This end-user account from Qatar highlights the well-defined steps that a natural-gas producer took over several years to reach its goals.
The State of Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Total annual production from this Western Arabian country is 77 million tons per year, all of it produced by RasGas Company Limited (RasGas) and its sister company Qatargas. RasGas serves customers in South Korea, India, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Taiwan and the United States.
A joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and ExxonMobil, RasGas operates seven LNG trains and produces approximately 37 million tons of LNG annually. Although its main product is LNG, other products such as sales gas, helium, sulphur and condensate maximizes its revenues. Sales gas is also transported by pipeline and sold to state-owned utilities within Qatar.
Most modern companies recognize the benefits of improved plant reliability and the elements needed to achieve it. These include risk-based equipment maintenance strategies and spare-parts optimization. RasGas is no exception. But time- and cost-related issues often foil company efforts to make these elements a permanent part of their culture. For such organizations, the question is not how to convince management of the importance of plant reliability, but how to get there. As RasGas and others have learned, the answer includes the use of an integrated asset-management strategy.
As its name implies, the key aspect of integrated asset management is to integrate all reliability elements, then formulate processes and procedures to keep maintenance strategies evergreen. This model helps keep an organization focused on the elements that are important to achieving high plant reliability. Based on RasGas’ experience, it can take several years before an integrated asset-management model is fully established and starts delivering results (see Fig. 1). Company size and number of personnel will impact this.
Before a journey toward an integrated reliability strategy can begin, three main foundations must be in place:
RasGas started with the following steps to establish its three foundations:
Step 1: Asset verification and CMMS optimization. This step determines what equipment is in the field, what requires routine maintenance and ensures that future spares are configured in the CMMS. The ability to maintain equipment properly and ensure that the correct spares are in stock at the right levels depends on the completeness and accuracy of CMMS data. Too often this step is skipped because it is labor-intensive. Companies go with what they receive from the initial project team and fail to review it thoroughly, usually due to resource restrictions.
When RasGas began its initiative in 2007, more than 20 contractor personnel worked daily in the plant for three years. To this, the company added a team of multi-skilled technicians across all five disciplines and a plant operator. The team’s ability to obtain Permits to Work (PTW), find needed maintenance personnel, help prepare mandatory Job Safety Analyses (JSA) and lead the QA/QC effort was critical to the success of this phase of the project. It resulted in the identification of approximately 90,000 new pieces of equipment for inclusion into the CMMS. This represented a 25% increase compared with the baseline CMMS database.
In addition to field asset verification, the team reviewed bills of material (BOM) in SAP to ensure accuracy, completeness and that they were maintenance-centric. Any spare part not included in the existing BOM or in the material catalog was added. A team of 30 engineers reviewed almost 17,000 unique BOMs over a four-year period. This activity was performed off-site at the contractor’s home office.
A surprisingly low number (approximately 250) of duplicate materials was identified during material cleansing. This confirms that the process for creating new materials was working well and no tightening of this process was required. There were, however, a high number of items that required rearrangement into a standard format or the addition of missing information.
Required Success Factors for Reliability Excellence
Management support—It is crucial to have a high-level sponsor who, throughout the journey, emphasizes the importance of reliability.
Phasing of steps—At RasGas, the regular implementation of program elements enabled small celebrations each time minor milestones were achieved. This kept the team and stakeholders happy and enthusiastic.
Leveraging work using a single platform—The switch to an asset-management system linked people, processes and assets. It created many synergies between the different reliability programs and enabled the team to leverage on existing work.
Complete initiatives—If an initiative is considered important enough to begin, see it through to implementation.
Step 2: Develop risk-based maintenance strategies. With the completion of Step 1, all equipment is included in the equipment maintenance strategy project scope and a proper functional location hierarchy exists. The location hierarchy is needed to identify which equipment belongs to a system. This is an advantage when determining equipment criticality or implementing Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM).
An equipment maintenance strategy can be as simple as run-to-failure for some pieces of equipment. It can also be complex, comprising many degradation mechanisms and dozens of specialized maintenance tasks, executed by different people. After evaluating the merits of various methodologies, RasGas chose to follow an FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis) approach, outlined as follows:
1. Define unit performance objectives and operating environment.
2. Identify tags, define primary function and determine criticality for each item of equipment.
3. Review maintenance history, regulatory requirements, applicable guidelines and standards such as ASME and API.
4. Identify failure modes, failure scenarios, consequences, probabilities and unmitigated risks.
5. Define cost-effective mitigation tasks resulting in mitigated risks.
Step 2 was completed in 2010. It resulted in the linking of close to 200,000 pieces of equipment that had active maintenance plans to 1600 equipment strategies.
Step 3: Ensure the right spare parts are physically available in the right quantity and quality to ensure safe, reliable plant operation through smooth maintenance execution. The objective is to determine minimum stock levels, reorder points and safety stock levels for all materials. At RasGas, of the original 110,000 items in its catalog, 68,000 were reviewed. A two-part strategy was devised: For materials with previous consumption, the traditional concept based on lead-time and consumption was used. For materials with no previous consumption record, a risk-based approach was used where minimum stock levels were determined, based on input from subject-matter experts.
The review resulted in an increased reorder frequency for 3100 materials and a decreased reorder frequency for 26,000. Also, 40,000 materials were chosen for possible deletion from the system because they could not be linked to any equipment BOM and had no previous consumption. These were likely materials left over from the initial plant construction.
Because projects often get abandoned before implementation, it is crucial that resources are set aside for the project’s next steps and that thought is given to how to implement results. Tasks should be clearly defined and grouped so technicians know, for example, if a lube sample should be taken as part of an equipment work order or if it should be taken only when directed by a separate work order.
The outcome of the three steps in the previous section must be converted into a standby plan for spared equipment (Step 4), a maintenance plan (Step 5), an operator and process surveillance plan (Step 6) and a spares-preservation plan for all critical parts that need to be preserved (Step 7). It took RasGas about five years to transform all equipment strategies into actionable maintenance plans in its CMMS.
These days, RasGas is linking more than 12,000 planned preventive maintenance (PPM) activities to 6000 work orders each month. Each piece of equipment now receives required maintenance based on its criticality and function. Every task is for the purpose of risk-mitigation. Prior to the equipment strategy project, most equipment tasks were visual and not value-added. Also, all operator, maintenance, safety and engineering tasks are now linked to failure modes. Each task is defined in detail for what is to be done, who needs to do it and what follow-up actions are needed. These details are included with the work order.
Implementation of operator surveillance (Step 5) was managed as a separate project that took about 18 months. More than 30,000 unique operator surveillance tasks have been implemented, roughly 80% of which are based on tasks defined through the company’s reliability project.
The final step to an integrated asset-management program is to integrate and improve the quality of the individual programs outlined in Steps 1 to 7. This is a continuous process that involves use of root cause failure analysis (RCFA), bad-actor elimination and volumetric downtime tracking (VDT).
Keep in mind that reliability excellence requires more than a focus on leading or lagging indicators: The complete reliability pyramid (see Fig. 2) needs to be addressed. The reliability pyramid is similar to the safety pyramid, where undesirable outcomes (fatalities) are at the top and desirable actions are at the bottom. It must be made clear that all programs are integrated, and that changes made to one will affect all.
Improvement in most high-level plant-performance indicators is usually the result of several activities in parallel. Such high-level KPIs are largely affected by the activities of an integrated asset-management strategy. At RasGas, two high-level KPIs were added to its list of normal KPIs (which include Reliability, Availability and Utilization). The first to be added was the count of Train Trips. This is a simple KPI, but a good indicator for Train Reliability. It excludes downtime, such as delays in start-ups, and therefore accurately reflects Reliability effectiveness.
It’s important to note that results are sometimes delayed. Most reliability programs described here were implemented and became mature from 2007 through 2011. As Fig. 3 shows, however, improvement in the Train Trip KPI is visible only from 2010 onward. Unfortunately, management often expects short-term results, and if they don’t appear when anticipated, projects are abandoned. Long-term management support is crucial.
Fig. 4. The facility’s rising maintenance costs were due to added equipment and plant complexity.
Another important KPI RasGas added is Maintenance Cost-Effectiveness. This is not the same as Maintenance Cost. Cost-effectiveness is related to the return of money spent on maintenance. Effective maintenance strategies do not necessarily promise to reduce the maintenance budget, but they can enhance cost-effectiveness. As shown in Fig. 4, RasGas’ annualized maintenance cost had been increasing since 2006, primarily due to a company expansion (i.e., the facility had added larger, more complex equipment). Still, we wondered if the increased maintenance spend was providing value. Based on the annualized lost capacity due to maintenance, over several years, we could answer “yes.” The incentive for cutting just 1% of lost capacity was tantamount to reducing the cost of maintenance by 50%. In light of these numbers, RasGas now focuses on the cost-effectiveness of improvements—not just their cost.
Advice for others
The path to an integrated asset-management strategy can be long. Time is a required investment, and success—initially—may appear to be far away. A series of well-planned steps, however, can put reliability excellence within reach and your company in a strong position for the future. MT&AP
Albert Sijm is Head of Reliability Engineering at RasGas and has 17 years of experience in various disciplines within the oil and gas industry. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and is a member of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and a Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional (CMRP).
Manish Shah, a Reliability Engineering Advisor at RasGas, has 23 years of experience in various areas of machinery and reliability management in the oil and gas sector. A Certified Reliability Engineer through the American Society for Quality, Shah is also a member of SMRP and a Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional.