CLIENT: An initiative to control costs at this multibillion-dollar company’s refineries and petrochemical plants included a management program designed to build issue resolution skills and embed a common problem solving process. The organization wanted to improve its effectiveness at performing root cause analysis and preventing recurring problems. Managers and engineers received Kepner-Tregoe (KT) Problem Solving and Decision Making training and began integrating the KT approach into issue resolution and improvement initiatives.

CHALLENGE: The opportunity to use the new KT approach arose at a plant when a recurring overheating problem developed in a compressor that fluidizes Cu-Al catalyst inside a reactor and recycles unconverted gases. The compressor was shutdown as a safety measure while the overheating problem was resolved.

SOLUTION: The troubleshooting team used KT Problem Analysis to focus on the relevant data. This revealed that a faulty bearing had caused the overheating. In the past, the preliminary response was to replace the dry gas seal, a $75,000 process. This time, the team took only the necessary actions and used a new process to replace only the $7,500 bearing. In addition, the team determined that bearing reliability is not only a function of bearing quality but also of bearing orientation within the compressor.

RESULTS: The compressor was brought online quickly, minimizing expensive downtime. Shutdowns can quickly reach $1 million in lost revenues. This was the first of many successful applications of KT process that have proved valuable in avoiding costly recurring problems, pursuing ongoing improvements and making cost-saving modifications.