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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gill

A Reflection on Reliability in Oil and Gas

I became an RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) Practitioner in 2005. I remember how excited I was to be able to put my new skills into practice. I had really good mentors that helped me develop as a practitioner and they also were very practical in their approach. I think this was because they actually were reliability specialists working within one of Canada’s largest steel producers. So, they were able to determine what worked and what did not from a practical perspective. Reliability back in the day could be incredibly resource and cost-intensive. A lot of that boiled down to the “all or nothing approach”, instead of utilizing a well-structured prioritization process. From 2005 to around 2007, I found the oil and gas organizations were not interested in an outside consulting firm coming in and developing reliability programs for them. Even though companies like Shell were well on their way to developing a well-formed reliability structure within. Most of the clients I worked with were from Steel, Forest, and the Power industry. It was not until around 2008, I noticed things started to change for oil and gas interest in reliability services. Now I am not saying that the practice of reliability was not happening in oil and gas, but rather I think there was a battle of old thinking versus new, and the old thinking always came out on top. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as Peter Drucker stated. When a new idea comes into play, culture can push back, and the new ideas may never gain any traction. I think within oil and gas there was and still is to some degree remanence of this older way of thinking.

I can’t put my finger on why there began to be a shift in the interest in reliability in oil and gas. But I suspect that it could be based on a few things. Competition, younger leadership coming in with new ideas, organizations striving for leaner operability, and possibly recognition of cost overages on current maintenance practices. I am not sure the answer really mattered in this case; it was just good to see that there was a strong interest developing in something I had become so passionate about. Over the years my colleagues and I worked to develop a less resource and cost-intensive reliability approach and maybe this is what attracted these oil and gas companies to become more interested. The concepts to reduce the rigour of traditional RCM did not come without skepticism and outright refusal. There was a bunch of pushback from traditional RCM practitioners and to be honest I had my doubts based on the fact I was fairly new to the RCM practitioner field and was pretty set in my trained ways of facilitating RCM. But, in the end, it was determined through practicing the new approach, we gained some significant improvements and results. The oil and gas companies that I work with, in the time frame of 2008 to 2016 had developed a very keen interest in performing the right work at the right time and getting control of their understanding of their equipment. While working with these companies we were also able to improve our RCM strategies through a recognition that not all approaches should be the same. Needs assessments would help us lay out a roadmap to deal with a client’s individual needs with prioritization.

I have noticed over the last 15 years that the oil and gas industry is becoming a lot more familiar with reliability and the need for it. From my experiences, there are a lot more internal resources that can speak to what is required from a reliability perspective. But I have also seen a major reduction in reliability teams within oil and gas organizations. I am not sure why this is, but I suspect that it is because reliability has become much more commonly understood and is now a part of common understanding. It took teams to push the initial concepts, but now organizations have made reliability a core topic when discussing their equipment; to some degree. With regulatory requirements on specified equipment within oil and gas, the understanding of reliability has become more and more common. However, I am not convinced that the approaches have been defined by current needs and priorities. I think the face has changed regarding reliability in oil and gas, but I still think there is a specific need in defining the appropriate approach to make it successful in oil and gas. I feel and it is a bit of a concern for me that oil and gas has paused their drive for reliable equipment and longevity of asset life, especially within the rotating equipment areas. Now it sounds like I am painting the oil and gas reliability position with a broad-stroke brush. And maybe I am to some degree, as I know there is a specific organization that has taken their reliability initiatives to great heights. But from an overall view of things, it seems there still needs to be some order and organization to ensure goals are being set and made. Want to discuss more about your reliability and maintenance programs? Reach out, a call doesn’t cost a thing!

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