We live in turbulent times. Transformational times. But what are the possible implications for the production industries and for process plant reliability engineering?
In 2020, Deloitte (Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited) attempted to address the first part of this question by examining four (4) possible scenarios for the future of Europe’s chemical process industry. The results of their study (refer Figure 1) are relevant for many industries and suggest that “proactive transformation” will be required for a profitable and sustainable future (i.e., Scenario 1).
Two years later, the response of many companies is becoming clearer; departure from “business as usual” and embracement of transformation, with growing momentum.
What does this have to do with process plant reliability engineering? It is an opportunity for reliability engineers to contribute – with their unique skill set – to the transformation. However, a paradigm change is required.
There are two aspects to the required paradigm change. The first aspect involves a subtle change in terminology; the second requires a more fundamental change in perspective.
A change in terminology
At the beginning of my “reliability” engineering career, I worked in a laboratory for materials failure analysis. Largely isolated from the “sharp end” of industry, I thought in terms of RELIABILITY. Later, working in a process plant environment, my focus changed to minimizing plant downtime and I thought in terms of AVAILABILITY. And now, in a time of increasing transformation, my thoughts are dominated by the word “CAPABILITY”.
RELIABILITY -> AVAILABILITY -> CAPABILITY
Here, the term “capability” refers, in a broad sense, to the collective (future) functional and economic requirements of the production system. For example:
- Capable of producing X tons per year.
- Capable of implementing a “circular” mass-flow balance.
- Capable of utilizing renewable and CO2 neutral energy sources.
- Capable of accommodating supply chain disruptions and changes.
- Capable of responding to future demand changes.
- Capable of remaining cost-competitive throughout the transformation phase.
Use of the generic term “capability” implies a multi-dimensional performance vector and necessitates the adoption of a high-level, “systems” approach to engineering. Further, it implies the need to assess different potential scenarios, to deal with stochastic uncertainty and to compare the merits of design options; all key skills of the reliability engineer!
A change in perspective
This brings us to the second aspect of the paradigm change. Changing the goal from (maximizing) “Availability” to ensuring (future) “Capability” means that the existing reliability engineering efforts need to be re-assessed and prioritized.
Indeed, the change represents a fundamental change in perspective from a reactive and introspective search for “waste” (e.g., bad actors) to a proactive and extrospective search for “growth”; refer Figure 2. In this context, “growth” is understood to be the journey to realize the future capability requirements.
The implication of the perspective change is a fundamental re-balancing of priorities, with implications for the allocation of engineering resources. For example, the change to a “growth” perspective may require current efforts on individual assets (“bad actors”) to be re-focused – at least initially – on the evaluation of current and future system capability requirements.
So, what have we learned? Let me summarize:
- The chemical process industry is responding to future global challenges by embracing, with increasing momentum, the need for transformational change.
- The industrial transformation calls for a re-appraisal for future system capability requirements and a consequential re-balancing of priorities in term of systems reliability engineering.
- The traditional reactive, introspective search for “waste” is expected to be succeeded by a proactive, extrospective search for “growth”. Reliability engineering professionals possess a key skill-set to support this journey.
RAMS Mentat GmbH has developed an innovate technical and systems engineering approach – and supporting tools – that enables the reliability and safety performance of an entire production system to be optimized with consideration of capital investment, operational and maintenance cost constraints.