On The Floor: Inspecting Plant Infrastructure Or Gambling on Its Integrity?
Jane Alexander | August 22, 2017
By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor
This month’s MT Reader Panel topic is based on some anecdotal information we recently picked up. It involved an unnamed process plant that—amazingly—may have been running for many years without ever inspecting the integrity of its infrastructure. Never, ever. While there’s no way for us to verify the story, the possibility that this “run to failure” situation might exist anywhere in industry piqued our interest. We turned to our Panelists for a reality check.
Specifically, we wanted them not to focus on regular preventive- and predictive-maintenance (PM and PdM) inspections related to mechanical, electrical, and other types of process-equipment systems, but to think in terms of HVAC infrastructure, piping, pressure vessels and other storage tanks, as well as various other static/stationary equipment inside and outside plant building envelopes, including towers, platforms, stacks, and bridgework, among other things too numerous to list. Here’s what we asked:
Q: What types of inspections were their (or their clients’/customers’) facilities performing to determine the integrity of the sites’ critical infrastructure, including on which systems, how regularly, and by whom or what?
As for what we learned, there’s good news and bad news.
Industry Consultant, West. . .
Among my clients, only one site appears to conduct scheduled infrastructure inspections—a facility in the Deep South that inspects connecting bolts for structural steel in all of the buildings at the plant. These scheduled inspections are performed because of a near-miss event resulting from bolt corrosion. Even though no further incidents have occurred, and no additional bolting issues have been found, this inspection plan is deemed non-negotiable.
Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Mid-West. . .
We have building engineers who are the first line of inspection. Every shift, each building has a walk-through by its respective engineer, and any unusual noises or problems that might be found are reported. Each problem is entered as a work order to the appropriate trade/department.
Engineer, Process Mfg, Southeast. . .
We have procedures in place to inspect all pressure vessels and storage tanks (steel and FRP). These inspections were developed from the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, API standard and chemical manufacturers’ standard recommendations. We also have procedures in place for inspection of the building structure and grounds and HVAC.
Power Sector, Midwest. . .
All of our infrastructure assets are part of an asset hierarchy and have a criticality associated with them. Appropriate asset-care plans, based on our asset-control strategy, include PM and CM (condition monitoring)/PdM activities.
These activities are optimized to bring value to our business and help ensure the reliability of our infrastructure. Many different technologies are used in conducting the PM and CM/PdM activities and are performed by both plant personnel and contract services.
Discrete Mfg, Midwest. . .
Each plant at our site has a facility engineer. We have a high-voltage team and operate our own powerhouse that supplies steam to all plants. In-house personnel inspect this power-related infrastructure. They also inspect ladders, raised platforms, and safety equipment. The exception to that is any lifting equipment, which is inspected by a certified [outside] company.
Any of our infrastructure that’s not related to production is inspected by outside companies (although I can’t speak to the frequency).
Industry Consultant, Northeast. . .
From what I’ve seen, external corrosion in hidden areas, i.e., buried by debris at ground level, or in difficult-to-see/reach elevated areas like pipe bridges, has been the greatest cause of infrastructure-related failures. While these failures aren’t common, I don’t know of anyone [any company] that has a detailed external-corrosion inspection program.
It seems as though major maintenance is triggered by minor failures such as a pipe support that breaks and an obvious sagging of a critical line. Although we see occasional preventive maintenance activities aimed at combating external corrosion, it’s rare for cleaning and repainting programs to be well engineered. MT