Within the last couple of years, facilities in the refining and petrochemical space have recognized the need to develop Integrity Operating Windows (IOWs), but most are still struggling to understand how to get value from them. In this blog, we will walk through practical steps for managing IOWS and will demonstrate what successful IOW management can look like.

In the earliest days of IOWs, and even looking at API 584, a lot of attention has been given to deriving the right limits for the right values. That science is well defined and the experience in industry has done a good job at templating various unit types with the right kinds of helpful values. However, the challenge is: once we’ve decided what we’re going to look at, how are we going to manage all of that additional information?

The word “management” – that’s where everyone seems to get stuck. Even the most advanced programs we’ve seen are focused on parameter control. We’ve gone out of range; bring it back into range. That’s the end of the action. There’s a lot more to be had there and we’ll discuss that here. In fact, beyond getting back into control, it’s important to look back and determine, “How much damage did I really do?”

Three Key Elements

In our experience, managing IOW programs can quickly get messy. Programming alerts into a historian, or something similar, can result in hundreds if not thousands of alerts per month. When it comes to managing IOWs, we have three key elements to focus on:

  1. Analysis
  2. Alerts
  3. Action Plans
Analysis

When creating an IOW program, it’s likely that process tags will be developed to track the parameter(s) in question. Therefore, you’ve already identified the data points that are important. Now there’s a lot to consider behind that. How often should you monitor those parameters? And if you extract that data, where is it going to live? This is the analysis portion of what we see as driving value from managing your IOWs effectively.

Not all IOWs are created equally. Some of them carry a great deal of impact and importance and others are simply informational—something you want to track over time because they add very small, cumulative amounts of damage. You want to pay more attention to those things that require more urgent responses and less attention to those things that are much more long-term.

Not all IOWs are created equally. Some of them carry a great deal of impact and importance and others are simply informational—something you want to track over time because they add very small, cumulative amounts of damage. You want to pay more attention to those things that require more urgent responses and less attention to those things that are much more long-term.

In terms of the actual notifications that you would receive from an analysis itself, you would probably want to know the actual time of the breech, the duration of the breech, the amplitude of the breech, how quickly the parameter changed, and a host of other specific calculations. All that to say that you need to have a method to employ those things to bring to an expert—whether it’s a corrosion expert or materials expert—to understand the scale of the damage attached to those changes. In fact, beyond just data, there are other things to track such as proper responses and the time of those responses—and some of those can’t be tracked in just the data measurement alone.

We talked about data measurement, but when it comes to data analysis, process historians aren’t good at that. You can track and trend a little bit, but in terms of performing calculations, there’s not a lot to do there—that’s not what they were built for. What we’ve seen across the marketplace is the ability to combine information sources like process historians with analytical tools. Things like Power BI, Tableau, or Domo–even Excel. Most of these tools you should already have access to across your enterprise. Use these tools to drive your analysis.

Alerts

Now that we’ve identified the need to set limits, the parameters that should be behind those limits, and where the data is going to be, when the limits are passed, it’s common to issue an alert of some sort—whether that’s a text message or email.

Not all IOWs lead to the same types of consequences. Certainly, some have some dire consequences that come up very quickly. Those types of events need to be communicated to people who can make decisions very quickly. So those types of events need to alert operations immediately—usually with an alarm. Oftentimes, plant management like to be informed as well to involve themselves and be available for these types of reactions and decisions. On the other hand, some of these events don’t amount to much as single events and probably deserve a monthly review and nothing more.

For each level of IOW you may have, there’s going to be a different level of responsibility. Therefore, it’s important to document the work process and provide appropriate training and change management so that when the levels are crossed, and the alert comes through, it’s common knowledge to know what to do with that information.

For each level of IOW you may have, there’s going to be a different level of responsibility. Therefore, it’s important to document the work process and provide appropriate training and change management so that when the levels are crossed, and the alert comes through, it’s common knowledge to know what to do with that information.

Action Plans

As far as managing an IOW program, it’s important to understand the actions to take when you breech a limit. Not only when you first breach it to get it under control, but after the long-term effects associated with breaching that limit multiple times.

Many of the associated events that the IOWs represent are actually life-limiting events for the equipment. Many pieces of equipment are limited on numbers of cycles or absolute operating temperatures. One of the main reasons for tracking many of these things is to get a feel for the condition of the equipment and the condition for the material in regard to its remaining life. So, it’s not only about getting the system back under control, but assessing just how far out of control and whether the event has driven some reduction in life that is beyond expectation in normal operation.

So, it’s not only about getting the system back under control, but assessing just how far out of control and whether the event has driven some reduction in life that is beyond expectation in normal operation.

This is a concept important to consider in inspection planning—especially when it comes to turnarounds. If you’ve completed a Risk-Based Inspection (RBI) program, your plans were based on a specific damage model inside whatever tool you use. That damage model is only valid for the expected operating conditions and process conditions that were done at the time of implementing the program. Breaching those windows, in a way, invalidates those plans. Therefore, it’s important to bring these factors into consideration when you’re planning for the long-term.

At the end of the day, mechanical integrity is about not failing. It’s about anticipating and avoiding failure, so anything you can do to anticipate end of life allows you to take action before that.

Conclusion

Concerns with IOWs follow a fairly common theme. Most people see them as limitations to the operation. Of course they recognize the value, but they see an IOW program as additional alarms, additional things to respond to, and additional restrictions on how they’re allowed to operate their equipment. However, in reality, it truly doesn’t play out that way.

Implementing IOWs is not just “what’s next” in the industry. There is value, but the confusion behind IOWs seems to be where most people are at right now.

Many people find when they walk through the exercise to develop IOWs, they are already looking at much of the information needed: ph’s, temperatures, and so forth. And when you start to look at proposed integrity limits, they often align with other operating limits—you just reconcile to the one that makes more sense.

The greatest value of what we’re recommending is to use the information that you’re capturing to get more value out of it—to get more lifespan value. IOWs will help you to do this because are the guardrails on the plant—they let you know when you need to alter the plan or alter your expectations.

IOWs are the guardrails on the plant—they let you know when you need to alter the plan or alter your expectations.

If you have any questions about IOW implementation or management, please use the contact button below to get in touch with us.

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