For complex processing facilities, maintaining reliability is a key strategy for ensuring safety while also maximizing availability and optimizing spending. Pinnacle’s 2020 Economics of Reliability report for the global refining industry found that reliable operation is the largest indicator of profitable operation. We interviewed industrial executives—including those responsible for global maintenance and reliability, heads of digital transformation, and operations directors—to discover their biggest reliability, maintenance, and process safety challenges and learn what they are doing to improve.

Top Challenges Faced by Industrial Executives

To better uncover the top reliability-related challenges faced by complex processing industries, we interviewed more than 30 industry executives. Many executives expressed similar challenges – highlighting the fact that complex processing industry leadership shares consistent challenges, whether it be refining, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals, or any complex industrial industry.

The top five challenges consistently identified include the following:

  1. Accelerating digital transformation
  2. Improving operational availability/reducing process safety risk
  3. Reducing overall maintenance spending
  4. Achieving a reliability culture
  5. Implementing advanced technologies

1. Accelerating Digital Transformation

The greatest challenge by far is accelerating digital transformation. In fact, 75% of executives say digital transformation is important for their operations and 44% of them must focus on digital transformation in their roles.

Digital transformation is the movement in which industrial leaders are digitizing existing data collection, analysis, and modeling processes. This digital conversion results in faster data collection, analysis, and decision making—meaning fewer labors hours, reduction in maintenance spend and decreased safety risk. If done effectively, digital transformation efforts will help complex processing facilities achieve more sustainable and profitable operations. Many organizations are still doing things manually but would like to shift toward becoming more digital and gain the efficiencies created through this digital transformation.

2. Improving Operational Availability/Reducing Process Safety

Following the challenge of adopting digital transformation, 69% of executives say improving operational availability or reducing process safety mechanical integrity risk is important for their operations and can be a challenge for their facility. Reduced process safety risk results in increased availability and profitability. These are the major goals of each major complex processing facility, yet leaders are stating that these goals continue to be challenging to achieve.

What we’re seeing in the industry right now is that organizations are not finding ways to continue improving on what they are already doing. That is, organizations have reliability strategies in place, but are not seeing further reliability improvements. provided improvements to predicting “known” unknowns. However, the improvements seen from these models have leveled off over the past decade and companies are searching for ways to continue improving reliability by getting better at addressing not only the “known” unknowns, but also the “unknown” unknowns.

One way to achieve this next level of reliability is to look at the system as a whole. Quantitative Reliability Optimization (QRO)Quantitative Reliability Optimization (QRO) is dynamic reliability analysis model that synthesizes and expands upon the best elements of existing reliability models while introducing new data science and analytical concepts to drive improved and strategically balanced availability, process safety, and spending performance.

3. Reducing Overall Maintenance Spending

In the discussions, reduction of cost was often brought up and 69% of executives said that reducing overall maintenance spend is a prevalent challenge. In tandem, Pinnacle’s 2020 Economics of Reliability report found that complex processing industries—such as chemicals, mining, refining, water, and wastewater—currently have the opportunity to collectively save hundreds of billions of dollars annually through optimized reliability programs.

Quantitative Reliability Optimization (QRO) is dynamic reliability analysis model that strategically optimizes reliability programs and spending performance.

4. Achieving A Reliability Culture

Another top challenge faced by industry executives is establishing and maintaining reliability culture. We heard concerns about handling a retiring workforce and retaining critical reliability knowledge and reliability culture. Reliability culture refers to having an organization where personnel at all levels are engaged with driving reliability. To achieve a reliability culture, silos across the organization need to be broken down so that there is a collaborative effort to achieve the organization’s reliability goals.

To accelerate the spread of reliability culture, many organizations are working to have information shared and leveraged across separate locations. For example, each location may have a regional team that works with the other regional teams from different locations to share insights and lessons learned – efficiently driving reliability. Recently, bp began standardizing practices and lessons learned across sites globally and have achieved significant efficiencies. Read about how bp is standardizing asset integrity management across the globe.

5. Implementing Advanced Technologies

Organizations are increasingly focused on getting people off of assets to increase safety and create greater efficiencies. To do this, they are using things like sensors, artificial intelligence, and mobility solutions, digital twins, and robotics for less-invasive inspections. Though there are a multitude of advanced technology solutions, organizations are having trouble knowing which technologies are worth implementing, which will give the greatest return on the investment, and which will integrate with current systems and processes.

A system-based view that connects data from all assets can make it easier to implement new technology and make sure that all asset data is leveraging the right strategies.

Conclusion

At this point in time, complex processing facilities want to achieve the next level of asset management. Organizations across the board are looking for new ways to improve availability and reduce process safety risk. To remain competitive, organizations need more efficient and cost-effective ways to continuously improve reliability and availability while also reducing maintenance and inspection costs.

The keys to making the improvements needed to achieve the step-change organizations desire include starting with the fundamentals and building from a solid foundation. For example, start by implementing good data practices; having set program goals; achieving a reliability culture across the organization; and making sure staff are informed and empowered. After the foundational elements are in place, then advanced technology solutions can be introduced.

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