Plants Take a Long Look for Savings

Greater emphasis on lifecycle costs and diagnostics is paying dividends.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Whenever there’s an economic turndown and chemical companies need to cut costs, maintenance in particular comes under the fiercest of spotlights. However, more firms are finding that adopting lifecycle analysis (LCA) and lifecycle costing (LCC) and relying on condition-monitoring and other diagnostic techniques are more cost-efficient ways to save on maintenance than simply slashing budgets.

A good example is BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, a company that takes an integrated LCC approach from conceptual engineering through procurement to maintenance/operation.

“LCA can be done on entire plants, subsystems or components. Operational/maintenance experience is looped back into the engineering process of a new plant and reliability, availability, maintainability (RAM) studies and other tools are used for LCC improvements,” says Kurt Raschka, its senior vice president for maintenance at Ludwigshafen.

During the operational phase, for example, the company uses a method it calls risk-based maintenance (RBM) to identify the critical components of a plant and to decide on suitable risk-mitigation measures. Detailed LCA can be done on specific components such as large compressors. Because BASF operates a large variety of different plant types with diverse process requirements, the detailed program is mostly decided at plant level, based on a global collection and exchange of best practices (Figure 1).

Raschka believes that it’s important to analyze specific equipment within its respective process environment. For example, as teaming of variable frequency drives (VFD) with pumps has become more common due to increasing power costs and declining converter costs, BASF looks at the combination. This doesn’t mean that the company now only is using pumps with VFDs but that this option is evaluated.

Figure 1 -- Tailored program: At BASF,
detailed maintenance programs are mostly
decided at plant level.
Source: BASF.

“A good example for a lifecycle approach is in the area of distributed control systems (DCS) where BASF procures DCS with a functional lifecycle guarantee — we buy ‘functionality’ instead of ‘pieces of electronic equipment,’” explains Raschka. “This concept can also be extended to the field instrumentation. A different example of LCC improvement is our program to reduce the variety of valves through standardization. By standardization we can reduce the initial purchase price as well as spare part costs, etc., therefore finally reducing lifecycle costs.”

Although reluctant to name companies, Raschka says BASF is working with specific DCS, instrumentation and rotating-equipment vendors on new technologies that can give additional economic advantages. “For example, low-cost smart integrated vibration-monitoring sensors can be used in many applications due to their ‘intelligence’ and decreasing price. The new bus-based instrumentation systems come with a lot of possible functionalities which we use case-by-case. We always ask for the additional value in the first place, rather than for the new technical features. Usage of features without additional value in a specific operational application might have a negative impact of increasing complexity and costs,” he says.

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