Digital transformation of component repair boosts compressor uptime

Valves, packing, and other replaceable components have a key influence on the performance and reliability of reciprocating compressors.

Martin Hofinger

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Article Summary

A new all-digital approach to tracking component repair and replacement can increase plant availability by providing powerful insights into fleet performance, as well as reducing costs by simplifying inventory and logistics processes.

Replacing and repairing compressor components such as valves, packing, and cylinder rings is a fact of life. No-one loves these items for their own sake. They cost money to buy and store, and they can be hard to keep track of accurately. At best, they need to be replaced at scheduled maintenance intervals. At worst, they fail unexpectedly and cause downtime.

So it makes sense to manage components intelligently and learn as much as we can from their operational history. In today’s world, that means a fully digital approach to tracking components in service, recording details of performance, carrying out maintenance, repairing and refurbishing components, and managing the spares inventory.

Your repair partner makes the difference
Thanks to clever design and advances in materials technology, properly chosen valves, rings, and packing now perform much better on average than they did in the past. Many of the requests Hoerbiger receives from customers are about improving fleet performance through a better understanding of individual component reliability – but operators can achieve this not through fancy algorithms but through better access to information they are recording already. These companies want full transparency for the repair and maintenance history of their compressor components.

In recent years, apps have been developed for Hoerbiger’s repair facilities to digitise repair records of valves, packing, and capital parts. This provides easy access to specific repair data and, moreover, allows comparison and benchmarking between different regions and countries to identify improvement potentials.

Hoerbiger’s global footprint, with over 60 repair facilities, generates a significant knowledge base from which every customer benefits. It allows the continuous development of internal repair processes, which are documented in global repair standards and executed locally to the highest quality.

Capturing repair data from components during refurbishment activities helps to predict future product performance and supports the identification of existing design weaknesses in either the product or the compressor. However, installation and operational details are not automatically captured and require additional consideration.

Capture operational and logistic data at the source
Plant operators need to know which components are running in their units at any time and available in their warehouses. Even with the benefit of modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, this often cannot be supported to the required level of detail.

Hoerbiger’s solution is an all-digital spares management philosophy that can operate either as a standalone solution or alongside existing ERP systems. The new approach, named Vistra, makes it easy for companies to record critical operational and logistic information about compressor components – and to use that information to increase fleet performance and reliability. The Opex savings potential customers in natural gas typically experience by using Vistra is 15%.

The most visible part of the system is an app that can be used where it is needed most: in the plant or warehouse, on the go, even without an internet connection. Maintenance staff first use Vistra to check in advance which parts are needed for a repair. Then, during the actual job, they record what was removed, including its condition, and what was installed. When parts are refurbished or repaired, Vistra tracks who did what, when, why, and how.

This approach is not limited to valves, rings, and individual packings. It handles complete packing cases, piston and rod assemblies, as well as HydroCOM and eHydroCOM stepless capacity control systems. It can be used with other compressor types – and, in principle, even other kinds of production equipment too. It works with components from any manufacturer and any type of compressor service procedure. For customers who source and repair components with Hoerbiger, Vistra provides a powerful digital interface, allowing seamless integration with the company’s ordering processes.

More than just an app
However, just as important as the Vistra app is the database that records the information and the web-based interface that supports detailed analysis of this data from anywhere in the company while providing one single source of truth and digitally connecting the entire workforce.

On the one hand, the system provides detailed tracking of individual components by assigning a unique identification number and QR code, which is scanned during every transaction. With that, the entire component life cycle is recorded.

On the other hand, the desktop view shows how many of these packings were used in the last year across the site or the company. What is the mean time between repair (MTBR) of this compressor? What about all the compressors on this unit or across the site? Which are the worst actors at the levels of the machine, the stage, the cylinder, and the component?

Should we be using valves that last longer, even if they cost more upfront? Could we cut inventory costs by standardising on fewer types of packing? Insights like this can produce sustained improvements in fleet reliability and operating costs, rather than simply replacing like for like whenever something breaks down.

Lessons from the real world
Hoerbiger has worked with numerous customers in the natural gas sector to develop the Vistra system and digitalise the entire life cycle of their compressor components, from inventory management, through field maintenance, to component repair and refurbishment. As a result, Vistra is a proven product while still being new enough to attract companies that can see its competitive advantage.

These maintenance partnerships allow Hoerbiger to drill down through the failure modes of low-reliability components. The resulting information supports customers in improving their maintenance practices. It is not unknown, for instance, for inspection to reveal a component has been poorly installed or is different from what was specified.

The analysis also helps to identify potential upgrades. A key message is that modern valves, rings, and packing, which are inherently more robust or better matched to the specific application, can increase reliability and save money, even if they cost a little more than commodity components.

Similar reasoning applies to component repair. For example, pressure testing of complete packing cases is an extra step not all repair companies carry out. Any savings, however, will be more than cancelled out by the extra work involved in fixing leaks after the packing has been installed.

These are challenging times for refiners. Using modern digital technologies to keep track of component inventory, maintenance, and repairs is surely an easy win in the search for higher compressor reliability and lower operating costs.

This short article appeared in the 2022 Refining India Newspaper, which you can view HERE

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