Process Puzzler: Forget About an Easy Fix

Recreating missing equipment data requires significant effort

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This Month’s Puzzler

My company is trying to decide whether to sell or expand a facility it purchased. Unfortunately, we inherited a mess from the previous owners. There are no equipment files, and many equipment nameplates are missing or are only partially legible. Some pumps and blowers were made by vendors that have been taken over by other manufacturers; they can’t find the files for such legacy products. Much of the equipment was purchased used. Some equipment was imported from Korea, Japan and Germany. No drawings exist at all. We brought in an engineering firm for the first two months but it over-ran its budget; we fired the firm for lack of progress.

What can we do? How can we determine equipment capacities and create data sheets for equipment like pumps, blowers and instruments? I don’t even have an equipment list.

An Essential Question

The company must ask itself: Does the acquired business add value to the overall company in the short and long term even if getting all the missing information requires considerable financial expense and manpower effort? If that seems to be the case, then go ahead and spend the money. However, an engineering firm over-running its budget suggests the company has additional problems. The choices are very simple. Does the company see value and return for the effort? If it’s reluctant to spend the money to create the files, which the question asked implies, and the business doesn’t fit its long-term business plan, then the answer is obvious. The company doesn’t need outside validation for the decision it already has made.

The unfortunate consequence of selling or shutting down the site is that the company will have to remediate the site to ensure it meets local environmental regulations. In addition, in the event of a shutdown, it will have to get a competent salvage firm to sell the equipment. Because the company doesn’t have much information about the equipment, my conjecture is that the facility was bought on the cheap and, most likely, the company might not even get a nickel on every dollar it spent. All said and done, it’s not a pretty situation. The company has to justify its business decisions.
Girish Malhotra, president
EPCOT International, Pepper Pike, Ohio

Be Diplomatic

It appears “due diligence” either was hastily done or not done at all. Whether you decide to sell or expand the facility, you will need to do a due diligence. Consider the following issues:

1. You need to approach the issue strategically. Get your management’s buy-in that you need to perform a due diligence of the plant site and equipment — as soon as possible. Management folks may have good financial acumen but might not understand process or environmental risks. If so, you must train them. Be assertive as well as diplomatic. Show them, with quantitative examples, that lack of information about equipment such as turbines, boilers and furnaces could cause accidents and, consequently, considerable financial loss as well as erosion of public trust and company prestige.

2. Prioritize the items that require more information. If equipment is in disrepair, damaged or corroded, get rid of it.

3. Don’t forget environmental due diligence — soil sample analyses, wastewater treatment, air emissions and fence-line (air) analyses.

4. Long term, consider organizing training in the basics of process safety and environmental risk assessment for your management team — not nitty-gritty details, just basics. In the future, you want to avoid a repeat of this episode.
GC Shah, senior consultant
Wood, Houston

Work The Problem

Equipment without nameplates at least can be partially identified. After that, you’re stuck with field tests. Unfortunately, you can’t do field tests without some drawings. Start with a block flow diagram (BFD) and a simple material balance table (below the BFD). For hydraulic tests, stick to hand sketches of isometrics.

You will need a 35-ft tape measure, a folding measuring stick, a 250-ft tape, a Vernier caliper, a clinometer, a 1-in. slip-on flange, duct tape, a voltmeter, a clamp-on amp probe, a weigh scale, 10-ml and 50-ml graduated cylinders, a 250-ml beaker, Zahn cup viscometers, and a camera with a telephoto lens and autofocus.

Instead of hiring an engineering firm, try hiring a couple of engineers with substantial plant experience. Their discipline doesn’t really matter: as your career progresses, you learn how to survey pipelines, lay out equipment and even set up motor buckets and take apart pumps. Use these engineers to develop drawings and the equipment list you will need to decide the fate of the plant.

Let’s start with pump identification. Most pump vendors use a distinct color. (We used to laugh about how you could know who worked on an oil well from the paint scrapings around the casement.) Start with that. Sometimes a Google search of images of pumps can help identify a particular pump. The vendor’s local representative then can assist you in determining the model. A tape measure and flange stamps will help you identify the size of the suction and discharge of the pump. The speed of the motor also eliminates some pump curves in a vendor catalog. If you have Japanese or German pumps, you generally will get good cooperation from their manufacturers. My experience with Korean vendors is generally poor; you may be stuck with performance tests.

A pump performance test involves a measurement of current draw and flow rate or pressure. Although it might be nice to have an impeller size, it’s more important to know what the pump will do than its operating size. The idea is to create a functional hydraulic model with a simulator, then measure the motor current draw. You can determine the flow from a plant flow meter or estimate it from filling or emptying a tank. With that in hand, and the knowledge of the motor speed, it’s possible to narrow down the right pump curve from a vendor catalog. Even if this isn’t possible, you can estimate the pump hydraulic efficiency from the difference between the power required based on the simulation and the power delivered to the pump based on motor efficiency. I use an old utility equation: lowest expected motor efficiency = 83.594 + 2.284×Ln(hp).

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