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Striving For Standards

Striving For Standards

Developing standard work processes is a challenge in a global economy.

"I guarantee you for something as fundamental to our business as gasoline blending, there are eight different ways we do that," says Tom Artz, chief information officer of global refining for Chevron Corp. Artz made the comment while speaking about the need for standardized manufacturing processes and interoperability at his company during an ARC Advisory Group forum in February.

In April, at UGS Corp.'s users conference, keynote speaker Fred Bellio related his company's struggles with too much process variation. "Software is great, but it's all about processes," said Bellio, director of global product development, processes and systems at boat engine maker Mercury Marine Group. He added that without standard workflows, "technology will allow you to make mistakes faster."

Bellio's and Artz's comments resonate during an era in which manufacturers are grappling with ways to streamline operations that are dispersed globally. Chevron owns and operates eight refineries worldwide. Mercury Marine has manufacturing facilities in 11 countries.

Even in the midst of record profits, Artz says his company could do a better job of standardizing work processes. The $210 billion petroleum giant is in the process of re-evaluating how it performs work functions at each facility, according to Artz. "We're going to go back with a clean piece of paper and say, We understand what we've done for the last 30 or 40 years, and they're very mechanical and very geographic-based manufacturing work processes,' and we're going to map out those business processes, those planning processes, those optimization processes and those reliability processes," Artz says. Chevron will also analyze the performance management mechanisms that have been established.

The next part is a little more challenging, Artz notes. That's when the company will evaluate the operations as a whole and the skills and attributes that are necessary to support those work processes.

Chevron Corp. is establishing work process standards at refineries such as the Pascagoula (Miss.) operations.
Another step in creating what Chevron refers to as the "refinery of the future" is to add a feedback loop between the company's operators and mechanics and its engineers. "One of the things we're very conscious about as we go through and re-engineer our work processes is to make sure we get those feedback loops in there so we can get the right information into our models and keep reinforcing the work processes," Artz says.

In process industries, such as oil refining, many manufacturers are automating certain procedures to limit variation and reduce risk, says Dave Woll, senior process analyst and vice president of consulting for ARC. For instance, if an operator is required to follow a sequence for starting a compressor, typically each worker performs the task slightly differently. Automation equipment will execute those operations the same way each time, he notes. "The industry is recognizing benefits by automating implicit operations so they become explicit," Woll says.

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