Resident Engineers - There for You

Managing industrial plants is a complex task. Resident engineers from LINDE PLANTSERV® act as technical consultants, advising plant operators on the ground.

African Oxygen Limited (Afrox), a subsidiary of Linde

There for You

Managing and modernizing industrial plants is a complex task. Resident engineers from LINDE PLANTSERV® act as technical consultants, advising plant operators on the ground. Their support services extend from equipment health check and safety inspections to process optimization advice and troubleshooting/repairs.

  • As process plants age, they require more maintenance to keep productivity and safety at the cutting edge. An assessment from an independent expert can be very valuable here - and that is exactly where LINDE PLANTSERV comes into play.
  • Resident engineers become an integral part of the customer’s team for as long as they are needed. They take a very close look at the general health of the plant, provide advice on maintenance and explore optimization potential.
  • LINDE PLANTSERV experts are up to date with the latest technologies and developments, so they can provide extensive, individualized support on everything from safety training through efficiency optimization to revamps. The Vula project initiated by Linde member Afrox is a prime example of how this expertise can span three continents to deliver successful customer outcomes.
Resident engineer Thomas Riebe from LINDE PLANTSERV with Lwazi Mkhandabila, Head of Bulk and On-Site Plants at Afrox

Time stands still for no one - and no thing. Industrial plants and machinery are no exception. Up and running around the clock, they are particularly susceptible to the effects of wear and tear over time. Just like cars, which have to undergo regular inspections to put each component through its paces, industrial plants need health checks too. LINDE PLANTSERV and its resident engineers specialize in on-site checkups … and much more. Linde’s engineering experts explore ways of increasing productivity and efficiency while reducing energy consumption by fine-tuning process parameters. They develop concrete action plans to increase efficiency and safety. In addition, they simulate hazardous situations to assess the effectiveness of existing safety mechanisms and protocols. Resident engineers also work with plant operators to assess what would happen if process parameters are overshot and individual safety shutdown mechanisms fail. Last but not least, LINDE PLANTSERV experts prepare concrete suggestions for corrective and optimization measures.

Resident Engineers for Hands-On Assistance

Similar to technical consultants, LINDE PLANTSERV resident engineers support plant operators with on-the-ground assistance during key tasks such as equipment health check. At the end of 2018, Linde member African Oxygen Limited (Afrox) called on the services of LINDE PLANTSERV for precisely this kind of project. Afrox wanted to check the operational safety and reliability of multiple plants it runs in South Africa. “Linde Engineering has years of experience in raising plant performance and safety levels. This was very important for us,” explains Lwazi Mkhandabila, Head of Bulk and On-Site Plants at Afrox. As a result, the company decided to evaluate several sites in one go and commissioned the team to examine its plants in Witbank, Pretoria, Kuilsriver, Petermaitzburg and Wadeville. With a project like this, resident engineers do not work in isolation - they bring together a number of remote and on-site employees to work collaboratively.

“Resident engineers are like on-site technical consultants.”

The team for Afrox was headed by Thomas Riebe, project manager at LINDE PLANTSERV and former commissioning lead for air separation units as well as project manager for adsorption plants. In addition to five experts from Linde Engineering India, three colleagues from Pullach provided on-site support at different times in the project. “Our partner in South Africa was very keen to see what a fresh pair of eyes might discover at the various sites,” explains Riebe. The project was given the symbolic name “Vula”, which means “open” in Zulu. The name was chosen to reflect the team's commitment to analyzing and assessing the plants without any preconceptions - and to discussing the results openly with the customer. The actual project comprised three tasks: updating the plants’ existing piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID), checking safety standards on site and then implementing suggestions for improvement to ensure safe, sustainable plant operations. The LINDE PLANTSERV team tailors the actual health check process flow to the individual needs of each plant operator.

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African Oxygen Limited (Afrox) is the market leader for gases and welding products in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Detailed Assessment

The first phase of the project saw Riebe and his team examine each plant in great detail. The history of a plant is particularly important here along with all the datasheets for its individual components. All events in a plant’s past - from plant modifications through changes in product requirements to unscheduled shutdowns and repairs - have an impact on current operations. Any questions that the Linde experts had were immediately clarified with the operating team at Afrox. In the case of the Vula project, this involved inspecting all piping, piping and process components, tanks and machines. “We checked whether all plant components were functioning correctly and whether appropriate safety features were in place. We also identified components offering scope for optimization with the goal of safe and stable operations over time. The team systematically investigated all of this - one component at a time,” confirms Riebe. The Linde engineers then saved their findings and photos in a database. They assigned every comment to one of four criticality levels and classified these into ascending levels of urgency from “necessary” to “very urgent”. During the audit, this information is then used to create an action plan in consultation with the plant manager, outlining the sequence in which the defects and optimization measures were to be addressed and implemented.

Complete transparency throughout the project was also a big priority for management at Afrox and so the team presented the safety-critical defects at the end of every plant inspection. As part of this process, they recommended workable solutions to resolve the issues raised and ensured the customer had a detailed understanding of the status of each plant.

Open Dialog Key to Optimum Outcomes

In the second phase, the Linde experts ran through incident scenarios on the drawing board. Here, they used “what if” questions to explore process safety, basing their work on the updated P&IDs. “We asked our Afrox colleagues a range of questions such as: What happens if the pressure or temperature in process components exceeds the design limits? Or what if other process parameters push plant components to their design limits and create safety-critical process conditions?” elaborates Riebe. If excess pressure builds up in the compressor, for example, the engineers were informed that either the existing safety valve releases the excess gas pressure or that the pipe downstream of the compressor outflow pipes was designed to handle a higher pressure than the compressor can deliver. This protects the plant and its components from mechanical damage and prevents unscheduled downtime. The Linde experts tracked the imaginary incident step by step in the P&IDs, taking a very close look at the existing safety features in the plant.

“We always challenge the status quo. It’s the only way to find the best path forward.”

Riebe maintains that a constructive approach was another key success factor for equipment health check and communication with Afrox. “I feel it is very important to remain focused on the overarching aim and regularly step back to see things from the customer’s perspective. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.” After all, finding the right balance isn't always easy. Integrating new, improved methods inevitably means raising what can be difficult questions. “I always challenge the status quo. Like: ‘Is this the best way to do something or is it just the way you’ve always done it?’ It’s the only way to find the best path forward that balances sustainability with safety and process optimization,” explains Riebe.

Understanding Customer Needs for a Sense of Joint Success

During the third and final phase, the team assesses and ranks the suggestions for improvement. It also plans the next steps, including assessing whether any further on-site support is required. “We have decided to extend our collaboration with Linde and Thomas Riebe,” explains Lwazi Mkhandabila, Head of Bulk and On-Site Plants at Afrox. “We are really impressed with the results – the outcomes have certainly exceeded all our expectations.” Riebe’s proposals identified significant optimization potential for the Witbank standby plant. Fine-tuning the expansion turbine in Pretoria reduced liquid nitrogen consumption by 27 tons a day without necessitating any changes to the operating conditions.

For Riebe, the Vula project demonstrates perfectly how LINDE PLANTSERV is in synch with customer needs and how the resident engineers team up with plant operators on the ground to meet these needs in the most effective way possible. “Our goal was to ensure that Afrox could continue to operate its portfolio of assets in a safe, reliable and more efficient way. It was not about selling as many parts or revamps as possible,” adds Riebe. Afrox wanted Linde’s experts to assess the functionality, efficacy and safety of its plants – and not necessarily benchmark them against the latest cutting-edge technologies. Riebe's team remained focused on this philosophy throughout the entire Vula project. This was another reason why Afrox chose to continue working with the team. The figures given above are conclusive proof that the project was a resounding success. They also show that sound advice from LINDE PLANTSERV cannot be expressed in terms of costs – it’s a valuable investment in future profitability.

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