In any maintenance operation, the goal must be to “fix it right the first time.” The rate at which a plant accomplishes that, however, may not be a metric normally monitored. Perhaps it should be.

During a recent webinar, Dale Smith of Honeywell Thermal Solutions offered one take on capturing your thermal data and using it to inform your actions. The brain drain — due in part to retiring operators and technicians — as well as the reality that many plants have fewer maintenance personnel on-site mean that in-depth institutional and equipment knowledge can be in short supply. Often, there are fewer maintenance personnel on the team — and they are responsible for more tasks than they have time for. Add in the lack of access to or visibility of information critical to troubleshooting due to data silos. It is no wonder that at times, the first sign that is noticed is an failure that leads to unplanned downtime.

If this has happened at your plant, you are not alone: As Dale notes, 82 percent of facilities have experienced at least one unplanned downtime outage over the last three years, and the average was actually two.

While first-time fix rate is a term more often applied to service industries, it has applicability in the process industries. As many of you likely know, the first-time fix rate — or the number of problems or service requests that are resolved during an engineer or technician’s first visit — is the result of an interconnected series of behaviors. For instance, failing to properly diagnose a problem at the time that an alarm condition is noticed can lead to efforts to resolve an issue that do not address the root causes of the alarm.

One factor affecting first-time fix rate is inadequate access to field-based parts. Without a proper diagnosis and triage of the problem, the technician may not be equipped with the parts and tools he needs and be unable complete a repair. Having knowledge of and access to data such as the service history for the equipment in question can provide insights.

Intelligent controls provide access to this otherwise inaccessible data. Many systems can work with legacy sensors and controls as well existing DCS to gather the data in a way that allows you to plot multiple variables and output to data-monitoring tools. Burner controllers, flame relays, pressure switches, temperature sensors: each of these sensing and control devices (and myriad others within your plant) provide actionable data if you are able to capture and analyze it. This allows you to spot emerging patterns and analyze the root causes. You are able to plan for maintenance — including having the correct parts for a repair — rather than react to unplanned downtime. In other words, fix it right the first time.

Have you harnessed your process data to optimize thermal processing operations and maintenance?