Overcoming Resistance to Pump System Improvement Programs

Last month we saw how a plant’s Financial Management Team could estimate the magnitude of potential savings using readily available plant operating data.  Once plant management felt the risk for reward was sufficient, they might proceed with a pilot Pump System Improvement program. The first step of the Financial Management Teams goals and objectives to implement the new program was gain support from the other managers within the organization. Although the financial managers see the value in the program, the overreaching value must be sold to the people operating and maintaining the plant.   

To implement viable change, project and program managers must encourage stakeholders to understand the need for change, as well as help them embrace the envisioned future state. Accomplishing this starts off by selecting a team leader, someone to help lead the effort and guide the process through to a successful completion.  

Overcoming Resistance to Change

In starting any new program, the team leader will often experience resistance to change. Addressing this roadblock requires communication, regular meetings, and a keen understanding of why the changes being made are critical to the program’s success. There are typically three primary reasons that cause reluctance for implementing a Pump System Improvement program:

  1. Pumped systems are designed to meet future needs and operations personnel are hesitant to lose what is thought to be designed for future system capacity. 
  2. Not everyone at the plant has the same view of the various elements in pumped systems.  As a result, they feel pumped systems are complex and do not want to make changes to an operation that they do not fully understand.
  3. Since the process systems being evaluated generate the plant’s revenue, people are reluctant to change unless they are assured of a positive financial outcome (with little to no negative impact).

Recognizing Why Systems are “Over Built”

Systems are over designed to take into account future operating conditions.  For example, the system may be designed to meet additional process needs versus the expected current market needs.  During the equipment sizing process, additional design margins are added to take into account unknown factors before the system is built.  The use of these margins in the design process is similar to purchasing insurance for protection against life’s unknowns.  Just like insurance, there is a cost associated with over-designing systems, specifically an increase in capital, operating, and maintenance costs. 

It is never recommended to design a system without accounting for potential unknown factors, however, plant owners need to realize that once the pumped system is in operation, many of the unknown factors become known.  For example, if the system was sized for a future design flow rate of 500 gpm but it has been running for the last several years at 250 gpm, a major cost reduction is possible.

The goal of the Pump System Improvement program is to evaluate the actual operation of pumped systems and improve the total system efficiency to meet current plant operations because the current operation has no foreseeable increase.

Understanding the System

Pumped systems span many departments within an operating plant and require various groups working together to find a common solution. A pump is powered by an electric motor converting electrical energy into mechanical energy.  The rotating impeller in the pump converts mechanical energy to hydraulic energy in the fluid.  The process uses the hydraulic energy to provide the flow and pressure necessary to making product.  To meet the product quality requirements, the process must be controlled by installing plant instrumentation and controls.  Excess energy is removed from the system by tuning the control valve to reduce heat, noise, and vibration.  In addition, the process system must be safely operated and maintained.

Since pumped systems consume 25% to 50% of all electrical power in process plants, it is important to gain a better understanding of how the various elements work together as a total system.  This is the first step in an effective program to reduce costs and improve system up-time. 

Reluctance in Changing Process Systems

In an operating plant the process system generates plant revenue and people are reluctant to make changes to an existing process system unless the changes can be confirmed to increase plant output and/or reduce cost.  Most plant staff would gladly modify an operating system to increase the system output and improve quality, even if the changes require additional equipment that have to be purchased.  If market conditions warrant the increased capacity and a return on investment can be justified then the recommended changes are often made. 

Looking at a system that is not operating efficiently, plant management is not often aware of how inefficiently their pumped system is operating.

How does this happen? Often, if a system is operating inefficiently, (due to the pump being oversized), but product is being produced, and life is simply churning along, people do not notice because everything appears to be running well. Plant operators and managers don’t become aware of issues until something goes wrong, when system improvements are needed, or the environment cannot sustain the changes.

The opportunity to make real improvements and increase the profitability of the system comes about when plant managers implement a system optimization review and look at the entire operation when it is perceived to be operating at a steady state. Often improvements to system efficiency can occur without the need to purchase new equipment, thereby increasing efficiency with little or no cost. 

Profitability can be increased by either increasing the system capacity or removing the system inefficiencies.  Any change that can improve profitability should be considered providing the risk/reward ratio is sufficient. 

Additional Items to Address

Additional items needed to implement a Pump System Improvement program include:

  • Identifying system changes that have significant potential savings
  • Developing an ongoing method for evaluating the existing system
  • Personnel required to run the program
  • Instrumentation requirements
  • Method of presenting the results
  • A means of evaluating proposed system improvements 

At first glance, this gives the impression of a major effort but these items and more are covered in an American National Standard ASME EA-2-2009 Energy Assessment for Pumping System.  The standard discusses the various items that must be addressed when starting a Pump System Improvement program.

Focus the Program on Quality Improvements

Often there is push back in setting up a new program within a plant and a Pump System Improvement program is no exception.  Once again, it is important to educate people within the plant on the value of the program and ease of implementation.

Most industrial plants employ a quality program such as Quality Assurance, Zero Defects, TQM (Total Quality Management), Six Sigma, TPS (Toyota Production System), or Lean Six Sigma.  Regardless of the name, these programs strive for continuously improving the quality of the products and processes.  This is accomplished within the organization by having everyone work together to achieve a common objective of improving product quality and profitability.  The objectives of a Pump System Improvement program coincide with all plant quality programs. 

Rather than create yet another program within your plant, simply roll the Pump System Improvement program into your plants existing quality program.  It helps to educate the various members of the Pump System Improvement team on how to conduct a system assessment as outlined in the ASME EA-2-2009 Energy Assessment for Pumping System standard. Tools such as PIPE-FLO® support plant owners in developing a knowledgeable workforce by allowing staff to streamline workflow. PIPE-FLO® helps you focus on program quality improvements by optimizing overall plant operations, reducing energy consumption and maintenance costs, and increasing system up-time.