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Lean management reduces repair times

By  Ian Taylor, Sulzer Wednesday, 05 October 2016 08:22
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Sulzer’s Ian Taylor explains the principles of lean management, how they apply to the oil and gas sector and the practical steps that deliver benefits to the end users.

Lean principles should be at the very core of a company’s philosophy. Images from Sulzer.

The low price of crude oil during 2015 has led to many negative headlines, but there have also been several positive initiatives that will continue to deliver improvements in the years ahead. Time and money are two commodities that should not be wasted and the introduction of lean management philosophies in the repair and maintenance business has certainly helped to improve efficiency and productivity throughout the sector.

Many manufacturing and production industries have implemented lean principles in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs associated with their core business. However, these values also need to be applied to the maintenance aspect of the business to ensure reliability of equipment and to minimize the time lost due to breakdowns.

In the oil and gas sector, improvements have been made to on-site maintenance procedures as a matter of necessity. Improving preventative maintenance techniques and reducing the incidence of reactive repairs has also made a significant impact on production efficiency. It is a major challenge to eliminate breakdowns altogether and the next stage is to minimize any downtime related to repairs.

If specialist equipment such as pumps, motors and generators break down it often falls to an external supplier to make the repair and return the equipment to service. In many cases, this type of equipment plays a vital role in production and is supported by standby facilities that allow repairs to be made with minimal impact on productivity.

The use of redundant or standby machinery has a significant impact on capital expenditure that in the current economic climate may not be sustainable. Therefore, the removal of primary equipment as well as that used on a standby basis, can lead to a reduction in performance and consequently a loss of revenue.

Year round support service enables operations to be kept running with minimal delays.

The knock-on effect of removing a single pump or motor can be quite substantial so the onus is placed on those responsible for the repair to return the equipment to normal service as soon as possible. This requires expertise and experience in order to provide a realistic timeframe for the repair as well as the necessary skills and equipment to deliver the repair.

By applying lean principles to the repair process, it is possible to improve the workflow and reduce the time taken to complete a repair. From the initial enquiry, through the repair and overhaul process, electrical testing and final dispatch of the product back to the customer, every aspect of a repair should be scrutinized. This has creates the most efficient use of labor and resources whilst maintaining the quality and the standards expected by customers.

Lean operations look at eliminating any form of waste in the repair process, and in this case the most important aspect is time, so the key lies in refining the various repair processes to minimize any delays whilst ensuring the highest levels of quality.

A great deal of equipment used in the oil and gas industry operates in potentially explosive atmospheres and so one of the crucial aspects of any repair is making sure that the correct documentation is created and available when required. However, preparation of this information is very time consuming and potentially this process could be improved by applying lean principles.

Service centers should be certified to ANZEx or IECEx or both and maintain their own library of technical documents. In some cases projects can been delayed because of a lack of documentation, which is vital for the safe operation of equipment in these hazardous environments.

Ideally, at the end of a repair project, a comprehensive, standardized dossier should be created to speed up the final checking and auditing process with all the key information compartmentalized, labelled and approved prior to completion. Main contractors need to show good working practices and skill levels in order to comply with many clients’ qualification standards, often requiring a number of certifications including ISO 9001, 14001as well as OHSAS 18001.

Employee training is a crucial aspect to delivering projects on time; expertise and experience can save considerable time during a repair project. This ensures that all new employees, many of which have been previously trained, achieve the skill level required within the company organization.

The employee skill matrix forms a key aspect of a lean repair by ensuring the most suitable and best qualified staff are available for the various stages of the project. Industries such as oil and gas use a considerable amount of ATEX certified equipment and those involved with any repairs need to be suitably qualified and equipped to complete the work.

Meeting the needs of the oil and gas industry is a complex and evolving process. However, time is most certainly of the essence and the reason why projects must be delivered on time. This means managing the project you set out to do, while also being prepared for changes in circumstances that are often revealed during the disassembly and re-fitting process of large capital projects involving pumps, motors and generators.  It is these core values that drive individual service centers and their staff to deliver the expectations of the industry.

Ian Taylor
, Asia Pacific technology transfer and lean manager at Sulzer has worked within the industrial electrical repair sector for 31 years. Taylorwas first exposed to lean principles as a service center manager over 13 years ago. Since then, he has adopted Sulzer Lean and now continues to implement these values, developing them further within Sulzer. 

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