SPIR’s: are they worth the paper they’re written on?

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Oil and gas upstream projects typically rely on a document called a SPIR (spare parts interchange record) to collate the information on which they base their initial spare parts requirements. This SPIR document is issued to the operator by the EPC (engineering procurement contractor) having been supplied to the EPC by the manufacturer or the vendor of the equipment.

There are a number of issues for plant operators that arise from this process. The release of these documents by the EPC is often left until the very end of the project, or not at all, despite financial penalty clauses being inserted in the contracts. This is a particular challenge to the operator who wants to reduce the operating risk by purchasing long lead items early enough, and those who want to calculate the size of warehouse they require.

The format of the SPIR is frequently inconsistent; effectively being a paper form that has been recreated onto a spreadsheet and edited many times. In the end it resembles nothing much more than an optimistic vendor order form. Certainly it is an incredibly difficult document to extract data from, and as no two forms are constructed in the same way; extracting a complete project worth of data is a costly exercise in terms of both manpower and time.

In the age of the ISO 22745 part 40 it is frankly mad that people are still using these outdated methods of creating and distributing the vast amounts of data required for large projects. This spreadsheet has to be distributed through a laborious process and takes months if not years to reach its intended target, when it could be available to all parties instantly using a simple data exchange service.

I also take issue with the spares actually listed on the form.  Interpretation of what constitutes two years operating spares vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some list only basic consumables, as in their opinion, that is all that is required in the first two years, some list a full production BoM (Bill of Materials) that includes such items as pump casing. Neither approach is much use to the analyst trying to decide what spares to stock in the plant or organise an on-demand local supply for.

The companies that design and manufacture equipment rarely operate them, and EPCs do not always have experience of operating and maintaining plants, so why would you trust them to know what spares you need? Asking the vendor how he calculated the failure rates in your application gets an interesting range of answers, if you get one at all, although when you ask him if he will take back all his recommended spares that you have not used in five years time, you usually get the same answer! To be fair some major manufacturers do track component failure rates in the field, but they are few and far between.

Who ever decided to list the “two years recommended spares” on the SPIR?  How many plants are designed for a two-year life? As a materials manager working with the maintenance team, I simply want to know all the maintainable items required for the life of the equipment. My task is to determine the spares required to keep the revenue producing assets running for the life of the plant.

I do not want to spend subsequent years repeating the exercise to find out what spares I do not have, or which spares I will never use, you know, those spares that were purchased just in case, or those that were purchased simply to fill the warehouse.

When reviewing SPIR documents in order to determine the spares required for the operation, the criticality of the equipment, the maintenance capability, and an understanding of the planned consumption also need to taken into account. Furthermore, a number of organisations have strategies to run certain non-critical equipment to failure and then replace the complete unit rather than repair the item using the recommended spares. This information is, understandably, not on the SPIR form but is vital in the decision making process.

It never ceases to amaze me seeing a room full of people analysing SPIR forms and ordering the spares listed – using the helpful column added by the vendor – without taking these factors into account.

I have carried out many studies of MRO inventory for companies around the globe, and the two most frequent causes of non moving stock is spares purchased for equipment that is no longer exists, and more commonly, spares purchased for equipment where the plant maintenance capability does not exist to repair and item; motor and pump spares are the favourites. It should go without saying that there is no point in keeping a bearing for a motor in a zoned area for your repair shop to use if the repair shop is not approved to complete work to that standard, or does not have a facility to test the repaired equipment. Pump and motor spares are most frequently purchased and remain unused, as most often the maintenance strategy is to send these units out for refurbishment when they fail. So why were they purchased in the first place? Probably because they were very helpfully listed on the SPIR and the buyer has taken the easy route of taking the word of the manufacturer regarding the required spares or they have purchased the spares as part of a package.

A final thought on commissioning spares, another column frequently found on SPIR documents. Before you buy the commissioning spares check with the EPC, they will probably be responsible for these spares during the commissioning period and will be leaving you a mountain of unused spares, and usually be asking a silly price for them on handover. So in summary beware of overloading your warehouse with spares you might never use or have already purchased.

Peter Eales


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