Confidence in Times of Crisis: How to Keep Your Plant Running

The COVID-19 pandemic raises entirely new questions for plant operators. How can plants continue operation with depleted staff onsite? How are the responsibilities of external service providers affected? How can factory acceptance tests (FATs) be carried out? We explain what is changing for process industry companies – and what isn’t.

How can we guarantee plant availability despite social distancing restrictions and the threat of curfews? This is the question the entire industry is asking.

The fact is: Even with minimum internal staffing levels, plants can operate safely. The number of employees required onsite at any one time depends, of course, on the size and complexity of the plant. Even with fully-automated plants, experts must be physically present to detect potential process deviations and take countermeasures at an early stage. In the event of an alarm, they must intervene immediately. Safety controllers can return plants to a safe condition in emergencies, but employees are needed if consequential risks and production losses are to be avoided. They can also help ensure a prompt restart.

Service Level Without Restrictions

But what happens if the plant operator relies on external help? They might need support or spare parts. This depends on the agreement with the service provider. Many industrial companies operate critical infrastructure. That means that in the event of a failure, not only do financial problems arise, but also considerable disruption to public safety. Safety service providers must therefore also support a safe operation in times of crisis. This includes procuring spare parts and using appropriate service and support measures to eliminate malfunctions or unplanned downtimes within a predetermined time frame.

“For HIMA, on-site support is a social duty. We support our customers as far as we can within the legal framework.”
Thomas Janzer,
Senior Manager Service Product Portfolio, HIMA

From Service to FAT: On-Site and Remote Support Are Equally Important

Every HIMA service engineer, to give an example, is equipped with protective equipment that complies with the recommendations of local authorities. Quarantine measures must be observed, especially when working in risk areas. But if a company grants service providers access to the plant premises, the service is still possible. The service team will weigh up what work is necessary and where remote support – in the form of remote monitoring and maintenance – can be used.

Remote solutions are also important for factory acceptance tests (FAT). However, to perform remote FAT, it is not enough to establish a simple video connection. The data transmission must comply with the necessary cybersecurity standards, and documentation must also be adapted. The requirements are high and not every service provider is able to do this. HIMA has developed a solution for functional and IT-safe remote FATs – in cooperation with genua.

Carefully Replan What Can Be Replanned

Many companies have long since adapted to the current situation, rescheduling downtime and plant start-ups. This can quickly result in a maintenance backlog. In order to avoid this, plant operators should still carry out upcoming modernization and maintenance measures where possible.

Besides, it is not always possible to reschedule everything – even if it is to comply with standards for a safe operation. This means that recurring tests, such as proof tests, often cannot be postponed.

In these cases, the safety provider can provide their usual support: from installation and commissioning to preventive maintenance and troubleshooting

Setting Course for the Future

Of course, companies are not only concerned about the safety and security of a plant but also whether it can remain productive. Some might have to contend with declining orders by reducing employees’ hours and pay. The situation cannot be sugar-coated. However, recently acquired capacity can still be used to help prepare for the future. One example is modernizing safety equipment for greater automation and secure remote access. With these technological capabilities, it will be easier to guarantee plant availability – even in times of crisis.

And in case of any doubt, contact a safety specialist. Our technical support experts are there for you: support@hima.com