Bringing Maintenance and Operations Together | Zebra Blog

How to Bring Maintenance and Operations Together in Oil and Gas Production

Syncing data systems is just the first step in creating a more collaborative environment.

An oil industry worker looks at equipment while holding a Zebra rugged tablet
by Your Edge Contributor
November 05, 2020

This blog post was written by Jelle Swanenberg, Chief Operating Officer at Smartflow, a Zebra Independent Software Vendor (ISV).

The uncertain situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened even the most stable organisations within the oil and gas industry. In times of crisis, it’s not unusual for companies to make drastic cuts to survive, with some choosing to eradicate projects, suspend investments or cut headcounts to minimise operating costs and offset losses. 

But this type of reactive model creates instability in the industry, affecting individual organisations’ onsite operations and maintenance capabilities. Oil and gas operators need a long-term stability and sustainability strategy that incorporates operational excellence, maintenance, reliability and integrity processes. 

There are consequences for failing to define asset strategies, identify urgent risks, optimise assets and performance or create a culture centered on safety and collaboration. 

Yet, many organisations still fail to plan effectively, schedule and execute primary facility inspections and maintenance. The lack of operational and maintenance collaboration – and the lack of accurate data distribution between the two – makes it hard to ensure on-time finalisation, cost control and safe realisation of tasks. When integration and planning are deficient or faulty, operators struggle with increased difficulty in reaching new assets. Therefore, operators can't anticipate numbers on time and on a budget without facing repeated issues that disturb production. 

In other words, both operations and maintenance need to prioritise readiness planning.

Operations and Maintenance Must Work Together If You Want to Increased Production 

What are the main reasons for operations and maintenance not working together? Could it be because of lack of trust, poor communication or complete lack of communication? Is it the result of finger-pointing when problems arise?

All of the above are possible in the absence of a single source of truth. It is hard to collaborate, much less build trust, when teams can’t access and act on the same set of data. On the other hand, integrating all work processes and workflow data into a single system that everyone can access anytime, anywhere, could quickly close, productivity gaps, improving on-time efficiency, quality performance and speed performance of operations and maintenance together. 

Just imagine what would happen if the oil and gas companies would start:

  • Capturing data and leveraging continuous improvement to avoid repetitive processes and increase efficiency.
  • Searching for the root cause of low productivity and low-quality performance. Is it the lack of skilled staff, lack of processes, data losses or time-consuming handover information tasks? 
  • Quantifying potential losses and performing technical data analysis to determine…
    • Where data is being lost.
    • How much time is spent sharing data between operations and maintenance as well as across the entire organisation.
    • How many data breaches occur, and why.
    • How many assets suffered because data was not delivered fast enough.

With a mindset like this, oil and gas companies would be able to nurture an environment of collaboration between operations and maintenance.

Operations and Maintenance: One Common Goal 

Instead of wasting time determining what department is to blame, what if organisations committed the time to finding and eliminating the root cause of the problem? Of course, this requires a complete switch in loss categorising. Instead of worrying about “who” did or didn’t do something, focus on “why” something did or didn’t happen. 

In many cases, problems do not arise exclusively from the operations department or the maintenance department. Rather, they occur due to failures in both the maintenance and operation of equipment. That’s why oil and gas companies must focus on improving both equipment and process reliability efforts in order to lower maintenance costs and achieve more sustainable production levels.

The key to creating a more collaborative work environment is to first establish trust between operations and maintenance. Once you can align as a unified team and agree to solving problems without classifying them by department, it becomes easier to achieve total reliability and other mutually-desired outcomes. Following a process such as this may help: 

  • Determine and address the high-cost problems related to safety, environmental and lost production first (i.e. quality, time, speed).
  • Determine, understand and resolve the issues that cause high maintenance costs.
  • Determine which other problems you need to solve in the near term. 
  • Assign each problem an owner and a resolution team.
  • Solve the problem. 
  • Document the solution.
  • Educate the rest of the organisation. 

To make a partnership between maintenance and operation successful, organisations also need to provide a future-proof work environment that enables accessible communication and collaboration. As long as your organisation is susceptible to human errors and data losses due to unstructured data management, this partnership will not last long. Take these six steps to build a strong partnership:

1.  Start by investing in thorough handovers. 

Many issues occur because technical problems can’t be adequately analysed. So, imagine what would happen if the maintenance team had the ability to quickly and securely collect data and deliver a proper handover.

We work with oil and gas organisations that find it very practical to empower their operators to undertake basic maintenance inspections. There are situations like small preventive maintenance tasks where the operators could be trained to perform inspections themselves versus having to call in a dedicated maintenance team member.

When the operators are capable of performing maintenance actions themselves, they simply inform stakeholders across the organisation that they took care of it using a mobile workflow app such as Smartflow.

Conducting preventive maintenance on a regular schedule helps your organisation avoid costly downtime while helping both operations and maintenance become more efficient in their work and collaboration. 

The key is to provide operators with clear guidelines of the process and giving them the tools needed to define and capture remedial actions instantly. The right mobility solution can make this easy as operators can communicate updates in real time to stakeholders, saving the entire organisation lots of back and forth effort. 

2.  Prioritise work orders. 

One of the problems we often encounter when consulting with oil and gas companies is a misleading work prioritisation. The tendency to make everything a priority is costing organisations time and diminishing operators' motivation. To avoid this issue, our customers use the Kanban Board in their Smartflow app dashboard to correctly visualise what their team is doing and understand which actions affect or boost productivity. 

3. Aim for a collaborative effort.

If activities are set up only by the operations team without any maintenance technicians' input, it might result in unplanned downtime and duplicative maintenance costs. When operations and maintenance employees have joint access to the work orders and activity planning, it can save a lot of time and unnecessary work. With instant notification of new requirements and assigned tasks, productivity and efficiency will increase rapidly. 

4. Use standard templates to boost preventive maintenance.

The oil and gas industry is ready to start developing a preventive mindset now that technology is widely available and capable of enabling well-coordinated planning and execution workflows. Just be sure that the solution you choose – likely a mobile solution – can easily capture critical information, populate it in the right place and format and link captured data to the correct equipment. Using standardised templates for preventive activities can also save time, money and frustration. 

5. Start storing your data correctly and avoid compliance issues. 

One of the most common situations we encounter when discussing problems and challenges with our customers is poor data management and storage. This leads to data breaches that cause non-compliance issues. When data is stored and structured correctly, it is easy to find and interpret.

Companies that store their information digitally also benefit from a reduction in the amount of physical storage space needed and increased data protection. If you're still storing data in paper form, a single accident can destroy months of operations or maintenance work. Are you still taking that risk? Anything can harm paper: water, fire, wind and more. Digital files stored in the cloud are not as susceptible to such vulnerabilities and are more likely to be recovered should an incident occur. 

6. Conduct strategic preventive and predictive checks on a routine basis using smart technology.

Want to ensure that you always have a detailed picture of the current situation?

A smart terminal equipped with sensors can be used to automatically gather equipment performance data in lieu of manual preventive checks. This enables operators to determine whether the equipment needs manual maintenance without any back and forth inspection and diagnostic effort, allowing for more real-time decisions and action. At the same time, with these sensors taking over some tasks currently being carried by human workers, you can focus employees on more strategic tasks to save a considerable amount of money and time. 

Ideally, you should leverage a mobility solution such as a rugged mobile computer or tablet running an app such as Smartflow to integrate the data collected via these smart assets into a single actionable dashboard, minimising the need for maintenance staff to intervene on-site until it’s confirmed to be absolutely necessary. Real-time equipment monitoring, control, scheduling and management can be performed throughout the entire plant through the digital control center. Teams can run status checks, verify operating instructions, gather historical data and even process alarm reports remotely without ever losing control of the equipment.

Needless to say, smart sensors can make inspection and maintenance operations safer more efficient.

A Final Thought

How would your organisation change if you unified the philosophy and strategy of these two departments working together to ensure a viable collaboration? How could the adoption of more modern data collection, distribution and analysis tools transform your organisation? Oil and gas businesses need to recognise and be realistic about where they sit and how they want to achieve their goals. Following an approach like the one described in this article improves the likelihood of success and will save the business money and efficiency. Achieving and sustaining performance will increase operational integrity and maximise asset value. 

Do you have questions related to this topic? Get in touch with one of our consultants for an accurate analysis of your challenges and to learn about available solutions.

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Your Edge Contributor
Zebra will occasionally publish insights from members of our partner community, our customers and other subject matter experts across the global industries we serve on the Your Edge blog. Background information about each individual author can be found at the bottom of their contributed blog post.
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