Improving Scheduling, Operations, and Maintenance

Bill mentioned that while working at his last job at a large oil company, he explored implementing a continuous-improvement program in order to comply with government-mandated process safety management regulations for handling hazardous chemicals.

"What became clear to me," Bill said, "is that an organization committed to ongoing quality and safety must examine three levels: processes, assets, and people. When I say three levels, I am not saying that they are all equal. The people part is the most important. A successful implementation depends on people, not systems."

"In the traditional vertical organization, each department has to meet goals set independently of other departments," Bill said. "The independence of these functions creates instability. The push to meet departmental goals can lead a team to push equipment to operating limits. They are then likely to suffer unscheduled equipment failures and production down times."

Bill concluded that, in a traditional organization, each department managed its own data to create reports for its own specific functions. Companies organized this way lost a tremendous opportunity to reuse data for multiple, interdependent functions (Rummler and Brache 2013; Harrington 2012). Tom stressed that essential processes spanned multiple departments, but process data stored in disparate systems had to be aggregated.

Tom showed the group a diagram of the major operational process work- flows at the refinery (Figure 2.1). Many times, organizations implement business process workflows, not realizing what it takes to implement them at basic operational levels. The diagram shows four major functions and the flow of information between them:

1. The operation and maintenance integrated team manages the feed stock inventories, processes, process safety management, and performance-monitoring information access. They also provide just- in-time training.


Business processes workflows diagram indicating exchange of information between various functions.

  • 2. The planning and economics team manages supplier and customer orders using data reconciliation, linear programming (LP) production schedules, plant-wide optimization techniques, and inventory management.
  • 3. The engineering team implements process improvements employing performance rules received from the planning and scheduling team.
  • 4. The plant management team develops the refinery's strategic business plans.

The group discussed how they could reduce information gaps and improve business workflows. They examined new ways of using information and collaborating among the various groups. As an example, Tom described the operations and maintenance workgroups. Although team members shared some information such as spreadsheets, and verbally communicated their needs, operational data and equipment data often resided in different spreadsheets. "The data they gather is separate from planning and economics or management," Tom said. "It may work for them, but not for the company overall. Plus, the data is obsolete when they receive it."

Monica drew a square in Tom's diagram to indicate the information gap between refinery scheduling and operations (Figure 2.1). Analyzing operational data and events helps the refinery staff fine-tune the planning model and avoid process and quality constraints. If the operations and maintenance departments share and standardize their operational data, both groups could reduce unscheduled equipment downtimes.

The unifying principle is the data. What is needed is to identify the hidden production and consumables losses by capturing the unit operating modes and automatically aggregating the data into business information. Tom said, "Optimal production targets can be identified based on the quality and availability of our raw materials, our customers' needs, and the true capabilities of the plant."

Bill responded, "Tom, this is a good start, but I can see even more potential here. If engineers spent more time improving processes and less time gathering operational data, they could optimize production-planning models." Bill went on, excited about management seeing a live key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard of current refinery operations: "That would give management visibility into refinery operations, assisting them in evaluating requests from various departments and taking appropriate actions."

Peter showed the group a diagram (Figure 2.2) illustrating how an EIDI enables multiple parallel use by continuously reusing the same data. This would solve myriad challenges in the operational pillars at Proclndustries (Kennedy and Bascur 2002).


Real-time EIDI data infrastructure for operational intelligence.

Seeing how the EIDI could tap the enormous talent in his organization, Bill proposed debriefing the entire organization and describing Tom's operational workflow vision. Bill agreed to update the Proclndustries leadership team on the progress of the company's digital transformation process.

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