability—and optimized systems. UM

Bill Livoti is our new UTILITIES MANAGER columnist, is senior principal engineer for Power Generation and Fluid Handling with Baldor Electric Company. He also is vice chair of the Pump System Matter initiative.

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