An increasing number of chemical companies are realizing that developing and maintaining a competitive edge requires them to focus on core competencies. So, as Editor at Large Nick Basta points out in his article, more firms are contracting out critical support services like machinery lubrication and water treatment to companies skilled in those areas. These specialists promise to run such operations more effectively and efficiently, freeing the chemical maker to concentrate on production.
But many chemical companies are missing another significant opportunity for outside help , with internal engineering standards. After all, practices, say, for piping usually don't differ dramatically among firms. That was the rationale for establishing Process Industry Practices (PIP), an Austin, Texas-based consortium of operating and engineering companies. Launched in 1993, PIP now has released about 475 practices, says Bernie Ebert, its director, and he expects to publish 100 more.
PIP brings together experts from member companies to harmonize their engineering standards into a single practice. Areas covered include civil/structural/ architectural, electrical, machinery, piping and instrument diagrams, process control and vessels. About 40% of the published practices address piping.
Adopting the practices can provide impressive benefits. One operating company member reported an annual savings of $250,000 for maintaining its internal standards, Ebert says.
Steve Huff, a principal mechanical engineer at Eastman Chemicals, Batesville, Ark., and one of five members of the company's standards steering team, says that eliminating variations in practices helps contractors and can simplify and speed up work. Use of PIP practices promises more than a 6% savings in the total installed cost of projects, Ebert says.
"The practices are great for small firms," Huff says. But he also points out their value at companies with multiple plants, such as Eastman, where practices can differ by site. Such variations can lead, for instance, to the same item having multiple stores designations. Eastman began using PIP piping practices this year at all its U.S. sites, Huff says, and has saved $750,000 simply by eliminating duplicate numbers.
The benefits of PIP's approach seem compelling. Yet the group only has 34 members , 25 operating companies and nine engineering firms , which each pay $25,000 annually and provide staff to harmonize their standards.
To attract companies that don't want to be so involved, PIP started offering subscriptions, with prices depending upon technical area. Access to the extensive piping section runs $7,000 per year, while the complete package costs $30,000 per year. Ebert says there are 14 subscribers so far.
While members and subscribers represent a significant slice of the U.S. chemical industry, it's hard to understand why more firms don't take advantage of these practices. Going outside for internal engineering standards makes sense.
Mark Rosenzweig is editor in chief of Chemical Processing magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.