Author: James R. Olson, Mechanical Integrity Team Leader

Mechanical integrity (MI) programs have led to improvements in safety, environmental impact, and reliability in the industry, yet we still see examples of companies dealing with results of failures in their programs.  Continuous improvement should be a key element of an MI program to ensure it evolves with the organization and the changes in technology and the industry.  Successful improvement programs may save years of labor, reduce the number of work orders and inspections, and save costs without impacting the performance of the program.

Identifying ways to improve MI programs can be done through a variety of techniques which may be done proactively to help organizations free up time and resources.  Areas that will be improved with an MI program are: 

  • Optimizing MI tasks 
  • Performing assessments 
  • Leveraging MI-focused metrics 
  • Expanding MI program coverage  
  • Implementing findings from investigations  

Optimize Inspections, Testing, and Preventive Maintenance (ITPM) 

Over the life of the plant, inspections, testing, and preventive maintenance (ITPM) activities often continue to be added for the assets all for good reasons.  In addition to the tasks required to meet the Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices (RAGAGEP), items from root cause investigations of failures, capital projects, program initiatives, process safety analyses (PSAs), and many other sources typically have been added to the ITPM activities.  This can lead to an inefficient use of resources and flow of work, and potentially induce defects as a result of human error when working on the assets. 

Each ITPM task should be tied to a relevant failure mode for the respective asset, have an accurate estimate for the number of resources and amount of time required to perform the task, and ensure the work is performed properly with the necessary data collected and communicated for analysis and decision making.  Coordination with other tasks for the respective asset can lead to bundling work, thereby saving operations from having to pull and secure the asset multiple times. 

Adjustment of the frequencies for performing ITPM tasks may be possible, or required, depending on how often the work identifies the asset in a failed state or requires a corrective repair to be performed.  As a general guide, if a task is performed seven or more times without identifying an action, it should be considered for an extension in its frequency.  On the other side, if the asset is constantly requiring repairs or is out of the acceptance criteria range, the frequency may need to be shortened.  It should be noted that in some cases, communication with local regulating authorities may be required prior to changing the inspection cycle. 

A structured review of all the ITPM tasks for the plant can save significant time and resources for the organization, as well as provide cost reductions and lower the risk of inducing defects into the plant.  For some facilities, up to three full-time equivalent (FTE) years of labor and a 20% reduction of work orders were realized from an ITPM review. 

Additionally, a formal approach using API RP 580, Risk Based Inspection (RBI) may also be used to help optimize ITPM activities for assets. 

Program Assessments 

Understanding where the opportunities exist for improving your MI program can be found by performing an MI assessment.  Different from an audit, the MI assessment will benchmark the program with respect to OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) of Highly Hazardous Chemicals and industry RAGAGEP to identify opportunities and priorities upon which to focus going forward.  The assessment process may look at a specific component of the program, such as relief devices, chlorine system, or high-temperature hydrogen attack (HTHA) risks, or provide a comprehensive review of the entire MI program.  The results of the assessment will provide a roadmap for MI program improvements and can provide a basis for periodically reviewing progress in the future.  This is also a good time to check for any changes in RAGAGEP, business demands, and industry trends and technology to see if adjustments in the MI program need to be made. 

Metrics 

Metrics for MI programs should be reviewed on a regular basis to determine how effective they are at identifying trends in the program and what related behaviors are occurring within the organization.  With the volume of data available from enterprise systems, instrumentation, software solutions, and other programs, selecting the key metrics, which are important to your particular site, can be a challenge. 

The first step is to determine which metrics should be monitored for trends and which should be focused on affecting changes desired in your program.  Monitoring metrics should have boundary limits established to call attention when these boundaries are exceeded.  These may include temperature or pressure limits for integrity operating windows (IOWs), mean time between failure (MTBF) for seals, or a corrosion rate of change.  There are many examples for monitoring metrics, and your site likely has a long list of these.  This is why careful selection of what is monitored and establishing boundary limit parameters are important so the decision-maker, who can take action, is alerted and aware of the potential issue.  Metrics for affecting change should be limited to 7-10 measures and focused on behaviors.  When tied to the actions (behaviors) needed to make MI program improvements, these measures track how the organization is performing the work and help to identify barriers to implementing the changes.  Too many behavior-based metrics will dilute the message to the organization.  Once a sustainable positive trend is established, the behavior-based measure may be changed to a monitoring metric or eliminated. 

A couple other key points for metrics are to streamline the data collection process and ensure timely decisions are being made with the data.  When the data is incorrect or corrective action fails to happen within a reasonable time, confidence is lost by the organization. 

It may be time to relook at your metrics for your MI program to ensure they are delivering the results you expect. 

Expand Focus Areas 

As your MI program matures, additional areas may be added to provide special emphasis on a specific process, damage mechanism, or equipment type.  When identifying additional items to include in the MI program, the area should reduce the risk and impact of a release and be aligned with the business goals. Further readings regarding special emphasis mechanical integrity (SEMI) areas are also available. 

Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) 

Lessons learned from root cause failure analyses (RCFAs) relating to MI failures for assets are valuable sources for improving your MI program.  These learnings may come from your plant, another site within your company, or from the industry.  Reviewing how your MI program detects and can prevent the failure from happening again at your site can lead to adjustments that will improve the overall program. 

Conclusion 

Continuous improvement is a key element of an MI program to ensure it evolves with changes in technology and requirements in the industry.  E2G has the industry experience and the disciplines required to support MI program improvements, as well as support the full life-cycle management of assets.  

For more information on our MI-related services, contact Jim Olson and Joel Andreani by completing the form below:

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