Aging Equipment is Not Getting Any Younger

by Kelvin Severin PE

Time is constantly working against operating equipment in a plant. Over time, components of the equipment reach the end of their useful lifespan and need to be replaced. Manufacturers go out of business or are no longer producing parts for antiquated equipment. The technology advances, and new and improved standardized models are developed, causing components to become outdated or obsolete. Many processing facilities in the United States were built decades ago and have never been upgraded.


Maintaining aging equipment can be a challenge as parts for the old equipment are often no longer available or very expensive. For example, the manufacturer may no longer exist, or they may no longer produce the parts, or the components do not meet the newest revision of a regulatory standard.


If aging equipment is not managed properly in relation to its expected lifespan, it can result in avoidable safety incidents, or maintenance and reliability issues. Most equipment has a specified life expectancy and pushing it beyond its useful life can put an operating facility at risk. Some older systems and instrumentation do not have the technology for diagnostics and therefore have no ability to query or troubleshoot the operating issue, resulting in extended shutdowns. Additionally, companies may face a loss of production and revenue in the event of mechanical issues with a piece of antiquated operating equipment, systems, or instrumentation that causes the process to go offline.

Aged Obsolete Boiler - End of Useful Life

A cost-effective first step to address aging equipment is a conceptual level screening checklist, that evaluates equipment systematically to identify deficiencies in the components. Facilities may be unaware of serious issues, and this checklist allows companies to make informed decisions and prioritize potential upgrades to aging equipment. This applies to both long-standing operating facilities as well as companies who recently purchased an existing facility, as they may not recognize the condition of all assets and/or older equipment they acquired. Refer to the aeSolutions blog, “Prioritizing Fired Equipment Upgrades Using Screening Checklists,” for further detail: https://www.aesolutions.com/post/prioritizing-fired-equipment-upgrades-using-screening-checklists


After identifying areas of improvement, a plan can be developed for replacing the obsolete components that are approaching the end of their useful life. This plan should assess the safety concerns, mechanical concerns, and operational risks to the facility. It should also include a timeline for how soon the antiquated components should be replaced. The best replacement option is provided with qualities such as reliability and resilience to assure a long lifespan, aligning with regulatory codes, and adaptability to future system upgrades installed at the facility.


Every facility should review its equipment to verify its life expectancy and ensure it is safe and reliable for continued operation. Suppose a facility is unable to find replacement parts or utilizes replacement parts sourced outside of the normal supply chain from the manufacturer to adapt to the existing system. In that case, this short-term solution could potentially perpetuate the mechanical and reliability issues. A conceptual level screening checklist can assess the status of aging equipment components, and proactive replacement measures can be taken to create a system of longevity and resilience going forward.


Keywords: Obsolescence, Resilience, Robust, Outdated, Antiquated equipment, NFPA 85, NFPA 86, NFPA 87