Prevention Meets Innovation

The November issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine digs into maintenance and cleaning at ethanol facilities, writes Tom Bryan, president of BBI International and editor and chief of the magazine.
By Tom Bryan | October 23, 2014

There are several forms of maintenance, each generally falling into one of two categories: the kind you do before a problem happens and the kind you afterward. We learn in, “3 P’s of Maintenance,” that the former is preventative maintenance and the latter is corrective maintenance. Within the sphere of the first is predictive maintenance, which brings science and data into the profession. Predictive maintenance is all about forecasting future problems, and taking action to prevent or delay those problems from occurring. This month, Ethanol Producer Magazine Managing Editor Holly Jessen reports that top practitioners of ethanol plant upkeep are creating maintenance cultures built around the belief that equipment failure is predictable and can, therefore, be anticipated and planned for. Another way to look at it is precision maintenance, which aims to achieve maximum plant reliability through best practices like matrix utilization and asset criticality assessments, Jessen reports.  

In many ways, ethanol plant maintenance has a self-fulfilling effect. Plants with great maintenance run smoothly and safely. Plants that run smoothly and safely have maintenance teams with more time, money and confidence to do things right. The opposite is probably true of poorly maintained facilities. Maintenance takes discipline, of course, and that’s clear in “Avoiding Maintenance Migraines,” by EPM Staff Writer Katie Fletcher. The headache producers are trying not to experience, Fletcher reports, is unplanned downtime or emergency shutdowns resulting from deferred plant cleaning. Scheduled plant cleanings are one of the most fundamental forms of preventative maintenance, and these annual or semi-annual scrub downs are marked on service provider calendars up to 10 months out. From hydroblasting and dry-ice blasting to vacuum services and clean-in-place applications, producers book cleaning contractors early and rely on them heavily.

Also, this month, we look at how a relatively small Minnesota ethanol plant may position itself as a showcase of production efficiency after installing a system that cut its energy load by a third. EPM Senior Editor Susanne Retka Schill visited Buffalo Lake Advanced Biofuels LLC in mid-September. She got an up-close look at how the recently refurbished facility is commercially demonstrating an innovative low-energy solids separation technology. As Retka Schill reports in “Reinventing With LESS Innovation,” Buffalo Lake is not only separating syrup solids from its thin stillage, but eliminating centrifugation and evaporation—and 13,000 pounds-per-hour of steam and more than 300 horsepower in pumps—in the process. The outcome is an estimated annual savings of $1.8 million per year, which should yield a four-month payback on the modest $600,000 cost of installation. It’s another original, must-read EPM story.   

Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief
tbryan@bbiinternational.com