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BP Refines Maintenance Operations

The international oil and gas company developed an RFID solution that streamlines processes, making work safer and more cost-efficient.
By Samuel Greengard
Jun 01, 2012BP operates 11 oil refineries worldwide and each must undergo scheduled maintenance. During these operations, called turnarounds (TARs), parts of a facility are closed for up to 30 days, so the company can inspect, clean and repair equipment. In addition, BP performs plant upgrades and other improvements. TARs are labor-intensive, expensive and potentially hazardous operations.

Before any TAR-related work can be performed, the designated section of the plant must be shut down, then purged of hydrocarbons and allowed to cool. This ensures there are no lingering pockets of hydrocarbons or other explosive or flammable materials. In the end, each part of the refinery is "isolated" from connected equipment, to prevent material from one part of the facility from entering another.

These isolations involve a number of processes, including disconnecting pipes at the flanges (the components that connect the pipes) and fitting blinds (large metal discs) into the flanges. This effectively shuts off the pipes, so engineers can tackle the maintenance work safely.

What makes the task so challenging is that the isolations must take place in a specific sequence, and blinds must be matched to specific pipe flanges. A recent TAR, for example, required 6,400 isolations—and the entire process had to be carried out at the beginning of the TAR and then reversed before the plant could be brought back into operation. Simply put, every blind must be fit correctly and then extracted in the proper order.

In September 2010, BP introduced an RFID solution called Isolation Tracker at its refinery in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to make isolation processes faster, more accurate and safer. The solution controls TAR tasks, ensuring work processes occur in the correct sequence and maintenance workers isolate the right equipment. It also maintains accurate records and provides updates in near-real time.

Isolation Tracker has reduced contractor costs and generated revenue from increased plant uptime—saving approximately $1 million per turnaround, according to Mike Haley, a consultant in the chief technology office of BP's Information Technology & Services group. The mobile application has become part of the toolset used for TARs and is already in operation at a second BP refinery in Germany. "This project has helped create a new standard for the way we work in the plant," Haley says.
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