Communication in the workplace is essential. It can often mean the difference between success or failure of a business unit or project if not done effectively. Poor communication in an office setting can lead to inefficiencies, misunderstanding, late projects or even lost business. This is no different in the industrial setting where the consequences of poor communication can result in quality issues, plant down-time and – more importantly – safety and environmental hazards.
During a recent site visit with a client seeking to improve a more than 10-year-old process sampling and conditioning system, we found that a major problem was the lack of identification and information on the control panels that operators use to sample hazardous materials. In many cases, operating instructions, valve tag labels, pressure gauge ID and/or flow direction information were either damaged and illegible from the field conditions, had fallen off over time or were never present in the first place.
We developed an innovative Customizable Graphic Wrap to help address this problem. Our wraps use a similar, but higher grade, engineered vinyl polymer used to advertise on the side of city buses, consisting of a polyvinyl chloride base layer adhesive finished with a top layer protective overlaminate. For any kind of panel mount or metal surface (including tubing), this provides a surprisingly easy and cheap improvement.
What we’ve found is that lack of system clarity, while less of an issue for an experienced operator who has taken hundreds of samples, is an increasingly large problem for the younger generation of engineers and technicians who are new to the facility. When a new operator is trained to take a sample for the first time, the instructions should be as straightforward as possible to follow the appropriate steps and safety precautions. Even experienced engineers and operators who are familiar with the unit will be advantaged by the clarity afforded by a clear graphical representation of the process schematic, the labeling and identification of flow lines, and intact operating instructions.
Our Customizable Graphic Wraps help alleviate the time spent trying to figure out a fluid system. The more time spent focusing on the process, task, or issue in the field and the less time spent sorting out what is what with a system, the better. This leaves more energy available to solve or address the process, task or issue at hand, which enhances time management, reduces mistakes and ultimately improves safety. For example, it is typical to have to lug out a stack of drawings or P&IDs as both a reference and an identifier in the field. A well-labeled facility may reduce the energy-intensive and time-consuming need to find a specific drawing and cross-check against the field installation. As time is a valuable commodity, clear instructions on operating procedures also aid in training and allow new engineers or operators to more quickly get up to speed and add value without also consuming time of senior mentoring personnel. When provided with something that is not only functional but visually attractive relative to other plant installations, an operations team may also take more pride in maintaining the system, keeping it clean and otherwise making sure that the unit is working properly within operating parameters specified on the panel.
Certainly, concerted attempts are often made to successfully impart all this key information and foster clarity and communication on new field installations. The problem is that most attempts to do so simply do not stand up to the test of time and the elements in the field.
The wraps, however, are durable, heat/solvent/UV-resistant, and designed to stand up to harsh process environments, places where incidentally the potential hazards are usually the greatest, such as an ammonia plant. It is common to see corroded metal and hardware in these environments, but where it has been used, the wrap has shown to be rugged enough to maintain its original sheen. Any debris or buildup can easily be wiped away to restore the original image or label quality without the risk of a label detaching or a placard falling off. The Swagelok Materials Science and Applied Technology Laboratory has also tested samples of the material under rigorous salt spray conditions and found no signs of edge delamination (see Figure 4 – Swagelok test report).