Making a change 11 May 2023

I am writing this on my way to work on an FPSO in the south Atlantic off the coast of Africa. It’s an older, but not old, facility; 15 years into a 25-year life.

As things age they start to break; we need to maintain integrity because of the environment that we work in, so a key focus is maintaining the right equipment at the right frequency. In terms of maintenance, we work to a predetermined, time-based schedule developed from supplier recommendations and historical industry data. As a result, there are times we replace things when it says to, even when we can see that adjacent equipment not mentioned in the schedule is in need of repair.

Now, we are turning to more condition-based maintenance approach, in which we only intervene when the condition of the equipment tells us that we will need to do something. The big benefit is saving on wasted time. We can also make earlier interventions, reacting to condition monitoring signals, to fix equipment before it fails – if there is space in the plan.

When we are half-way through operational life, this is a big challenge. The biggest changes are cultural and organisational. People understand how to operate the current maintenance strategy. They need to be convinced that it is the right thing to do. They will need both technical training, for example in data collection, and investigative training in root cause analysis.

A core part of this is basic care: routines and checks, such as vibration monitoring, oil analysis, using sensors. Is a pump operating differently today? Are there new smells, or different noises?

One of the things that we will look at is what is currently in the maintenance build and the performance standard, but also what’s in the backlog; not only planned maintenance but also breakdown maintenance. And you need to make some choices about what you do or don’t need to do.

One thing that is clear is that we need to have a clear project plan and schedule; we need to be clear about the cultural change and not fall into the trap of trying to operate to systems in conjunction.

Steve Rees, chair, Institution of Plant Engineers

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