MEMBER NEWS: Reliability Engineering: The backbone of success, not an added luxury

July 8, 2021
MEMBER NEWS: Reliability Engineering: The backbone of success, not an added luxury

Colin Scully, operational performance engineer at Xodus, has outlined the importance of reliability engineering in renewable energy systems in Energy Voice.

In the journey towards net zero emissions and further future reliance on renewable energy, there are important lessons to be learnt from the many years of experience in applying reliability engineering techniques in the oil and gas sector. Many of these techniques were developed earlier in the defence and aerospace industries.

Owners of renewable energy systems can learn from the mistakes made in the oil and gas sector and avoid “retrospective reliability” – i.e. trying to influence the reliability of a system when it’s too late to do so most efficiently. By adopting a reliability focused culture early in the design process, it ensures that assets are geared up for successful, reliable operation from day one. Appropriate levels of equipment redundancy, reliability centred maintenance strategy and designing for maintainability are some examples of areas that can provide benefit. Uptime is key in renewable energy operations, so maximising it is essential.

Despite well-known standards, principles and methods, reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM) engineering is often perceived as a bit of a dark art, or at worst a check box exercise.

However, an effective RAM strategy and management is a philosophy and culture that, at its heart, seeks to identify the means to operate an asset or system as efficiently as possible without sacrificing safety. Higher reliability means less corrective maintenance activities, which in turn leads to improved efficiency, safety and ultimately financial savings.

Reliability is critical to the design, operation, maintenance, and performance assessment and improvement of any given system throughout its life. I have learned and applied a diverse range of skills in my 12 years as a RAM consultant across both the energy sector and in the transportation industry – mainly in rail. I therefore can confirm that although there are clear nuances between different industries, the skills and principles of optimising RAM performance remain similar across the board, and in my opinion are critical to driving an efficient energy future.

A common grievance of mine is that owners / operators will often seek to improve RAM performance of their systems when it’s already too late. For instance, if you have designed and already operated a system with many single points of failure, you are unlikely to be able to maintain high system availability due to a lack of flexibility for switching to standby units for maintenance. A decision may then be taken to do a programme of RAM improvement somewhere down the line – as I mentioned above, I call this retrospective reliability. While some targeted improvements could still be made at this stage, it’s far more effective to adopt RAM culture as early as possible during the design of a system and minimise reliability bottlenecks by design.

In summary, consider reliability early and set up for maximum uptime and safer operations.

Read the article on the Energy Voice website here.

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