Lost production between a real plant service factor and the target service factor can be the difference between profit and loss during low margin periods. Service factor losses include both unit shutdowns and reductions in charge rates due to reduced capabilities (but without a total shut down). Commonly, the difference between the real service factor and the target service factor can be five percent of unit throughput or higher. Additionally, problems that limit service factor often reduce quality at the same time, increasing operating losses.
Service factor programs for machinery are well established and have earned money for plants. The same attention should be paid to non-machinery equipment in the plant. It has not. In refinery distillation recovery units typical service factor losses due to improper equipment design, installation, maintenance and operation often amount to five percent or more reduction in total production.
Service factor problems persist because the root cause of the problem is not identified and solved. Machinery reliability has been improved by having dedicated reliability and maintenance programs or personnel in the plant. This has been successful. The same approach should be used for other process equipment (exchangers, towers .) While the causes of reliability problems are often simple, diagnosing the cause of the problem from its symptoms can be very difficult. Determining root causes takes cooperative effort by specialists that understand both the process and the equipment.
Examples are shown of some basic reliability problems common in refineries and petrochemical plants. Each problem was solved with small cost and high return due to improved run-length or service factor.
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