Jim Charboneau, Director, EAM, Utopia Inc.
The petroleum-triggered economic global downturn has impacted all aspects of industrial life – production levels are down; plants are closing; companies are merging or being acquired; good people are going home; jobs are moving between plants – all having an impact on the fuel and energy maintenance strategies and workloads of our field and plant maintenance operations people.
As maintenance professionals, we are tasked with keeping our wells, pipelines and plant assets in a state of good repair, with high availability and ensuring safety and profitability are on target. And we do this with blind trust in the information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) provided by our business owners, operations / maintenance leadership and chief technology officers.
Company newsletters boast of corporate technology visions with glossy nerd speak getting us to believe: IT/OT convergence where “smart” assets have embedded chips that “talk” to our operators about their “health”; more confusing acronyms like ‘IoT’ (Internet of Things) convincing us that our future is in the “digitalization in the cloud”; that happiness is a “UX” user experience on a sleek new tablet device or smartphone and an uber-cool group of anonymous people in halloween masks are challenging our wit with stories of intrusion and cyber security threats.
While drilling and well production is down and our maintenance budget isn’t what is used to be, we have had to cancel more than a few inspection contracts, defer planned rebuilds, change routes and work schedules, replace condition-based maintenance with run-to-failure tactics for less critical equipment; extend pipeline inspections and hope our predictive maintenance assumptions result in reactive and emergency work that is manageable.
Faced with these economic realities, our asset integrity leadership have fought hard to keep quality maintenance technicians and engineers working; trying to invest in updated tooling and focus on safety and skills training to replace the knowledge leaving the shop after each retirement. Sure, getting emails from smart IT/OT device telling us that a pump coupling is noise is a neat thing, but it doesn’t solve the bigger problem we have right now: Who laid off the asset management data quality people?
Our field operations and plant information technology spend has rolled back IT / OT projects such as ISO 55001 compliance, promising better predictive maintenance tactics that would optimize wrench time and leave our crews with more time to do preventive work and cost saving bench work.
Our supervisors take plans and work schedules from planners, and after a safety talk, some locker-room banter about who is retiring next month; the impact this week’s oil prices have on our company and job security – we dispatch the crews to begin our maintenance/reliability day – tools in hand.
As maintenance professionals, all we need are a few creature comforts – say decent selection of snacks in the new vending machines, a pair of dry boots, good work schedules, work orders we can actually read with updated maintenance instructions, a list of spares parts we might need and time to do the job right.
Friday comes along and the second round of layoffs, albeit only two or three people, has seen the dismantling of our once robust Asset Integrity Working Group. We no longer have maintenance planners fussing over quality job plans; taking care to update bill of materials needed to order the right parts for the job; or getting new safety data sheets and OEM drawings. The task of updating or adding new equipment specifications into the EAM system along with accurate spare parts items and inventory data has been delegated to a field-ops purchasing clerk who is pretty busy multi-tasking otherwise known as ‘wearing many hats’.
Truth be told, the biggest problem most fuel and energy production operations have is not threat of intrusion by some hacker, or seamless integration of this to that, but the progressive erosion of our day-to-day EAM data caused by decades of “doing more with less” and a domino effect of layoffs that saw lower priority placed on asset data clean-up and governance.
As the day progresses we are spending more time watching oil prices swing than we do chasing parts to fix things and we come to the realization that the asset management data quality people are us!
This blind trust in our EAM data may not be apparent, but the symptoms of eroded, old master data in the EAM system once unnoticed is starting to become more visible and impacting the business every hour of every day:
- – PM Work orders are generated for well equipment that has been decommissioned or sold
- – Field work orders have the right location but the equipment data is outdated
- – Field work orders have the correct equipment but wrong job plans, tasks applied
- – Preventive maintenance work packages are issued with wrong intervals or task lists
- – Repetitive work orders have not been updated to reflect new equipment configuration
- – Backlog work orders have stale or incorrect part numbers
- – Backlog work orders were estimated using old task lists and material costs
- – Material reservations for planned work are not generated due to wrong MRP data
- – Bill of materials used for kits or rebuilds are missing or have duplicate parts
- – Store issues/returns cannot be processed with wrong parts or incomplete specifications
- – Purchase Requests/Orders fail to get processed due to incomplete description/vendor
- – Orders are taking longer to process because primary vendors are wrong or out of business
Most of the EAM data erosion we experience happened progressively and silently because checks and balances were replaced by time-saving short-cuts, sudden changes in roles and activities, supervisor/leadership changes that shifted priorities – all quite justifiable and expected when jobs are lost but also quite preventable if we had realized that our maintenance staff were the data quality people all along.
While there is no genie in a bottle that can help us get out of this data quality funk, there are a few people-process-technology things that can be done in the immediate term to help get pipeline, plant and wellhead EAM data back in the right place:
- People: Re-establish or start a Asset Integrity Working Group – Working with management, supervisors and maintenance staff to establish small volunteer “quality circles” of three to four people that meet on Tuesdays and Fridays for one hour per week to take one or two problems or issues and agree to solve them. It might be to review and correct a maintenance job plan for a pump or identify two or three materials items or BOMs that need to be fixed or deleted from the EAM system. The management member will sponsor and take ownership to getting these done.
- Process: Build a bridge between IT and business culture – not that it’s broken but begin the open discussion about “EAM data quality” to your interdepartmental management meetings, safety talks and coaching moments encouraging everyone to identify data or information issues and have supervisors take ownership to follow-up. Support these supervisors with short, scheduled meetings and simple communication processes enlisting members of the corporate information technology team to establish a high priority on EAM data remediation and allot two hours on Wednesday to address issues.
- Technology: Last and certainly not least, Maintenance, Operations and Information Technology leaders need to work together to explore ways to effectively and economically “refresh” their IT/OT and EAM enterprise solution architecture supporting our Maintenance teams. Small investments, easy-to-implement, out-of-the box software like adding a Management of Change (MOC) button on a mobile work order device could allow the field technician who found a bit of bad data in the maintenance plan MRO BOM to send an email message directly to the IT member of the Asset Integrity Working Group – effectively shortening the time between discovery and resolution from days to minutes.
We need to take a moment to recognize that previous information technology methods may have broken down over the stress of layoffs or organizational change and that making the business case for investing in things like IoT (Internet of Things), digital IT / OT asset management, EAM master data governance and smart technology to improve the user experience may well have some real solid returns – even if it’s simply putting a smile on the faces of your maintenance teams again.
This column was first published in the September 2016 issue of Machinery and Equipment MRO magazine.
Jim Charboneau, director, EAM for Chicago-based Utopia Inc., spent most of his millwright apprenticeship days creating maintenance plans in Viscalc spreadsheets on an Apple IIe computer in the late 1970s. Charboneau would go on to be a maintenance reliability specialist, EAM solution architect, vice-president, project manager and consultant helping asset intensive businesses “get it right the first time.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.