Having spent a year contemplating the economic doom of the COVID crisis, followed by a brutally damaging winter storm in the southeast U.S., many of us expect more bad news at every turn. Our next surprise, however, is turning out to be a good one. Economies are starting to boom!
By Peter Munson and Lance Bisinger
In a recent report, Goldman Sachs analysts write that manufacturing indices are “outperforming… even the 4 ‘V-shaped recoveries’ that saw GDP return to the pre-crisis peak within a year.” Air travel, seen as a key indicator of a return to normalcy – especially for refiners – is up sharply. In the commodities markets, talk is growing of a supercycle: “a prolonged period of high prices as demand outstrips supply.” Asset managers in the asset-intensive industries are finding themselves whipsawing again, but this time from famine to feast. After a year of deep cost cuts, laid-up equipment, and reduced maintenance care, it is time to put the throttles to the firewall once again.
But wait, there’s more. In addition to the ongoing threat of COVID variants and spikes, economists worry that the government stimulus spending behind the quick recovery may lead to high inflation that may flatten the growth curve significantly in 2022. This, along with a host of other macro-economic and geopolitical issues lingering in the headlines, means that this period of growth will be rife with uncertainty and volatility.
In this period, firms will labor to make hay while the sun shines. Asset managers will be challenged to rapidly transition from COVID-imposed constraints to an extended period of maximum production. Meanwhile, the prudent ones in the bunch will also be setting themselves up for resilience in the face of additional shocks to the market.
There are several reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) actions that asset management leaders can do to prepare themselves for the wild road ahead:
1. Have a pit stop mentality. Maintenance may have been deferred and turnarounds curtailed in the past year. No plant manager is going to want to take a pause now to catch up on this backlog, but doing the right maintenance in the right way can be the difference between a long, successful run during this up market and a nightmare of fits and starts. Identify the most beneficial work to restore the inherent reliability of your critical equipment and carefully plan and execute short pit stop actions to keep your plant in the race.
2. Get smart about equipment strategies for your production critical equipment. Make your production critical equipment a focus and establish good equipment strategies, including preventive maintenance and condition monitoring tasks driven by failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). Focus these efforts narrowly on your production critical assets, define the benefits you can expect by increased availability and throughput, and gain and maintain support by monitoring and quantifying the results.
3. Review your standby/redundant equipment strategies. Many plants do not manage the health of redundant, production critical equipment very well. The result is a preferred primary that they never want to bring down for maintenance and an unreliable standby asset that needs major work or replacement. Even worse, many parallel redundant systems have degraded over time to the point where two-to-make-one has become two operating in parallel to limp along. In order to protect your revenue stream, take the time to analyze and improve your equipment strategies around these standby arrangements.
4. Improve operator rounds and invest in condition monitoring. You want to find and correct potential failures on your critical equipment before they become breakdowns resulting in production losses. Revisit your operator rounds to focus the effort on failure-finding tasks for your critical equipment and augment those rounds by improved condition monitoring. Done right, condition monitoring means less inspections and time-based PMs and more warning before failures to your production critical equipment. Again, focus on those critical assets, create a strategy, and get frequent monitoring in place to avoid those costly process upsets.
5. Reset your preventive maintenance intervals. You may have cut back on time-based preventive maintenance task – or have set them to a different market tempo. As demand for your product returns, re-evaluate your intervals to match the new tempo and stresses on your machines. When you can, replace blunt time-based tasks with condition monitoring – or condition-based tasks tied to run time, equipment cycles, etc. – make the data in your production systems work for you.
6. Be prepared for the volatility and uncertainty by adopting demand-driven maintenance tools. Demand-driven maintenance enables maintenance managers to build maintenance plans and budgets that are connected to business drivers, including throughput and profit margin. T.A. Cook’s STRYVE tool allows you to link production, maintenance, and reliability data models to enable flexible, data-driven decision-making in the face of volatility and uncertainty. The algorithms enable deeper insights and scenario forecasting to be prepared for the challenges and opportunities to come.
We will be building on these recommendations with more detailed posts in the weeks to come, so stay tuned and stay prepared for the wild ride ahead.