Jason K. Firth, C.E.T.

Instrumentation, Control, and Automation


Jan 292015

January 29, 2015

I'm Jason Firth.

Today, when people use the word "Connected", they're usually talking about ethernet networks. That's not what I'm talking about today.

Quite often as an instrument technician or technologist, I get asked to help participate in jobs that don't immediately appear to be related to my trade. In one case, I was asked to participate in the Reliability Centred Maintenance initiative. In another, I was asked to help set up a site's maintenance management system. A lot of people heard this, and immediately went "That's not in your job description!"

As much as that might be true (depending on how the job description is worded), I belive that everything we do is connected.

Let's look at the workflow for RCM. The very first task is to get a complete list of equipment at your site. Occasionally you already have that list, but often you do not. At one site I worked at, gathering a list of equipment was a massive undertaking, requiring cross-referencing of every single piece of information available, from the existing maintenance management system, to maintenance records, to data from the PLC and SCADA, to some good old fashioned leg work. This might not be part of the job description, but it certainly makes life easier having that information. Suddenly we know exactly what we have, where we didn't before.

The next task is to sit down with operations personnel, and get them to help define the function of every piece of equipment. You record that definition for later. Let's look at the incredible value you get here: Not only do you personally get to sit down and learn one at a time exactly what operations believes each piece of equipment does, but you're recording it so anyone can look it up. You can gather this information together later to improve operations documentation, or to add invaluable context to the PLC or DCS program, or to produce complete disaster planning.

Next, you determine the dominant failure modes; the scenario for each failure mode; criticality of each failure; what the consequences are of failure; and what maintenance will be done to address each failure. This might seem incredibly specific to preventative maintenance, but imagine the value in having this available on a minute-to-minute basis. Imagine getting a trouble call and knowing immediately how it can be prioritized in a situation where multiple breakdowns are occurring. Having that information closely at hand could mean the difference between a plant facing safety hazards, environmental impact, capital damage, or productive loss, and not.

Finally, by having an instrument guy in the room, sometimes new solutions to failures can be found. Systematically discussing everything with operations personnel and other maintenance personnel can be a great catalyst for innovative solutions to problems that have plagued a site for ages.

As for helping to improve a maintenance management system, that's something you don't realize you needed until you have it. A properly set up system will have all your different pieces of equipment, so you can build a history of things you've done to that equipment. History is a key information source in Reliability Centred Maintenance. A really well done MMS will fundamentally change how reactive maintenance gets done. When a tradesman recognise that a piece of equipment needs to be changed out, instead of immediately hunting for some indication of what the part they need is, they can immediately head to stores with the tag number and recieve the exact part they need from the asset Bill of Materials.

These are just two examples of how things that don't seem to be at all connected to what we do can nonetheless make our day to day work easier. "That's not in your job description!" is a great way to make that job harder.

Thanks for reading!

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