For anyone who has done work inside a treatment plant, or for that matter, any operations facility, you’ve probably experienced this situation: you’re touring the facility and talking to an operator or a member of the maintenance staff, and they say something like, “That flow meter is down, but we can’t change it without shutting the plant down,” or “I need to change that valve, but I have no way of getting to it,” or “I need to clean this basin, but there is no slope to the floor, and there is no sump.”
These maintenance issues happen constantly and often stem from an oversight during design. It is easy to make these mistakes as an engineer. We are trained to execute our projects using the least amount of materials for the least cost to our clients while achieving the overall intent of the project. This sometimes means that maintenance items get placed in areas that are difficult to get to, or we don’t consider what needs to happen to maintain that item.
Planning for Maintenance
Preventing these mishaps is simple, if not always easy. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about each component when designing a project.
- What happens if this item breaks? While nobody wants to assume things will go wrong, planning for these eventualities is necessary to save time and money in the long term.
- How would maintenance personnel access this component? Think about how a person or people would be able to get to the equipment or system in question. Would they be able to repair the item effectively in the space?
- Can this item be repaired and/or replaced without shutting down? Avoiding operations shut-downs due to a system component failure is vital to maintaining efficiency.
- What will happen when this system needs to be maintained or cleaned? All systems will need maintenance or cleaning at some point. As designers, planning for maintenance and cleaning that is as easy and efficient as possible will help keep everything running smoothly.
This process will take a little time but is well worth the effort. Designing with operations in mind will lead to a better product and ultimately increase the end user’s satisfaction.