5 steps for improving reliability in chemical manufacturing with preventive maintenance

Oct. 21, 2020
Preventive maintenance increases reliability and consistency in all aspects of processing, and chemical processors — in particular — can receive many benefits from a thorough and well-executed preventive maintenance program.

In the United States today, there are approximately 13,500 chemical manufacturing facilities in operation. However, not even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows how many chemicals are actively in use today. There are currently more than 86,000 chemicals listed on the inventory of substances that fall under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), yet this inventory does not specify if they are active or inactive chemicals, or if they are still currently available for purchase in the U.S.

With those figures in mind, there is little doubt that reliability in chemical manufacturing is absolutely a necessity. Preventive maintenance increases reliability and consistency in all aspects of processing, and chemical processors — in particular — can receive many benefits from a thorough and well-executed preventive maintenance program. 

History and in-depth snapshot of current assets

Any EPA-regulated manufacturing facility deals with red tape. It is part of the daily life of a chemical manufacturing procurement department to ensure that every product it receives has a current Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), just as the sales department does the same.

However, the tanks, pumps, supply lines and other processing equipment should also have detailed and accurate records. This is where a CMMS can be of particular assistance to a chemical processing facility. Once the preventive maintenance for the facility is managed by a CMMS, every turn of a wrench is recorded and maintained in that asset's history. It becomes a current snapshot of the asset and can present a clear and detailed record of the service history, including the status of the asset when the last maintenance work order was performed. This includes the last lock out/tag out, and any time the asset spent out of service for necessary maintenance to be performed. 

Product reliability is achievable

When machines are improperly maintained, products can be all across the board in terms of falling under the guidelines, or manufacturer’s spec. However, with processing equipment that is maintained and reliable, the manufacturer's spec is consistently met, because the equipment is performing and manufacturing the product exactly as it was intended to do. This essentially removes the scrap and rework element from production and ensures that the material that is produced is a quality product that the manufacturer can ship with a sound mind. 

Adequately maintained processing equipment is essential to chemical manufacturing. Flowmeters and pumps that are not operating as they should, can deliver too much or too little of vital material into a chemical blend, creating a dangerous cocktail. When the equipment involved in chemical processing is well-maintained, these potential hazards are eliminated, and a safe and reliable chemical compound is produced. 

Preventive maintenance as a training tool

Preventive maintenance is not just a tool for mechanics and maintenance departments. Many companies track and update safety training through their CMMS. Because of the automated nature, the need for physical record keeping and files of signed documents is a thing of the past. Safety coordinators in processing facilities all over the U.S. have found a secure and reliable tool to ensure that everyone on the chemical manufacturing floor is up-to-date with any and all safety training, and that there is no lapse in the OSHA-mandated facility training. 

With CMMS-tracked safety training, it is as easy as entering the report parameters to be certain that every employee on the production floor is adequately trained and ready to report for their assigned duties. It is also an effective way to handle tracking OSHA recordables and facility safety incidents. Because of the capability to scan and upload documents, you can have a permanent record of return-to-work authorizations and any other medical information about the incident, and it is able to be password protected. That is much more confidential than a filing cabinet can offer a facility. 

Improve raw ingredient quality

The first time an entire tank full of raw ingredients needs to be emptied and disposed of, it will leave a production facility questioning how something of that nature could take place. The answer is often simple: poorly maintained tanks, pumps and supply lines. Many facilities have been under the mistaken impression that a stainless-steel holding tank does away with contamination or spoilage when it comes to storing a raw ingredient. However, tank build-up, improperly cleaned pumps and build-up in supply lines can be just as detrimental to a finished product as the trapped waste inside of a fiberglass storage tank would be. 

By ensuring that a procedure is in place and the task completion is recorded, the processing facility can ensure that tanks are washed, that pumps are disassembled and thoroughly cleaned, and that supply lines have undergone a clean-in-place process, or have been blown out prior to returning them to service. Adding these processes and responsibilities to your CMMS ensures that completing them is tracked, and that someone is held accountable for the quality of the ingredients being used in your facility. 

Work within the confines of product stability

Many chemicals are only shelf-stable under certain conditions. And a significant number of chemicals lose their stability and effectiveness if those conditions aren’t met and strictly adhered to. A CMMS can give you a look at the path that a particular chemical took through the facility either pre-manufacturing — such as a holding tank — or post-manufacturing, like a storage tank. With the ability to follow a product as it enters and leaves your facility, it is less complicated to trace a bad product, and enables you to determine where a problem began without rerunning 15 samples that were pulled from the product during the manufacturing process. 

Pinpointing errors and out-of-range specs are just another benefit of using a CMMS within a chemical processing facility. Preventive maintenance has a broad range of tools and eases the strain on multiple areas of a facility, not just the maintenance department. By employing a solid preventive maintenance plan in a chemical processing facility, you can ensure a quality product that is within the confines of EPA and OSHA requirements. 

Talmage Wagstaff is the co-founder and CEO of Redlist. Raised in a construction environment, Talmage has been involved in heavy equipment since he was a toddler. He has degrees and extensive experience in civil, mechanical and industrial engineering. Talmage worked for several years as a field engineer with ExxonMobil servicing many of the largest industrial production facilities in the country.

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