Lean management reduces repair times for oil and gas industry

Jon Lawson

Ian Taylor explains the principles, how they apply to the oil and gas sector and the practical steps that deliver benefits to the end users

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 minimise 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 minimise 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.

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.

Sulzer’s Lean Principles are at the very core of the company’s philosophy and with the application of these principles it has reinvented the way service work is performed. 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 has been scrutinised. This has created the most efficient use of labor and resources whilst maintaining the quality and the standards expected by customers.

This is exemplified by the new Service Center that was recently opened in Perth, Western Australia, which has state-of-the-art repair facilities designed to optimize repair procedures and build on the high quality service available to the local Oil and Gas industry. Offering a 24 hour, year round support service enables Sulzer to deliver expertise in the most time efficient manner, and to keep operations running with minimal delays.

This is achieved through the application of Lean principles within the workshop environment and combining them with a policy of continuous improvement.

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.

Sulzer Service Centers in Australia are certified to ANZEx or IECEx or both and in the past each Service Center kept their own library of technical documents. As part of an internal review it was discovered that some projects had been delayed because of a lack of documentation and there were also cases of duplication, both in documentation and processes.

As part of the continuous improvement process, standardized Sulzer documentation has been created that can be used by Service Centers throughout Australia and Indonesia. This has consolidated the technical documentation to provide a common library that all sites have access to, thus reducing time to access such documents.

The improvements also included the use of online electronic standards; whereas previously Service Centers were reliant on hard copies sourced by each site. This allows access to the latest information through a common platform and ensures that each project meets the required certification and quality procedures.

At the end of a project, a comprehensive standardized dossier is created which has greatly sped up the final checking and auditing process as all the key information is compartmentalized, labelled and approved prior to completion.

For larger projects that involve a number of suppliers and contractors, Sulzer has the competency to manage these on behalf of the end customer, allowing clients in the oil and gas industry to reduce their supplier base significantly. This also passes the onus of project completion onto the prime contractor and reduces the amount of client resources engaged in the project.

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, which has led Sulzer to instigate an in-house training program. This ensures that all new employees, many of which have been previously trained, achieve the skill level required within the Sulzer organisation.

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 one Sulzer’s corporate key performance indicators (KPIs) demands that projects within Sulzer 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 the individual service centers and their staff to deliver the expectations of the industry.

Ian Taylor is Technology Transfer & Lean Manager, Asia Pacific, for Sulzer

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