Plant's Integrated Reliability Initiative and Team Environment Bring Success

Teresa Hansen, Noria Corporation
Tags: industrial lubricants

Like many chemical facilities, BP Canada Energy Company’s linear alpha olefin (LAO) plant in Alberta must do everything it can to reduce costs and increase profits. And like with most industries, reliability is an area that can have a major impact on the facility’s bottom line.

Therefore, the company is pushing its reliability program to world-class status. The push is obviously working, as the plant has reached 98 percent reliability. Thanks to a comprehensive equipment inspection program, a unique team environment and a well-planned oil analysis and lubrication program, the LAO plant is successfully meeting its maintenance and reliability challenges.

BP Canada Energy Company’s LAO plant in
Alberta has reached 98 percent reliability.

BP’s Joffre LAO plant is located in Red Deer, Alberta, in mid-western Canada and is a new facility. It was completed in June 2001, began production in September of the same year and the official grand opening of the facility took place in May 2002.

The plant uses ethylene upgraded from natural gas to produce LAOs, which are used in a wide range of consumer and industrial end products, including plastics, synthetic lubricants and detergents. Drilling fluids and synthetic motor oils are also a major market for its LAOs.

Because the plant is relatively new, the reliability team had a unique opportunity to establish from a blank page the plant’s reliability procedures and goals on new equipment with few or no maintenance problems and little maintenance history.

The team did not have to worry about maintaining old, worn-out equipment, nor did it have to worry about outdated procedures or preconceived ideas about how things should be done. Of course, on the opposite side of the coin, it had to develop a program from scratch and resolve numerous equipment design issues.

The Joffre facility’s reliability team is lean, consisting of only two reliability technicians, one corrosion inspector and one reliability engineer. Plant management believes in preventive maintenance, so the team is well supported.

However, the two reliability technicians support a nine-person maintenance team, a 10-person I&E team and a 40-person operations team, and are responsible for making sure that the plant’s approximately 200 pumps and 200 motors are trouble-free.

The reliability technicians are responsible for the oil analysis program, the vibration analysis program, a compressor analysis program and an equipment data tracking and monitoring system called PRIDE, which has eliminated much of the operations paperwork.

According to K.C. Hyland, one of the reliability technicians, the preventive maintenance program has come a long way in the two and a half years the plant has been operating. “Initially, we focused more on start-up problems, such as seal issues, vibration problems and piping issues.

Oil analysis was not our number one priority during the plant’s commissioning. We did take oil samples, but we really weren’t following through and doing what we should have been doing with it,” he said.

Hyland said the reliability technicians did start to perform oil analysis on a more routine basis, starting with the critical units - four reciprocating compressors, two dry-screw compressors, one wet-screw compressor, 10 centrifugal pumps, four multistage centrifugal pumps, four large vertical turbine pumps, five gearboxes and eight plunger pumps,” Hyland said.

“However, we perform vibration analysis on much of the equipment; so if a vibration analysis shows something, we then might decide to take an oil sample and have it analyzed,” he added.

Joffre’s Equipment Inspection Program

Just because routine oil analysis is not performed on all of the equipment doesn’t mean the equipment is not being monitored. Twice a day, an operator takes a handheld computer unit into the plant and gathers information from the pumps and compressors.

The operator uses the handheld device to scan information from a label on the equipment, and then enters into the handheld unit vital information about the equipment, such as oil level, oil temperature (sometimes taken with a temperature gun) and other information that is displayed on equipment gauges.

This handheld unit is then taken back to the office and the data is downloaded into the PRIDE maintenance system.

“We inspect the equipment twice a day,” said Hyland. “Because we have alarm values set on all the equipment, I just have to run an exception report to see where we stand. Out of thousands and thousands of readings from seven different areas in the plant, we typically have 15 or 20 exceptions per month. Much of the time, the exceptions might show up because a parameter in the plant has changed,” he said.

For example, the data may show that a pump is running at a higher pressure. Rather than having to trouble shoot the pump and try to figure out why the pressure has changed, the reliability team can look back into the PRIDE data log and see when the pressure went up.

Hyland can then talk to someone in operations and chances are he’ll find that the pressure has changed because the plant operating parameters have changed. Therefore, if it is clear that the pump is operating correctly for the operating parameters and within its own operating envelope, the alarm limits need to be adjusted only to reflect the new parameters.

Hyland pointed out that if there is a true failure on a piece of equipment, he can go straight to the PRIDE data log and take a look at its history. “This saves me a lot of time compared to the old days when I would have to go through pages and pages of operation logs. Now, I can just go back in the computer and look at the equipment’s historical data and chart it, for up to three years,”

Hyland said. Hyland also explained that when a piece of equipment shows up on the exception list and there is no logical explanation for the exception, such as a change in the operating parameter, an oil analysis and vibration analysis will be performed. “Often, oil analysis will help pinpoint the problem,” he said.

The Point System

Because Joffre’s management is sold on preventive maintenance, it is willing to let the reliability and maintenance staffs operate “outside the box.” Rather than managers, supervisors and direct reports, the plant staff is organized into teams. “We have a team environment here,” Hyland said. “We really don’t have managers anymore, we have team leaders.”

In Joffre’s unique environment, each individual’s career destiny is more or less in his or her own hands. The organization has set up a point system that encourages plant personnel to learn as much as possible about not only their own jobs, but also about others’ jobs.

The points are called trade points, and for an individual to reach his or her next level for promotion or pay raise, he or she must earn a required number of trade points. Trade points are awarded for successfully completing classes, as well as for performing “teaming functions,” which require individuals to take a lead role (team leader, safety representative, etc.) on a specific maintenance team or task.

A certain number of points are required for the maintenance technician to hit his top plateau. According to Hyland, oil analysis is an area in which points may be acquired for a mechanic to reach the top. This is a way to ensure that everyone who deals with lubricated equipment maintenance has a basic understanding of oil analysis.

“If something isn’t right, the mechanic will recognize that there is a problem and that oil analysis needs to be performed,” Hyland said. “If we are all on the same knowledge level, it is much easier to share information. Even if not everyone becomes certified in oil analysis, just becoming familiar with it will be a big help to maintaining and improving reliability.”

In addition, an individual can become qualified in a second trade. A millwright can take a pipefitting course, or an instrumentation technician can take an electrical course. Oil analysis and vibration analysis are required for a mechanic and can be taken by a millwright. Maintenance technicians, as well as operations may also take oil analysis and vibration analysis courses if they choose to use their training budget in these areas of knowledge.

Oil Analysis’ Role

So far, the two reliability technicians are the only reliability team members who have completed oil analysis training, although others are expected to. This past August, the two reliability team members attended oil analysis training class and received ICML Machinery Lubricant Analyst (MLA) Level I certification.

“Since then, our oil analysis program has really taken off,” Hyland said. “Once we understood what a powerful tool oil analysis is, we started to focus on some of our problem equipment and began to realize that maybe some of the problems were lubricant-related issues.”

Two members of the plant’s
maintenance team work on a
plunger pump.

There was a particular problem on the plunger pumps that the two reliability team members had not been able to identify until they completed the oil analysis course. In the process of making LAO products, aluminum alkyls are pumped through the plunger pumps. The alkyls are abrasive and cause the oil to break down quickly. Therefore, the aluminum content in the lubricant becomes high almost instantly and the first oil analysis usually indicates that an oil change is needed.

According to Hyland, the aluminum alkyl mixes with the plunger wash oil, which causes the oil to thicken. Therefore, the plunger wash oil needs to be replaced and flushed out often. Sometimes the operators accidentally overfill the pumps because the system’s design makes it hard to know when the wash oil reservoir is full.

Prior to taking oil analysis training, Hyland said the oil in the pumps was sampled every three months. “We really didn’t know why the aluminum contamination was so high or how long it had been contaminated. We would just change the oil,” Hyland said. They also were not aware that the pumps were being overfilled during change outs and that overfilling was causing problems.

“We then conducted a RCFA (root cause failure analysis) on the pumps and decided to try oil analysis every two weeks. We’re now catching the aluminum contamination much sooner,” Hyland said. The RCFA determined that the root problem was aluminum contamination caused by overfilling the plunger wash oil. The contaminated wash oil was leaking by the pony rod seals and contaminating the crank case oil in the pumps. The combination of contamination and overfilling was clearly causing a lot of problems.

The pumps were initially lubricated with a high-grade synthetic-based oil manufactured by Royal Purple (a Joffre customer). Because the oil had to be changed so often and it was more expensive than some other oils on the market, the decision was made to switch to a cheaper mineral-based oil. “Although it was claimed that the mineral-based oil had characteristics comparable to the synthetic oil, it became apparent that we made a wrong decision. After about a six-month trial period, we began to notice a sharp increase in pin and bushing wear,” Hyland said.

The facility switched back to the synthetic oil. Even though the oil in the pumps must still be changed often, the reliability and maintenance teams have decided it is cheaper to use the higher grade Royal Purple synthetic lubricant.

Although oil analysis has not actually solved the problem of frequent oil changes, it has helped the staff catch the aluminum contamination much sooner, which has helped mitigate the need to replace pins and bushings and has improved the pumps’ reliability.

Some members of Joffre LAO Plant’s reliability team are (L-to-R): Tim Wavrecan, reliability technician; Don Lucyk, senior corrosion inspector; K.C. Hyland, reliability technician; and Barry Mackenzie, plant maintenance manager/reliability engineer.

What’s Next?

Currently, the facility has no on-site oil analysis capability and all analysis is performed off-site. Even though plant personnel are happy with their off-site oil analysis lab and have received much help and support from it, they are considering purchasing some equipment so that a few basic screening tests can be performed on-site. “We have a lab here because we are a chemical plant,” Hyland said. “We’ve been thinking of getting a particle counter and maybe a viscometer.

Mainly just to perform the basics to determine if we need to send the sample away. We’ve looked at training and equipment costs, and we’re trying to decide if we are ready for on-site oil analysis yet. We have only two people to test 200 pumps and 200 motors. It will keep us very busy. So we don’t know if we want to start oil analysis ourselves when there are expert labs out there that can perform the tests for us.”

With such strong support from management for preventive and predictive maintenance, Hyland believes focusing more on oil analysis is logical and considering an on-site lab is a smart thing to do. Tim Wavrecan, Hyland’s counterpart in the reliability group, is gathering documentation to help the team decide if it would be cost effective to run such a program locally.

The oil analysis program is allowing the facility to switch from the historically used time-based frequency oil change or oil filter to condition-based changes/filtering where possible. The next step to increased reliability of lubricated equipment will be to investigate oil mist systems, which has been implemented with great success in some critical areas by another of BP’s LAO plants in Pasadena, Texas.

PAO Lubricant Selection Process at Prairie Rose

The decision to use PAO-based synthetic lubricants at the Joffre LAO plant was based on increasing equipment reliability and good business sense. With a large percentage of the final product (C10) ending up in PAO-based synthetic lubricants, it was a wise decision to support the product it produced. Industry has long recognized synthetic lubricants as a way to increase reliability of equipment with characteristics such as greater load-carrying capability and lower pour points.

More than 90 percent of the equipment located at the Joffre Plant site is located outside. With seasonal temperatures in Alberta ranging from -40°F to 100°F, a synthetic lubricant with good low temperature characteristics is required to ensure good cold starts. The Joffre plant tried to implement many of the best practices being used at BP’s other two LAO plants in Feluy, Belgium and Pasadena, Texas.

One of the Pasadena facility’s most noticeable reliability improvements was seen when it switched to synthetic lubricants. The Pasadena plant uses a PAO-based synthetic made by Royal Purple of Humble, Texas. Royal Purple buys 100 percent of its PAO from BP to produce its lubricant.

Because BP recently acquired Burmah-Castrol, it made good business sense to look inside the company at the PAO-based industrial synthetics (oil and grease) offered by Castrol. After several meetings, it was decided that there were some applications where Castrol’s product was a good fit. Castrol provided a good cross-over grease from the initial greases the manufacturers used to fill the equipment. Therefore, Castrolease AI was selected as the motor grease and Castrol PD2 was chosen for pumps and couplings.

A mineral-based oil is used for the wash oil in the reciprocating pump distance pieces. Both Pasadena and Feluy found mineral oil to be more than suitable for this application. Joffre will use Castrol’s Hyspin AWS 150 oil for this purpose.

Once the lubricants were selected, Joffre’s reliability team worked with all the equipment manufacturers to ensure their buy-in for using a PAO-based synthetic oil in the equipment. Many rotating equipment manufacturers were reluctant to approve these oils for use in their equipment due to limited experience with PAO-based synthetic lubricants.

Even worse, many rotating equipment manufacturers did not differentiate between synthetic esters and polyalkylene glycols, which are nothing like mineral oil and PAO-based lubricants (both have similar polarity and compatibility). Therefore, several lubricant compatibility issues had to be resolved. Lab tests were preformed to prove the compatibility to manufacturers. In all test cases, PAO-based synthetic lubricants were found to be compatible with the various coatings and gasket materials used in Joffre’s rotating equipment.