Pros, cons with ageing and modern plants

What is less recognised is that entire processing plants are also affected by such market dynamics, unearthing a lack of contingency planning for owners when operating problems unexpectedly hit these relatively ?light gauge? plants.
Resources processing, primary industry, materials handling and large port handling facilities have also been affected by economic changes and are of a much lighter gauge construction than in decades past, yet fewer in-house engineering teams are in existence today for ongoing structural assessments.
This often exposes a lack of expertise due to reduced company overheads and foresight, according to Australian engineering design consultant and R&D company Soto Consulting, which has stepped in to close this ?unpredictability gap?.
?It?s a form of risk management but more importantly it analytically forecasts where a new, lighter gauge plant is likely to fail and therefore stay a greater step ahead of stress and fatigue related failures and problems,? managing director Frank Soto said.
?The reality is that whether the plant is old or new, each has its unforeseen problems, whether that be the old plant for wear and tear reasons or the new plant due to design constraints forced by economic changes and untested operating conditions.?
Soto said older plants could still operate well beyond their original design life of 20 years due to the conservative design approaches used in the past.
?Now that everyone is focused on reduced capex for projects, the conservative approach has changed to an optimal approach and therefore plants are being designed for a much lighter gauge than in the past. 
?Therefore their life expectancy might not achieve the forecast 20 years required by the plant owner and operator in order to realise the return on investment.
?But the new plants are expected to operate at increased tonnage rates that will surely test the life expectancy and reliability of the plant. It is inevitable that those industries that have selected the lower-cost capex option may be burdened with much higher operating costs over the life of the plant.?
He added that because every square metre of operating land was rising in purchase or lease value, more and more technologies were being compacted into a tighter space. In the past, plant was installed on a much bigger footprint.
?As a lot of plant design and engineering is outsourced, there is not as much legacy thinking compared to when done in-house, as was common in the past,? Soto said. ?We find the most successful approach is to work in sync with plant management, more or less as an in-house engineering team, and bring world?s best practice.
?We aren?t technology owners but we will ask the right questions according to needs and design accordingly and logically.?
Soto?s experienced engineers undertake a visual inspection to locate deficiencies, even at a design stage. A structured risk management approach is then taken to identify risks based on likelihood and consequences. Risks are prioritised and categorised, with both photographic evidence and written descriptions to support the required actions.
It is essentially an in-depth technical analysis, with predictive modelling identifying where the weak spots are and where upgrades are most required.
?The days of operational plants having big in-house engineering are gone, so outsourced plant design has less incentive to perform for the long haul,? Soto said. ?This is where performance analysis becomes a competitive edge and a predictor of weak points to stay ahead of costly breakdowns and downtime.
?As long as the plant has been going, whether it is 50 days or 50 years, it will always need some improvements.? 
Source: Soto Group

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