A considerable amount of effort goes into developing an asset maintenance plan that combines all the technical and administrative measures throughout the life cycle of a piece of equipment aiming to preserve as well as restore its readiness so it can perform its required function. Often, the premise of these plans is that the asset is operating and mostly in a steady state. Strategies based on this premise is an incomplete approach that even the best companies fall victim to with unexpected, and at times, tragic consequences. Engineers and maintenance leaders need to ask themselves what special considerations to address when equipment is in an idle state for an extended period or operating in a reduced or modified state (such as would be experienced following new construction) before being placed into production.
During high-level maintenance program development, engineers need to know the operating context of an asset when defining the boundaries of the maintenance and reliability analysis. Operating context is nothing more than the circumstances in which a physical asset or system is expected to operate. Formally defining the operating context at the front end of developing the maintenance plan limits the tendency to over analyze, yet operating context is too narrow of scope when designing maintenance programs as it tends to distract asset managers from important non-operating states. In emergency systems, there is a concerted effort to analyze the systems and components with the general state of idleness in mind, but these are deliberate and result in maintenance activities designed to ensure the system works when needed. The problem arises when the operating system or component is placed into a reduced or idle state for an extended period because most equipment designers tend to gloss over what should be done to preserve its ability to achieve its functional state following extended periods of being idle.
It is easy to envision the case where equipment is placed into a period of inactivity to support such events as large construction projects, project delays, extended shutdowns for system upgrades, or annual maintenance outages. However, it is necessary to consider the case when first installing a system as well. When systems are installed, interconnections made, and the utilities supplied such that it is ready to support operations, good engineering practices dictate that a commissioning process is needed to check that the equipment can meet the designed functional state under its operating context. For the most part, the procedures used to validate and qualify the systems for proper operation are successful in starting up the system for the first time but often fail to elegantly shutdown the system and place it in a state of long-term idleness. Conditions then may arise that, if not countered or detected, could result in equipment failure upon normal startup. Take the case of shutting down a piece of equipment that relies on oil films to prevent corrosion of machined surfaces, for example. Without some form of countermeasure in place during the extended shutdowns of this equipment, functional failures are more likely to occur. The countermeasures that maintenance engineers and planners must put into practice are a modified set of maintenance activities usually referred to as inactive equipment maintenance, which includes a set of activities to go into an inactive state, activities conducted during the inactive state, and a set of activities to come out of the inactive state.
Inactive equipment maintenance is a set of unique activities that are designed to preserve an asset’s readiness so that it can perform its required function when in operation. The administrative and technical management systems that support inactive equipment maintenance are not self-starting and are often overlooked. With effective upfront planning, these activities are relatively easy to implement and manage. In the case of commissioning new equipment and systems during construction projects, getting an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) in place and operating is an essential milestone. Doing so allows the commissioning team to populate the asset registers along with their supporting information, allowing the inactive equipment maintenance plans to be loaded into the system and placed on a schedule to generate the work orders automatically. Regardless of whether the equipment is new or has been in operation for years, it is often best to initiate the inactive maintenance formally through a step in the installation documentation, commissioning procedures, remote storage or shutdown procedures. Managing the readiness of equipment in the case where an EAM is not in operation (or the construction contractors are not required to use the EAM) is much more difficult and prone to error.
It is essential to recognize that these maintenance activities need not be overly cumbersome. In fact, in the case of operating maintenance activities, they should meet the minimum requirements to preserve system function (in this case at startup) and keep in force any warranty agreements. There should be a plan to put the system into an inactive state, which may include turning off the operating maintenance plans and turning on the inactive maintenance plans, one-time cleaning, or blowdown of the equipment. Once the equipment is placed in an inactive state, the inactive maintenance plan is activated and scheduled calendar-based. These activities could include turning on oil pumps once a week for 30 minutes to coat the metal surfaces to prevent corrosion. If a system is installed and has never been operated either normally or for testing, there is usually no need to conduct maintenance at all unless it is an emergency system.
The remaining maintenance item necessary for operational readiness is one of the most overlooked – startup maintenance. Startup maintenance is considered “failure finding” maintenance, but this fails to recognize that the maintenance activity could be designed to prepare the equipment for the startup. In a real-world example similar to startup maintenance, while it is prudent to inspect an automobile’s spare tire before a long road trip, most vehicle owners never perform this inspection because there isn’t a reminder to do so. These maintenance activities should be triggered when the equipment state transitions from “Inactive” back to an active state or as part of the operating procedure or the system startup checklist. These items may include cleaning and blowdown, motor turn verification as the system was de-energized, or changing out various elastomers depending on the length of time the system was placed in an inactive state.
The need for inactive equipment and startup maintenance is necessary to preserve the readiness of assets or systems to achieve their functional states. The difficulty lies in actually conducting and documenting these infrequent maintenance tasks. At a minimum, the inactive and startup maintenance plans should be created with robust business processes and workflows to trigger and enforce the activities. It is also highly recommended to commission an EAM system as an early milestone in any capital project. The EAM system can automate many of these workflows, provided they are defined accurately from the start. If this is not possible, it remains essential to have a trusted process in place to remind the maintenance contractor or maintenance employees to schedule and perform this maintenance. In all cases, the manager has the ultimate responsibility of preserving the readiness of the asset irrespective of whether it is inactive or operating.
About the Authors
Nick Armstrong, Assistant Director, Asset Management & Reliability
Nick has a bachelor’s degree in bioprocessing science, and he has experience with production facilities, process controls, automation, maintenance, reliability, and more. Nick is a former Marine Corps Sergeant and CEO of a startup.
Rich Tree, Vice President, North America
Richard is a hands-on senior consultant with 33 years of experience in operations excellence, business continuity management, reliability, and commissioning. He has successfully spearheaded numerous turnarounds of operations focusing on execution, waste elimination, asset management, and quality improvement, driving substantial and sustained growth in top- and bottom-line performance.