Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
By: Mike Neill
As oil prices reach a 12-year low, already tight margins have become even tighter, increasing the necessity for operational excellence programs to drive efficient, productive, and always safe work environments.
As operators sharpen their focus on operations budgets, routine maintenance work will be increasingly scrutinized. Inspection and maintenance work – particularly updates and repair of safety-critical equipment – is vital for ensuring the integrity, safety, and reliability of assets.
Operators invest millions of dollars in their maintenance plans to sustain, if not improve, production and operational efficiency. However, a gap exists between maintenance, planning, and work execution. Maintenance schedules for time-based inspections and preventative maintenance work are often set years in advance. Within closer planning horizons, other long term planned activities, such as project work, is added. As the execution phase draws nearer, plans become more defined, and repair work is mixed into the schedule with additional condition-triggered maintenance activities. Typically 7 days out, the plan is “frozen” and is handed to the operations team to execute.
The problem for the oil and gas operators is adhering to the plan.
Issues can arise if the asset is working differently to the original design – for example, a change in production due to a sharp decline in oil price. Some equipment might need to be assessed quickly while others can run closer to design tolerances to meet production targets. Other variables such as contractor availability, unforeseen equipment failure, logistics, and even the weather can compromise maintenance schedules. However, with all of these variables, do operators have the insight they need to understand the importance of when to execute or defer work?
Furthermore, planning usually stops at the work order and often does not take into account operations time, capacity or safety constraints. Rarely are plans granular enough to include interrelated factors such as ancillary jobs and safety dependencies. For example, while the plan may say ‘change out a relief valve,’ it often doesn’t specify that it is 30 feet in the air – requiring scaffolding to be built for access and lagging to be removed. Nor does it specify that the section of line has to be isolated, depressurized, drained, and have gas freed. All of this takes time and resource that needs to be sequenced in order to meet the schedule.
These unscheduled activities can turn routine maintenance into an operational nightmare – as adequate time is rarely allotted to complete work safely. This tension between managing risks and completing activity according to schedule becomes a constant challenge and builds tensions between departments.
No matter how well planned, maintenance and operations can’t be executed safely and efficiently unless everyone understands all the activities that need to be completed alongside the interrelated operational risks on the plant. We call this “all of the job” and “all of the jobs.”
In today’s business dynamic, operations teams are measured on asset uptime, equipment availability, and production levels. Maintenance is measured on plan attainment and wrench-time in the field. Both are charged with executing the maintenance schedule, but if it lacks the detail to make it an executable plan, then success will result from how conflicts are managed on a day-to-day basis. Since both maintenance and operations are measured on different success criteria, it is not surprising they view conflicts from different perspectives.
However, if asset operators have the ability to rank tasks based on a common parameter, such as risk, everyone from the ground up can understand how workload can be safely optimized. By better visualizing and integrating operations and maintenance activities, along with hazards and risks, the following can be achieved:
- Operators can better understand how to get more of the right work completed, at the right time, in the right way,
- Operations’ teams can quickly recognize the causes and consequences of executing particular work at a specific time and,
- Offshore and Onshore Installation Managers (OIMs) can make smarter decisions about how to organize staffing and resources more effectively.
The overall result –- operations teams can more safely and cost-effectively ensure their uptime metric is achieved.
With a new holistic perspective on risk and activity, safety becomes an enabler of productivity. By optimizing operations without compromising safety, the industry can set the basis for a cost-effective and sustainable future.
Mike Neill is the President of Petrotechnics USA. With more than 35 years of experience, Mike has helped to improve safety and performance management for companies in hazardous industries around the world. Prior to joining Petrotechnics, Mike held roles in Operations, Drilling and Petroleum Engineering for BP Upstream, in Scotland, Norway, the South of England, and Egypt.
Mike holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering, MSc in Petroleum Engineering from Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London, and an MBA in Strategic Management from the Peter F. Ducker Graduate Management Centre, Claremont Graduate School in California. He is an active member of the CCPS, AIChE, ASSE, GPA, and the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center.