As a result of unplanned maintenance required at its Oil Sands Base plant last November, Suncor's monthly output fell well short of original oil production goals.

Suncor, Canada's largest energy company, recently had to share a bit of discouraging news with its shareholders. As a result of unplanned maintenance required at its Oil Sands Base plant last November, monthly output fell well short of original production goals.

While the facility can usually be relied upon to deliver oil at a rate of 380,000 barrels per day, the averaged dipped to approximately 312,000 barrels during November as operations had to be scaled back to accommodate urgent repairs. This news was cushioned to a certain extent by the fact that the company was also able to report first oil at its Firebag facility.

With the new site safely commissioned several months ahead of scheduled, the company was lucky enough to defray the damages of lagging Base plant production with an average 130,000-barrel output from Firebag in November.

Few companies are blessed with an operational portfolio with similar size and diversity of Suncor, but the issues it encountered in November are certainly relatable. Although the company did not go into detail on the nature of the equipment reliability issue, the fact that it had to absorb a nearly 60,000 barrel per day production hit speaks to the problem's severity.

With so many components in its inventory and so many moving parts running around the clock at the facility, managing an effective equipment monitoring system is as challenging as it is important. Although Suncor's issues only threatened short-term revenue, every employee in the organization is depending upon maintenance teams to promote faultless safety while ceding as little downtime as possible.

While certain operation hiccups are unavoidable, the strength and depth of predictive maintenance practices usually determine how serious the incidents are and how quickly teams are back on their feet. And, in increasingly competitive and cost-conscious operating environments, the margin for error is only getting smaller.