Understanding the Connection Between Reliability and Safety

Reliability goes beyond the technical details of industrial assets; it is a mindset. Enhancing equipment performance not only optimizes operations but also impacts human lives. The lack of reliability results in leaks, uncontrolled releases, and catastrophic equipment failures that could jeopardize the workplace. Tami Glasper, the Reliability Manager at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. spoke to Stainless Steel World Americas and provided valuable insights into her role and the critical intersection of reliability and safety.

By Shopia Ketheeswararajah

As the Reliability Manager for La Porte, Pasadena, and Baytown, Texas, Tami Glasper focuses on supporting the region’s reliability for industrial gases, including air separation and hydrogen producing units. Tami describes how curiosity led to her passion: “I have always been intrigued by the deeper understanding of how things work.  This curiosity led me to pursue engineering. During my high school years, I participated in various engineering programs at universities like Drexel, Penn State, and Villanova. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University, followed by a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Houston.”

Following her education, she began working for Rohm and Haas located in Bristol, Pennsylvania, which later became Dow Chemical. “I began working on a start-up project in Texas, specifically, an acrylic acid unit, and discovered that I wanted to better understand what reliability meant to the industry.

Reliability uses proven techniques to assess the probability that equipment and systems will perform functions over time and under certain conditions. The concepts of reliability are measurable by using data and technical expertise to evaluate the risk of potential failures. Risk is the product of the consequence and the probability of a failure. Reliability involves performing techniques to reduce risks, such as Root Cause Analysis, Failure Mode Effects Analysis, and Reliability Centered Maintenance. As a result, reliability creates a safer workplace and harbors efficiency in operations.

Day-to-Day Operations

Currently, Tami manages programs and implements investigations to address and mitigate equipment failures, such as heat exchangers. She said, “Our team, consisting of operators and mechanical experts, handles everything from calculations to field inspections. Daily activities involve supporting the existing, aging facility, as well as performing reliability assessments for new equipment and units. A big part of my job is prioritizing design, installation, fabrication, and maintenance efforts to align with optimal performance and prevent downtime. My approach to reliability assessments can be summarized using a term, ‘DARE to Be Reliable’.  I recently used this approach in troubleshooting the fouling of heat exchangers, which resulted in production and financial impacts:

  • D – Dig up the Data
  • A- Analyze Data
  • R- Recommend
  • E- Execute and Evaluate.”

Design is a big factor in heat exchanger reliability; everything from ensuring the correct metallurgy and configuration to determining the process compatibility.  Digging up data includes collecting historical and current documentation, such as specification sheets, operating performance over time, and process conditions. Data also includes referencing standards, guidelines, and best practices. Heat exchanger standards include API 660 for shell and tube heat exchangers, API 510 for the inspection of pressure vessels, and ASME Section 8 for new construction of pressure vessels.

The next “DARE” step is analyzing the data by using techniques such as Root Cause Analysis to understand what happened and prevent it from happening again. Next, the team identifies recommendations, such as making modifications to the shell or bundle of the heat exchanger, updating maintenance activities, and collaborating with the vendor on the process treatment chemistry. The last step is to execute the recommendations and evaluate the outcome for improvements in performance. Metrics are used to measure and make adjustments in parameters over time. DARE to be reliable is the use of techniques to optimize performance in people, equipment, and systems.”

When failures take place, Tami and her team work together to determine what is needed for the repair, especially in terms of maintenance. During shutdowns, evaluations of auxiliary equipment are included in the scope, such as replacing rupture disks and cleaning equipment to have a clear path to relieve pressure.

“The goal is to be proactive, keep everyone safe, and maintain the processes within the equipment before there is an interruption or failure in production. It is important to understand the safety, environmental, and business impacts beforehand, to determine what can be done to avoid failure scenarios and mitigate risks,” she added.

“The connection between reliability and safety is important to me. Unreliable processes can cause injury and loss to people, equipment, and systems.”

Achieving Reliability

Challenges to achieve heat exchanger reliability are found in ensuring that recommendations and solutions are not only identified but also implemented. Tami described the most enjoyable part of her career as being able to collaborate with her co-workers to improve the safety, environmental, and business performance of the company.

In sharing her experiences, Tami says, “The connection between reliability and safety is important to me. Unreliable processes can cause injury and loss to people, equipment, and systems.

Mitigating risks starts by being proactive and using reliability techniques such as a Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA). This is where we go through every component, such as heat exchanger tubes and baffles and understand how each part could fail. We will evaluate all the possible outcomes and identify recommendations with the team,” she said.

Team members actively engage to proactively address potential failure modes and prevent disruptions in production or safety incidents. Whenever special expertise is needed, the correct professional is looped in by the sub-teams to determine a viable solution. Staying committed and personally invested are crucial to the success of the team. “There are often great recommendations made by the team, and we can come up with those solutions, but if we do not stay on top of these decisions, without properly implementing what was discussed, the probability of another failure, or the same failure, occurring can still exist,” Tami elaborates.

SAP is software that records the maintenance work history on components. It tells the user how often the equipment fails, when it fails, and the type of work orders entered on the asset. “Recently I evaluated a cooling water heat exchanger, which was part of a jacketed system of a major compressor. The problem was a decrease in exchanger performance over time. If the heat exchanger fails, it can lead to production shutdowns. The team worked to collect data, perform the analysis, and make recommendations resulting in 30% improvement in equipment performance”, Tami shared.

Maintenance and Cleaning

“When a heat exchanger undergoes a cleaning process, our team is responsible for selecting a vendor who is familiar with the processes and applications in our facility. When it comes to maintenance practices, our vendors often have their own set of services that we vet to ensure the most stringent practices are followed,” Tami said.

At the beginning of this process, whether it is cleaning the asset or maintaining it, Tami consults her team, resources, and the contractor to review the preliminary scope of work.

“For field execution, we discuss all possibilities of failure, or what may go wrong in each aspect of completing the cleaning or maintenance duties. This part of the process is to identify and address potential hazards to mitigate the risk of injury or unplanned shutdown. Before work begins, a work permit is issued, listing the conditions and requirements to perform the work in the field,” Tami summarizes.

Once the project is complete, Tami and her team follow up to see if any learned lessons can be shared with other facilities and project sites.

“Capitalizing on technological advancements helps reduce costs and enhance safety, while bridging knowledge gaps for a more sustainable and efficient industry.”

Environmental Commitment

In the context of the environment, reliability means operating and maintaining sustainable equipment. The goals are specific, measurable, and accountable, contributing to a cleaner future. Tami describes this commitment to the environment, saying, “Air Products invests heavily in green technology and has dedicated resources for environmental projects. The commitment to lowering the carbon footprint is at the forefront of the industry. Reduction of various emissions and reduction of waste are achievable with proper planning and execution. Our goal is to operate and maintain environmentally friendly and reliable equipment. From an energy standpoint, Air Products invests in facilities that reduce the carbon footprint and categorize energy into different compartments.

The projects that Tami focuses on include resources designated for the sustainability of the environment. “Air Products and Chemicals has projects in Houston, where this commitment is implemented, as well as projects that take place globally. We have dedicated resources to meet the global push towards cleaner energy.”

Future of the Industry

Looking ahead, knowledge transfer and the endeavour to embrace new technologies are key to success in the industry. Tami reiterated, “Capitalizing on technological advancements helps reduce costs and enhance safety, while bridging knowledge gaps for a more sustainable and efficient industry. I believe seasoned industry professionals must offer training programs, seminars, and ideally take the time to transfer knowledge to new industry professionals. If you are a newcomer to the industry, you have ideas and perspectives to improve performance and work processes. Staying informed of technological advancements and applying reliability techniques facilitate data driven decisions resulting in a safer industry and a safer world for generations to come,” she concluded.

Tami is the author of the book, Succeed in Business with Reliability Focused Maintenance, which is available in Amazon hard copy, Kindle, and audio versions. She is also the Vice President of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals.

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Shopia Ketheeswararajah is a feature editor contributing to Pump Engineer, Stainless steel World Americas, Hose and Coupling World, and other related print & online media.