*As seen in Inspectioneering Journal’s November/December 2018 issue.

This past November in Orlando, Florida, Inspectioneering and Pinnacle hosted a roundtable discussion for a select group of leading mechanical integrity and reliability experts from the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries. This bi-annual forum, called the “Meeting of the Minds,” explored the concept of risk-based inspection (RBI) and whether operators are realizing actual benefits from implementing RBI at their facilities.

Many questions were posed during the course of the roundtable discussion. Below is a quick recap of some of the key takeaways.

Are sites measuring any RBI benefits (e.g., lower turnaround costs by not inspecting lower risk equipment; fewer fixed equipment mechanical integrity leaks and failures; improved turnaround planning process)?

Participants had varying takes on the impact of RBI on turnaround costs. Many participants have noticed that, after RBI implementation, inspection program costs tended to increase with the very next turnaround, perhaps as a result of unsound legacy inspection programs and the identification of damage mechanisms that were not previously recognized. With subsequent turnarounds, inspection costs tended to decrease below the baseline. A few participants witnessed immediate cost savings after their initial RBI implementation.

With that in mind, the group agreed that RBI should never be justified by cost, but rather by measured improvements in turnaround discoveries, loss of primary containment (LOPC) events, and other lagging indicators. In the early days of RBI, there was a tendency for it to be used (erroneously) as a justification to reduce turnaround costs rather than to better manage risk. Participants made it very clear that RBI requires a lot of internal integrity.

“In the end it saves you cost, but more importantly, it saves you from events that never end up happening. But how do you show that? In my mind, you should be tracking the lagging indicators – LOPC events and such – and trying to drive those down.”

Do you feel like RBI is helping your inspectors to better focus their efforts on the right issues?

The rise of RBI programs have contributed to a more thoughtful approach to inspection planning. While RBI should not be used as a justification to change staffing levels or costs, it should help inspectors focus their efforts. One particular individual noted that, prior to RBI implementation, their facility had tens of thousands of thickness monitoring locations (TMLs) in places that did not make sense. After implementing RBI, the facility was able to focus their TML placement on the right locations.

“The end game for RBI is looking in the right place, at the right time, with the right technique.”

Participants agreed that RBI has had a net positive impact on their inspectors. In particular, inspectors appreciate the idea of inspecting what they need to inspect. Furthermore, RBI’s more focused inspection approach has led to an increase in the quality and level of detail found in inspection test plans (ITPs); the scope, techniques, surface preparation, equipment history, etc. have all become much more thorough with the advent of RBI.

One potential pitfall of RBI is that it could give rise to a cultural cliché’ that “RBI told me to do that.” This can be avoided by properly communicating the need for inspectors’ ownership and engagement. The group agreed that it is critical to have individual conversations with inspection personnel to get their buy-in and ensure they have a clear understanding of an organization’s RBI program. Additionally, it is important to have a single RBI champion or influencer that will help promote the benefits of the program and keep all other necessary parties involved.

Over 50% of our leaks occur in piping – are you doing RBI on piping?  If not, why?

The responses to this question made clear a few important points: (1) most refineries are in the earlier stages of including piping in their RBI programs, and (2) there is not one single and consistent approach to accounting for the complexities of piping systems with RBI. One participant mentioned that piping RBI programs, which tend to focus on a limited set of corrosion rates, thicknesses, or points in time don’t adequately account for the complexity of an entire piping system.

“We found that just wasn’t representative of what is going on. So, until that model becomes more sophisticated, we won’t use it.”

Some suggestions to address this issue included targeting the highest risk or worst-case locations of piping circuits or breaking the entire system down into multiple smaller components. One particular individual, who brought the perspective of the chemical/petrochemical industry, has found success in piping RBI through a combination of:

  1. breaking larger piping systems down into smaller subcomponents with similar corrosion rates (e.g., a 10” line with ¾” leads would be broken down into two separate subcomponents), and
  2. focusing mainly on external corrosion, while also creating manual inspection plans for locations with internal corrosion mechanisms such as injection points.

The group did agree on a few key components that are necessary for an effective piping RBI program, including doing a good job of corrosion systemization and circuitization, being consistent across all facilities in an organization, and using statistical analysis to identify unanticipated findings such as localized corrosion.

Speaking of statistical analysis, various organizations are using some form of statistical analysis (e.g., regression and Monte Carlo analyses) on the massive amounts of historical data that is available. An important caveat is that the data must be good data, otherwise the output will be meaningless or misleading – garbage in, garbage out.

“We have a lot more data. I don’t know if it’s good data, but we have a lot more of it.”

All agreed that there is clear value in conducting a damage mechanism review (DMR), which is of course a component of piping RBI implementation. Whether or not facilities end up using RBI for their piping, DMRs provide a useful tool in determining where to inspect, and for what damage mechanisms.

Is your RBI process completely embedded at your site and in “run and maintain” mode, or are you still in the implementation stage?

Roughly two thirds of the participants consider RBI programs at all of their sites to be in run and maintain phase. With that said, there were numerous definitions of which assets were included as “completed” – many are only considering pressure vessels.

Is site management convinced that there are benefits to doing RBI? Are they gaining an increased appreciation of fixed equipment risk management?

This question was followed by some hesitation before most participants agreed that management tends to focus on cost rather than the risk management benefits of a properly-implemented RBI program. According to survey data cited by one participant, top-tier refineries are very oriented toward risk management and have a full appreciation of RBI, but others have not yet reached this point.

“It depends on the education level of the management team. If they haven’t been in our shoes, all they see is cost.”

A proposed solution is to do a better job of measuring surprises, near-misses, and leaks, and trending them over a period of time. One participant anecdotally stated that, after a continued decreasing trend of turnaround discoveries, site management attributed the improvement to their excellent RBI program and, in fact, were very appreciative and supportive of the program because of the significant measured decrease in discoveries.

Inspectioneering and Pinnacle would like to thank all of the participants for joining in this discussion of these critical issues and sincerely appreciates the dedication of their time to share their thoughts and experiences with our community.

Please share your thoughts with us at info@pinnaclereliability.com.

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