Teaming with a Trusted Field Services Partner

Selecting the right project team for your facility during upset conditions or outages is not to be taken lightly.
By Jeff Rice | April 20, 2021

Industrial maintenance is a well-developed concept. Your team likely has its established routines and an intimate understanding of the facility. They keep you running, and across the board, they are usually well-versed in priorities, predicting failure points and cost-to-value project work. But in upset conditions, outages and catastrophic failure, outside support can provide the additional planning, coordination and expertise to get your facility back up and running.

Often, there is temptation to keep the extra work in-house, or simply hand it over to outside contractors and let it be “their problem.” Both of these options are less than ideal. I often counsel our clients to approach these situations with a hybrid solution. Our proposals routinely include interviewing staff and operators before offering solutions, and we build in meeting time and facility walk-throughs to ensure our engineers, project managers and field services groups are in alignment with the people who work day-to-day on the equipment to provide workable solutions that get to the root of the issue and ensure a long-term solution is implemented.

The difficulty many facility managers have with keeping the work in-house is the challenge of maintaining the overall workload their staff has on a daily basis while in the middle of an all-hands-on-deck emergency or outage. In today’s day and age of outsourcing, many facilities have divested themselves of the institutional knowledge their maintenance departments once had. As older workers transition to retirement and manufacturing becomes leaner and more streamlined, from both an operation and employee count standpoint, it becomes more and more difficult to staff upset conditions while maintaining everyday tasks. In many cases, companies are simply no longer designed to handle out-of-the-norm tasks.

Additionally, that work is often outside the expertise of the operations staff and has to be learned as they go, costing time and potential shortcuts, thus delaying startups. Teaming with a trusted engineering and field services partner has the advantage of leaving the heavy lifting to your consulting professionals, while involving the maintenance and operations team you’ve relied on daily as they continue to ensure the rest of your operations continue smoothly.

Selecting a partner is not to be taken lightly. Are they familiar with your industry? Do they know your facility? Do they interact well with your staff and contractors you use? This relationship is one that grows over time. Setting your expectations clearly and working with them ensures that goals are reasonable, valuable and achievable.

One hallmark of a quality partner is their preparation, project definition and reporting. Every step of the project should be documented with both a clear and concise report of what has been done, and suggestions for further improvement. Reports should contain data on each installation contractor and reference engineering drawing numbers if applicable, as well as data regarding safety, timeliness and outcomes. These reports should also accurately reflect the work yet to be done and be generated at each shift handoff, especially in 24-hour coverage situations.

This communication is vital to ensuring all project objectives are met, unforeseen difficulties are accounted for, and the project or repair concludes on time and on budget. So, catch the following three key elements, and your large maintenance outage or repair will be off to a good start.
• Team your operations and maintenance staff with your consulting professional—don’t leave either of them to solve problems alone.
• Ensure your consultant is well-versed in the issue and your goals by encouraging communication and familiarity with your facility and staff.
• Require quality reporting—and read those reports and provide quality feedback.

During the course of an outage or maintenance project, a root cause or other bottleneck condition may often be revealed, requiring further optimization later. The relationship with your consulting engineer or field services professional is vital to developing a plan or platform for this “beyond maintenance” mindset. Many webinars, consultations, and publications are developed every year to assist maintenance personnel and facility managers in optimizing their processes. When opportunities arise to kill two birds with one stone, the approval process is often too slow to accommodate performing the work while the facility is in shutdown mode. This is why you should develop a plan to address targets of opportunity beforehand, and set up contingency allowances to expedite the approval process for discovery items. Including discovery allowances in the project budget provides opportunity for quick facility approval for these unforeseen tasks, while allowing the project team to maintain their focus on completing the work on time and not on getting funding approval.

Discussions need to be held not only regarding the work to be accomplished, but also the potential to do more, should it present itself. In one particular case, a boiler outage revealed a significant potential issue that could have developed into a serious threat to the operation of the unit. With no preplanning, the issue would have been kicked down the road, and only the expected scope of work would have been completed. In this case, however, we were able to propose a solution for the repair of the suspect section of tubing, the boilermakers on-site made the additional repairs, and the facility manager was able to sign off on the additional work. This prevented a costly additional outage later.
When the team is working together seamlessly, no one is uncomfortable making suggestions for the good of the overall project and the facility’s benefit. People give voice to safety concerns and potential improvements, and significant dollar or time savings can result.

Finally, I want to emphasize first things last, so to speak. Once you have learned to team with a field services coordinator and project team you trust, involve them in the planning and budget development process, providing continuity from outage to outage. Their reporting from the last outage or project can serve as a road map for next year’s facility maintenance planning. From project charter to contractor selection, to material ordering to calendar development, your project can benefit from expertise and experience in your facility.

Author: Jeff Rice
Principal, Evergreen Engineering
[email protected]

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biomass Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).