In early 2003, construction of a new Canadian facility for the manufacture of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) – a raw material used in the manufacture of polyester – was just getting started at Interquisa Canada in Montreal. Meanwhile, a small team of manufacturing and information technology professionals were planning an aggressive strategy.

After the 14-month plant construction process, the group – consisting of a few managers with the division of Spanish petrochemical leader CEPSA – would face a Herculean task. The company would need to hire staff not only to run but maintain the 15,000 pieces of equipment that would generate up to 500,000 tons of PTA each year. Since the management team was starting the operation from scratch, there was no human resources management system in place, and Montreal is a region with few employees with petrochemical industry experience.

While the plant construction process would put into place thousands of pieces of equipment that would naturally have no operational history on which to build a maintenance program, Interquisa management would have to quickly design and implement a system that would keep the new plant running 24/7.

The team charged with this responsibility included Interquisa IT manager Jean Trudeau, maintenance team leader Michel Longpré,and representatives of GFI Solutions, Montreal, which implemented enterprise applications from IFS Americas in the areas of distribution, finance, maintenance, human resources and manufacturing.

Since successfully launching operations in September 2003, Interquisa and GFI management have come to see that enterprise asset management (EAM), an essential discipline in the asset-intensive process chemical industry, is not so much about managing assets as it is about managing the people who manage those assets. In fact, it is the close integration of EAM and human resources systems that is allowing Interquisa to, with a maintenance staff of 45 and limited use of contract staff, accomplish 97 percent of all preventive maintenance work scheduled.

Head start essential

To finance and develop the PTA plant, it took a joint venture between CEPSA and SGF Chimie, a subsidiary of Société générale de financement du Québec (SGF).

 Often times when a new manufacturing facility comes online, the project design engineers are slow to get the specifications on the equipment to the maintenance and operation staff in a timely fashion – and when it does come, it can tend to be in a form that is hard to enter into an EAM system. In the case of Interquisa, however, representatives of GFI were able to work with Interquisa to migrate data supplied by engineers, contractors and manufacturers of the pumps, compressors and centrifuges into the IFS EAM system. According to GFI’s Sylvain Lavigne, who worked closely with Interquisa on their maintenance system planning and implementation, work in this area started well before the plant was operational.

“The idea was to build the equipment into the system,” said Lavigne. “We had hundreds of pumps, motors and electronic systems to incorporate within a complex architecture. This was a challenge in itself. ”

In one respect, the lack of existing systems was a help rather than a hindrance. Often, maintenance practices evolve over time and might not be as effective as processes that are deliberately engineered. But implementing those engineered processes might meet with cultural resistance from employees.

“Our first step was to meet with the maintenance staff, and start to define the process for maintenance,” Lavigne said. “That took approximately two months. The next step was to take the technical information from the equipment suppliers and create the equipment in the system.”

Once each piece of equipment was created as a functional object in the EAM system, maintenance guidelines from the manufacturer of each piece was attached to that functional object. Leveraging as much information as possible at this point is crucial – particularly when there is no existing maintenance history to work from.

“It is critical that you get the most data possible from the various vendors,” Longpré said. “Once that data is integrated into IFS, it becomes an invaluable reference. That is definitely key. It gives you a strong foundation for the evolution of the maintenance module. ”

Apart from suggested maintenance schedules, Interquisa leveraged another valuable resource to populate its EAM system with data – its people.

While one challenge facing the company as it staffed up was the region’s small base of potential employees with petrochemical industry experience, Interquisa was able to recruit some veterans from other petrochemical companies, including Basell, Total (formerly ELF), Pioneer, Petro-Canada and Shell. Key individuals were also trained at CEPSA facilities in Spain. But one lynchpin in the success of Interquisa’s EAM system may be the fact that veterans brought years of experience in maintenance positions with other petrochemical companies, and was able to augment the suggested maintenance schedules provided by the equipment manufacturers, leveraging his own experience with similar equipment.

Managing people more than equipment

In fact, Interquisa’s EAM success may have less to do with managing assets and more to do with managing the people who manage the assets. One key feature of the IFS EAM functionality that Interquisa’s team is exploiting is the ability to tie information on the scheduled maintenance for each asset in with information on the availability of qualified staff to perform each maintenance task.

According to Longpré, Interquisa had particular requirements as to how they wanted to schedule its maintenance staff. Rather than simply scheduling individuals for a task (overhauling a pump for instance), Longpré said their procedure called for scheduling individuals by discipline – pipefitters, mechanics, welders, etc. Fortunately, Trudeau was able to – without modifying the IFS source code – configure the EAM system to meet Longpré’s needs.

“The IT department customized IFS by creating virtual links to subsets of employees based on their capabilities – and that subset then links to persons within the human resources module,” Longpré said. “This is what allowed us to properly define our needs from HR, based on the work that needs to be done. Also, integrating with our human resources system allows us to see changes that impact our ability to schedule workers. Vacations, sick leaves and other absences show up in the EAM module, so our maintenance planner always has real-time information on the availability of the workforce.”

“The ability to get the information from the human resources system integrated with EAM was critical,” Lavigne of GFI said. “Interquisa took advantage of the flexibility to create a complex query in the system that identifies people available for a job. This is key when you have such a large facility operating with only a few dozen maintenance employees. We were able to link to HR, create schedules as required, and make sure they were able to determine the availability of skilled human resources in the maintenance module.”

During times of peak maintenance demand, such as plant shutdowns with tight deadlines, contract labor is brought in to augment Interquisa’s own team, and they are scheduled in a very similar fashion in the HR and EAM modules.

“Contractors are integrated into the system,” Trudeau said. “We give them restricted access to IFS, but they are scheduled the same way as everybody else.”

Another benefit of tight integration between human resources and EAM is the ability to move employees back and forth freely from one internal unit of the company to another. According to Trudeau, for accounting purposes, the factory is split into two sections, PA for the production of terephthalic acid, and PTA, where the acid is purified.

“The flexibility of our IFS EAM and HR systems allows the planner to swap resources from one section to another seamlessly through the maintenance module, without going through HR,” Longpré said. “This allows us to instantly modify the distribution of workers during peak periods or for emergencies.”

“Most of the people in maintenance with Interquisa had experience with other ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems,” Lavigne said. “They had never seen a system that was flexible enough to swap resources back and forth and create queries this easily.”

People, time and materials

With their EAM system in place, Interquisa’s maintenance team were focusing on automating as many of the maintenance processes as possible by proactively entering information into IFS, and taking advantage of dynamic links with purchasing. For each maintenance project that is planned, Trudeau and GFI have configured IFS to remove the parts and materials consumed by that project from inventory. And if materials necessary for a maintenance project are not immediately on hand, the maintenance planner is notified automatically in advance.

“To each of the functional objects in the system, we can attach documents for purchase orders, work orders, whatever we want,” Trudeau said. “This means we don’t have to maintain these documents as hard copy, and in an automated fashion are creating a work history for each piece of equipment. We have eliminated a lot of unnecessary paperwork, we are maintaining a central history and all our documentation related to a particular piece of equipment is stored in a single location”

Interquisa’s EAM system is helping them not only track maintenance history, but to automate the planning of future maintenance.

“In our EAM system, we have the ability to save certain activities or tasks,” Longpré said. “Whether these are repetitive tasks or events that happen only occasionally, we create them in the system with a feature called ID Tasks. Once we have planned and completed a series of tasks related to the maintenance of a piece of equipment, we can save the series as a template, which we can automatically upload the next time we need it. With a single mouse-click, we can schedule the appropriate personnel, tools and tasks required. This could involve a large number of individual elements, including the number of days and the number of people of each discipline. Right now, we are working on expanding our list of saved tasks.”

Longpré said that building this storehouse of task-related information will help Interquisa build predictability and control into their maintenance operation.

“Let’s say that this morning I have a pump to repair,” Longpré said. “According to the task record, I know I’ll need two mechanics, specific kinds of tools and a total of four hours of labor from each person. The task will automatically reserve the tools, the materials and parts needed from the warehouse. We need 10 different pieces to repair it. If we have all the resources on hand, we can repair the pump right now. If some pieces are missing, we know we need to order them and schedule the job when the parts are on-hand.”

One important benefit of this proactive, forward-looking approach to maintenance, according to Trudeau, is that Interquisa has been able to significantly reduce their inventory of parts and materials.

Choose well, establish needs

Longpré and Trudeau stress that EAM success requires careful planning. One challenge is to develop an early understanding of your needs.

“What is really important is to establish your needs at the outset,” Longré said. “This is how you build an efficient system that responds effectively to operational requirements.”

According to Trudeau, Interquisa parent CEPSA uses enterprise applications from SAP, but the desire for flexibility was a significant enough factor for the team to consider an alternative, primarily because of the importance to tightly integrate multiple operational modules such as HR, purchasing and inventory with EAM functionality.

A knowledgeable and inclusive project planning and implementation team was also a factor in Interquisa’s EAM success, according to Trudeau.

“Before our plant became operational, our core group of employees numbered about150,” Trudeau said. “Of that, we had an initial implementation team of 15 to 20. We had about two people from finance, two people from human resources, six to eight from maintenance, two people from environmental compliance and three people from IT. With that group, it took us about three to four months to design our business processes. There were a lot of decisions to be made, with a small team of managers to make them. We wanted to make sure we made the right choices and build a system that ensured we could meet all our operational needs and be successful. We are a young company that is still evolving. But we believe we reached that goal.”