Building sustainable value through improved reliability

20 May 2014

The HART Plant of the Year award is presented annually by the HART Communication Foundation to end-user companies to recognise ingenuity in the application of the HART Communication Protocol. The latest winner is Dow Chemical’s Deer Park facility in the US, for its use of the smart diagnostics available through HART communication as part of a larger maintenance initiative.

Establishing an instrument reliability program that delivers sustainable value requires a combination of improvement strategies that address root causes to long-standing challenges. Previous DOW instrument strategies demonstrated that deploying instrument reliability engineers (IREs) is a critical step in positively impacting instrument reliability. The long-term strategies used at Deer Park have facilitated a 66% reliability improvement and savings of millions of dollars of earnings before interest and taxes. The framework for the strategy focuses on four improvement areas – reactive, proactive, reliability centered, and instrumentation projects.

The Deer Park Instrument Reliability Group worked with production, maintenance, and process automation leaders – asking a simple question: “Why have the instrument reliability improvements been flat for the last three years?” Most responses fit into four categories – end-of-life equipment, lack of preventive predictive maintenance (PPM) strategies, multiple repeat failures, and people/process-related challenges. 

The leadership also recommended some solutions – Work for quick wins and sustainable improvements; IRE to facilitate and utilise the current technical resources, including HART-enabled devices, to execute; and create methods to identify gaps and close them.

Data was then needed to confirm the leadership’s point of view. A trend in several areas of the plant became evident from the historical data. Out of 62 process units, five units contributed to 48% of the plant’s entire downtime. Addressing the root causes within these units would return more value to the site with each improvement strategy.

As IRE was assigned to create a core team to address the challenges in those five, very similar, process units. An initial step involved setting up an infrastructure that allowed the Reliability Group to work on short-term and long-term projects.

Short-term projects typically looked at low-hanging fruit where it was possible to eliminate nagging day-to-day challenges. This also gave opportunities to investigate and collect data on longer-term improvements. Strategies for these projects included:
• Unplanned event investigations – Informal and formal instrument root cause investigations often using HART diagnostic information.
• Real-time equipment monitoring – Using HART networks for live status updates on critical instruments and control valves.
• Instrument assessments – Visual inspection and calibration checks of existing installations, typically using a handheld HART communicator.
• Accounting, compliance, and custody transfer – Performing PPM on critical instruments, either with a hand-held communicator or via diagnostics collected through the third-party management system.

Long-term projects addressed more challenging opportunities via projects and reliability strategies: 
• Equipment maintenance strategies – Identify critical equipment, spare parts inventory, and PPM.
• Top 10 list – Address repeat offenders, bad actors, and high-priority failures.
• Technology upgrades – Front-end loaded, high-priority instrument projects, including extending HART connectivity to critical instruments and valves.
• Facility condition assessment – Looking ahead to future instrument projects and situations where those can improve production.

A large portion of the valve population already had smart valve positioners installed, and these were connected to HART multiplexers that could gather the diagnostic data. There was also a third-party management system to analyse the information, which could advise on the presence of a problem, but could not give details. The final step in deploying the program was developing internal processes and assigning responsibility to the individuals who maintain each process. 

Technicians discovered that 28% of the instruments contained a deficiency, ranging from end-of-life to improper installation to specification discrepancies. Looking at the five units two technologies used to measure temperature and level were found to account for 60% of the problems. Replacing just 13 instruments led to the number of incidents falling to zero.

The Instrument Reliability Group has documented several improvements in 2011 and 2012 that have yielded substantial savings in terms of reduced production losses and maintenance costs. The facility was on track to have 87 unplanned events in two years, or an average of 43.5 per year. In 2012, the facility completed the year with only 15 instrument- or control valve-related unplanned events, a 63% reduction resulting in millions of dollars in EBIT improvement, and the number is continuing a downward trend.

About the HART Plant of the Year Award... 
A HART Plant of the Year will take the capabilities of HART instruments beyond configuration and calibration, or will use real-time diagnostics and process variables of HART-enabled device integrated with its control, information, and safety systems. Each is a powerful example of how to utilise HART communications better, and to realise even greater benefits for their company. 

Key concepts are that the technical elements of an effective maintenance program should not complicated; procedural and cultural changes within a plant are critical to ongoing maintenance management success. To nominate your plant, go to

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