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A Broken Gauge Could Blow Up a Plant
10/17/2013

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This gauge failed due to impact damage.   (Source: Wika)
This gauge failed due to impact damage.
(Source: Wika)

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tekochip
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A Real Surprise
tekochip   10/17/2013 9:03:25 AM
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I always thought that gauge audits were commonplace.  I've seen everything from
antistatic mats all the way to HVAC systems being audited.  There have even been
times when production was shut down or had to rent gauges to get through a
current audit

Pubudu
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Re: A Real Surprise
Pubudu   10/19/2013 1:48:25 PM
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One of the main outcomes of the audits is to have a quality production. If it does not meet those what is the point of having that audit with wasting of money and resources. 

It's better to be a pro-active rather than being a reactive.

GTOlover
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No surprise.
GTOlover   10/17/2013 9:20:57 AM
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As a one time maintenance manager I recall spending considerable time and money to fix or replace a bunch of gauges. Although these were water pressure, air pressure, HVAC, and hydraulic pressure gauges, the effort was to ensure all gauges worked in our plant. One week after completion, I did a quick audit and found several damaged. I never found the person named "I don't know" but he sure had a habit of damaging gauges. It seems that many of the gauges are useful foot steps, hangers for tools or clothes, and grab handles for reaching over piping. So it does not surprise me that many plants, including chemical, have broken or non-functioning gauges.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: No surprise.
Rob Spiegel   10/17/2013 10:17:12 AM
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Hey, GTOlover the problem you cite with gauges seems to be widespread. That's dangerous given that gauges are early warning system.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: No surprise.
Ann R. Thryft   10/17/2013 6:02:50 PM
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25% seems like a relatively huge number, considering what kinds of warnings these gauges provide. That percentage might be high, seeing that it's from a company that makes gauges. OTOH, from what I've read many times, including in the comment sections to various DN articles, gauges in fact don't get monitored often enough, if at all. The BP Horizon example is perhaps the most dramatic recent one.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: No surprise.
Rob Spiegel   10/17/2013 11:58:30 PM
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I agree, Ann, you have to take the source of this data into consideration. But even if it's half of the 25%, it's significant. Wika also listed a handful of recent plant explosions and speculated they were caused by failed gaugues. Since it's just speculation, I left it out of the story. But it does make you think.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: No surprise.
Ann R. Thryft   10/21/2013 1:06:16 PM
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I agree, Rob--even with the source of the information considered, that 25% still seems like a likely number.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: No surprise.
Rob Spiegel   10/21/2013 4:05:49 PM
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That's pretty scary, Ann. Maybe Wika is right. Maybe most of the recent plant accidents have been due to a faulty meter -- just like the BP spill.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: No surprise.
Ann R. Thryft   10/22/2013 11:05:35 AM
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Rob, as many have pointed out here, correctly working gauges and meters are only as good as the people reading them--or not reading them. The BP disaster was due at least in part to faulty oversight, i.e., lack of/incorrect monitoring.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: No surprise.
Rob Spiegel   10/22/2013 4:00:59 PM
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That's right about BP, Ann. One of the gauges was working and indicating that pressure was building. Instead, BP personnel chose to trust a broken gauge that indicated everything was fine. At least, that's what the book on the accident claimed.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: No surprise.
Ann R. Thryft   10/22/2013 5:09:48 PM
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Thanks for that info Rob. That's even worse than I remembered it.

TJ McDermott
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Re: No surprise.
TJ McDermott   10/17/2013 11:17:27 AM
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I've seen them used as foot steps as well.

One solution is remote-mounting, at the added cost of additional plumbing.

 

Larry M
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Re: No surprise.
Larry M   10/18/2013 12:09:01 PM
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At the large manufacturing company where I have worked for 45 years, we have always had instrument calbration labs. Every piece of equipment has a sticker indicating when calibration is next due. Employees are not permitted to use equipment beyond the calibration due date or equipment which has bypassed the calibration lab.

Simply applying this process to gauges (and fitting a shut-off valve in series with each gauge) would solve this problem.

TJ McDermott
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It could blow up a plant
TJ McDermott   10/17/2013 11:24:53 AM
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But if the gauge were that important, I doubt it would be permitted to degrade as much as those shown in the images.

One solution is for Wika to build more robust gauges.  Most gauges use their port as the structural mount.  The process medium (compressed air, chlorine gas) could easily vent if the damage to the gauge includes that port.  Beefing up the port can help some of what Wika shows.

Ron C.
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Iron
Re: It could blow up a plant
Ron C.   10/17/2013 11:34:14 AM
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I agree. Even though a proper maintance process will catch and repair gauges regularly, a more robust product to start with will improve long term life.

 

Send the "Monkeys" on a coffee break and design gauges that have the strength to last in the real world environment.

Pubudu
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Re: It could blow up a plant
Pubudu   10/19/2013 2:04:13 PM
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Ron I do agree with you on this, proper maintenance will do all these necessary updates and cleanings.

It's better to those repairs with minimum cost than doing those in too late. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: It could blow up a plant
Rob Spiegel   10/17/2013 11:37:03 AM
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Good points, TJ. However, if the gauge doesn't matter, why have it there? I would think that if a gauge is worth deploying, it's worth staying is working order -- unless its reason to be has expired.

GTOlover
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Re: It could blow up a plant
GTOlover   10/17/2013 2:39:22 PM
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Rob, I agree with getting rid of gauges that are not used. But the usefulness of many gauges are not apparent until you have to diagnose and fix an issue with a piece of equipment or plant resource. This is also the time that maintneance guys find out that the gauges are broken or not working correctly.

Part of my strategy was to remove the gauges and place a quick-connect fitting in its place. Then when the need to view a gauge arose, pop one onto the fitting. However, I could see that in some enviroments (like chemical gases/liquids) this may not be appropriate. Also, it is really hard to install a hydraulic gauge onto a fitting under high pressure!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: It could blow up a plant
Rob Spiegel   10/17/2013 11:52:27 PM
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Yes, GTOlover, it's hard to replace a gauge under high pressure -- or, if the gauge is way below the water -- as in the BP spill. I can see the potential human error that happens then the engineer looks at two gauges and one reads that everything is OK. The difficulty of dealing with a problem may lead the engineer to assume -- wrongly -- that the gauge showing building pressure is the broken gauge. If the author of the book on the BP spill is correct, that judgment cost lives.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: It could blow up a plant
Charles Murray   10/17/2013 6:14:31 PM
I believe the 25% figure. As much as we at Design News write about modern, networked, electronics technology, we often forget that not every plant is so up to date. Sometimes, if there's no reason to replace something, it gets old, and when it gets old, it often breaks.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: It could blow up a plant
Rob Spiegel   10/18/2013 11:08:56 AM
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That's right, Chuck. Gauges are usually mechanical, and thus they break. When they break, they don't stop anything. All you lose is your ability to monitor what is happening out of sight. But that could be critical.

Charles Murray
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Re: It could blow up a plant
Charles Murray   10/18/2013 6:08:54 PM
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I agree, Rob. Your point yesterday says it all: "If the gauge doesn't matter, why have it there?"

naperlou
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Network those things
naperlou   10/17/2013 12:43:05 PM
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One solution is to network and instrument the guages.  Today this a very inexpensive proposition.  In addition to helping with monitoring the plant, it would help to characterize the guages and systems they measure over time.  Just throwing out a measurement instrument in a plant today seems a little archaic.  Think about the instrumented composite wings Ann talked about recently. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Network those things
Rob Spiegel   10/17/2013 11:35:06 PM
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Good point Naperlou. A simple electronic signal -- setting off an alarm on the control side -- when the measurement goes into its red would seem enough, especially if it's backed up by scheduled visual checks to make sure the gauge is working.

Car-Nut
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Iron
WIKA
Car-Nut   10/18/2013 8:59:41 AM
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As the Logistics manager for WIKA U.S., I must say it's nice to see an article about our organization. Thanks DN.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WIKA
Rob Spiegel   10/18/2013 11:24:26 AM
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You're welcome, Car-Nut. This is an interesting subject, a weak spot at plants, and a dangerous weak spot at that.

bob from maine
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Platinum
Re: WIKA
bob from maine   10/18/2013 12:19:20 PM
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Rob; One issue about gauges is they are usually direct plumbed into whatever they are monitoring. Thus a broken gauge replacement requires shutting down that entire line and exposing the contents to contamination from outside or vice versa. Putting gauges on shut-offs that permit removal without leaks and making all gauges moveable such that the 'normal' is always in the same orientation. For most processes, gauges are 'trendicators' more than an accurate readout. The percentage of defective gauges is not surprising but what may be surprising is the number of gauges that no longer serve any purpose. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: WIKA
Rob Spiegel   10/18/2013 12:25:54 PM
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Bob from Maine, I suppose one approach to this is to replace the gauge during scheduled downtime. That would mean some gauges would be inoperative during the wait for downtime, but that may be the most efficiently way to deal with this problem.

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