Equipment Type

Alyeska: Alaskan Pipeline Embraces Prevention

Preventive maintenance takes precedence over reacting to fleet failures, saving pipeline managers a couple million dollars in labor and parts costs

June 01, 2005

If the government requires that you be ready to respond to oil spills on a pipeline that stretches 800 miles through the Alaskan wilderness, almost any machine failure can appear to be an emergency. But with 1,500 units in the field, treating every breakdown as a crisis drew Alyeska Pipeline Service's resources away from preventive maintenance. High fleet costs pointed to the problem, and when they reversed those priorities, the demand for repairs fell even as the company saved millions of dollars in labor and parts.

Alyeska was formed by eight oil companies to build and now operate the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. It's a 48-inch artery that moves crude from North Slope oil fields far above the Arctic Circle to the ice-free port at Valdez on Alaska's southern coast. Since the pipeline was completed, Alyeska has contracted its fleet maintenance work force. ASRC has held that contract and presided over unprecedented change in the fleet operation over the past four years.

Alyeska

Headquarters: Fairbanks, Alaska

Specialty: Alyeska maintains and operates the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, and ASRC is its fleet management contractor

Fleet Value: $72 million

Fleet Makeup: 1,500 pieces including 159 Class 7 and 8 trucks, 495 medium and light trucks, 125 loaders, dozers, excavators and graders

Facilities: Three primary shops and five satellite facilities

Equipment-support staff: 76 total personnel including 35 mechanics, 17 service and support, 7 parts people, and 17 supervisors and administrators

Market Range: 800 miles of pipeline and right of way from Alaska's North Slope oil fields to the port at Valdez

In 2000, ASRC and Alyeska launched a comprehensive improvement plan developed by a steering committee chaired by Terry Howard, ASRC's director of equipment operations, and Dave Greenlee, Alyeska fleet manager.

"We didn't have very high PM completion; we were only getting about two-thirds of scheduled maintenance done in a timely manner," says Greenlee. "And what we were doing was not all that specific. We had a pretty generic oil and filter change for all machines in a given class."

The steering committee set a goal of finishing 95 percent of PMs on schedule.

"We decided we had to be proactive, and that meant some of these repairs would have to take lower priority," says Greenlee. "That's not easy to do when you have a guy screaming, 'I gotta have this thing back on the road!'

"But PM is a key to keeping those guys happy. If you can head off a potential problem at the PM stage, you save significantly on repair costs and on downtime."

They used Alyeska's fleet-management software to generate weekly and monthly reports on compliance with the preventive maintenance schedule.

"We divided the fleet up into geographic areas," says Greenlee. "It created a healthy level of competition between the various operations — everybody seeing everybody else's numbers. And it helps us manage resources."

As they pushed to meet schedules, they also launched a strategy to refine procedures and improve maintenance quality.

"We had to make the PMs unit-specific to take the guesswork out of the job," Greenlee explains.

Using their maintenance software's scheduling features, they built a database of procedures that list the parts necessary for each maintenance task as well as the lubricants and fluids and their required amounts. Now that information accompanies each assignment.

"The mechanic doesn't have to look in a book to find out what oils and filters to use when he's maintaining an unfamiliar machine," says Greenlee. "That saves a lot of time.

"And the unit-specific PMs help with training. When we hire in seasonal labor, everything they need to know is printed right on the PM order.

Steering to Savings

Alyeska and fleet-management contractor, ASRC, formed a steering committee in 2000 to outline strategies and track results as they restrained equipment costs. Terry Howard is the chairman and Dave Greenlee sits on the committee with several operations people. The group has directed the organization to:

  • Cut 33,500 man hours over the past two years (at a savings of $1.6 million)
  • Refine machine charge rates to return more than $8 million to the fleet operating budget
  • Increase equipment utilization and cut rental costs by 19 percent
  • Increase uptime, raising equipment availability to a consistent 97 percent.

"When the mechanics look at the PM online, they can click to see the manufacturer's service recommendations and service bulletins, if any have been issued on that machine," says Greenlee. "There's the machine's service history and pictures of what the unit looks like, too. It's a lot of information to help workers do their jobs better."

The Alyeska/ASRC fleet team applied expertise to making PMs more efficient as well. They assigned a 25-year equipment veteran, Ron Hall, to figure out the best ways to maintain each unit in the fleet.

"He went out and talked to people about the best way to do things," says Greenlee. "When he put a PM procedure together, we sent it to field people for review. We still modify PMs if we come across better ways to do them. It's a continuous improvement process.

"We increased the rigor of each PM to do the best maintenance possible, but we want to plan the work so it can be done as safely and efficiently as it can be."

Shifting labor from repair to maintenance stabilized machine availability between 97 and 98 percent.

In 2003 and 2004, fleet operations reduced labor by a total of 33,500 hours, at a savings of $1.6 million. Improvements to the PM program weren't the only changes, but Greenlee says they had the greatest affect.

"It freed up labor hours for other things that allowed us to be more efficient in other ways.

"We want to schedule as much of the shop work as possible, including repairs, so we can manage shop space and labor," says Greenlee. "When we schedule the work, we just order parts as we need them."

The value of parts in inventory has fallen from $2 million in 2002 to $1 million.

"You never really get away from reactive work completely — we still have some of it," says Greenlee. "But we will continue to minimize it.

"One of the biggest challenges out there now is to reduce problems caused by operators. We're getting a lot more feedback from data that the equipment itself generates — seeing instances of shifting at high speeds or engine over speed, and that sort of thing. We're setting our expectations and beginning to communicate them to operators.

"We follow the model that AEMP [the Association of Equipment Management Professionals] espouses with its certification program," Greenlee says. "We want to focus on the things like PMs and training that will prevent as much downtime as possible."

Truck drivers Fred Smith (left) and Cameron Crouse.
Truck drivers Fred Smith (left) and Cameron Crouse check loads and tires. Alyeska maintains the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, and heavy trucks are part of the 1,500-unit fleet working over 800 miles of Alaskan wilderness.
David Greenlee (left), Alyeska fleet manager, and Terry Howard, ASRC's equipment director.
David Greenlee (left), Alyeska fleet manager, and Terry Howard, ASRC's equipment director, review progress on the preventive maintenance program. Focus on PM cut $1.6 million in labor costs.
 
 

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