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Issue Date: June 2003

The high cost of information erosion

June 2003
Ben Eazzetta – COO, Intergraph Process, Power & Offshore

Ignoring the necessity of capturing and maintaining plant engineering information will undoubtedly have an enormous negative impact on a plant owner’s bottom line. It is not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’

Every owner/operator has a horror story about making what seemed like simple decisions, only to learn they were based on inaccurate plant information.
The result? Revenue losses and increased maintenance costs in the millions of dollars for even the smallest mistake! But this can be avoided by recognising that plant engineering information is as much an asset as the physical plant itself.
Plant engineering information is most accurate at the point of commissioning, following data handover. Although the value of this information increases dramatically over the course of a plant's lifecycle, that same information's availability and quality decreases just as dramatically. Human error and poor management also jeopardise its accuracy and consistency. We call this 'information erosion.' Much like a new car depreciates from the moment it is driven off the sales lot, information begins to depreciate or 'erode' from the moment it is created. If left unchecked, information erosion can be an ever-widening gap in a plant's foundation, through which potential profits constantly leak and revenue is lost.
The causes of information erosion are many. Data may be in incompatible formats from disparate sources and stored in different locations in various ways; it may be indecipherable from age; or it may reside in the memory of an older plant worker who is nearing retirement.
Lost productivity, lost revenue
If you are not managing your plant engineering information properly, you are actually paying to destroy and lose the very information you paid to create. And you are losing valuable revenue due to missed deadlines, unnecessary material purchases, design and fabrication rework, production cutbacks and unplanned shutdowns.
Having spent many years working in the owner/operator environment, I have experienced the effects of information erosion firsthand. I was working as an operations manager at a large refinery. One of our more critical processes, a pipestill, was used to process nearly all of the refinery's feedstocks. Two pumps ran 24 h a day, seven days a week, feeding approximately 140 000 barrels of product per day. We also had a spare. One of the operating pumps went out of service, and the spare was placed in operation.
During inspection of the removed pump, we discovered that it needed a new impeller. An engineer retrieved the datasheet, obtained the needed information and ordered the new impeller. When the impeller arrived, it was installed, and we all forgot about the replacement - that is, until the pump was finally placed back into service. After about six months, one of the two remaining operating pumps required maintenance, and the newly refurbished spare pump was commissioned. There was only one problem. When the new pump started up, instead of pumping 140 000 barrels a day, it only pumped 118 000. How did this happen?
The equipment datasheet that was pulled for the pump specifications was outdated. The process materials and the fluid properties were incorrect. In addition, the pump impellers had been upgraded during the life of the facility, substantially increasing capacity. The datasheet, however, was never updated. The facility was no longer 'as built.'
How much did that one mistake cost? The new pump impeller cost about $90 000. To that, add the cost of personnel working overtime to swap the pumps out. Then add lost production time of three days to one week at 20 000 to 25 000 barrels per day, at US$2 to $3 per barrel. That equals almost US$1 million for a single problem - stemming from one incorrect datasheet.
Addressing the requirements
To fully capture this plant information asset, software used throughout the lifecycle of the plant must be integrated to allow efficient sharing and retention of information across applications during the lifecycle.
Recognising this need, Intergraph Process, Power & Offshore has developed integrated solutions and products to assure data accuracy and consistency, and enable the efficient creation, management and use of plant engineering information throughout the plant lifecycle. These include:
* SmartPlant Foundation provides capabilities to maintain critical plant data generated during the design process, including not only revisions, but also the pertinent revision history. It allows management of the availability, integrity and accuracy of all plant engineering information by building a comprehensive electronic library about the plant - its structure, tags, equipment and documents.
* SmartPlant P&ID; is a data-centric, rule-driven engineering tool that provides an engineering environment for creating, managing, storing and accessing accurate, up-to-date piping and instrumentation diagrams for the life of a plant or project.

* INtools manages instrumentation related tasks across the entire plant lifecycle. During operations and maintenance, INtools allows operations, maintenance and instrument personnel better access to instrumentation data and provides change management to assure accuracy is maintained.
It integrates with upstream and downstream systems, allowing rapid, easy access to accurate data while managing workflow and creating audit trails.
These products help plant owners build and maintain a plant information asset which helps support realtime business decisions that, in turn, reduce cost, improve quality and reliability, shorten project schedules and plant shutdowns and address safety and environmental issues throughout the plant lifecycle.
For more information contact Pat Thomson, Intergraph Systems, 011 313 1222,

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