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Jan-2009

Beyond turnaround planning

Utilising process- and unit-specific knowledge transfer to improve turnaround execution. A better approach is needed to ensure the transfer of critical event information to an experience- and discipline-diverse workforce

Brian Cormier Resource Development Company
Charles F Gillard C F Gillard and Associates

Viewed : 3981


Article Summary

How often is a plant’s year spoilt by poor performance on a maintenance turnaround? Excellent safety and environmental performance, outstanding cost management and near perfect reliability — all hard earned through great effort — can be destroyed by poor performance during a single turnaround. Turnarounds are almost always well planned. The problem lies in executing that well-crafted plan.

Successful execution is dependent on communication and information transfer from the planners to the doers. Moving from a traditional informal and unstructured approach to a knowledge engineered communication and information exchange programme greatly decreases the risks, cost and duration of turnarounds. A structured approach and detailed agenda for turnaround information exchange that ensures success are imperative.

Maintenance turnarounds and process unit revamps are arguably the greatest points of exposure for refineries in terms of safety incidents, production delays and lost profits. These events require a tremendous amount of planning, awareness and motivation to ensure a safe and successful execution.

Turnarounds are a time when the unit is in a constant state of flux through shutdown, de-inventory, clearing and cleaning, mechanical work-over, inventory and startup. The number of personnel supporting these activities rises and falls in a typical bell curve-like fashion.

Planning and scheduling activities begin months or even years in advance. Plans and contingencies are revised again and again with the help of operations and maintenance staff, tenured personnel, outside supporting vendors and refining peers. Much time and effort is spent planning every conceivable detail, with the single-minded goal of performing the work safely and on schedule. The product of this effort is often a thick binder containing marked-up P&IDs, blind lists, expandable Gantt charts and pages of procedure check-off sheets. Now what?

Executable knowledge transfer
Herein lies the fundamental problem. Unfortunately, the same zeal applied to planning and scheduling is too often not paid to transferring those critical details to the minds of the personnel actually executing the work. Many work groups (including operations, technicians, contractors and vendors) are given a one- or two-day overview of big picture concepts such as critical path, a shutdown/de-inventory strategy and a general timeline of execution. This type of training is usually given in a group classroom setting about four to six weeks prior to oil out, but regrettably provides no verification that the necessary knowledge has been successfully transferred and can be applied when executing the work list tasks.

While the variability and lack of detail provided in such traditional training sessions have long been a concern, the skilled workforce attrition that the industry faces today magnifies the risks, increases the need for best practices and calls for a new paradigm: process- and unit-specific knowledge transfer.

Skilled workforce attrition
Senior plant operators are retiring in unprecedented numbers, and with them goes invaluable best practices, process knowledge and expertise. They are being replaced with new hires, each with a unique background and varying degrees of expertise and knowledge. Many have never been through a unit turnaround before. Detailed process- and unit-specific knowledge transfer is needed 
to close the knowledge gap and 
reduce risk. 

Operations staff are becoming leaner because of this demographic change, and time is often not available to operators for training activities outside of their daily operating tasks. Maintenance resources are stretched too thin to take time away from repairing process equipment. Event-specific training and awareness for contractors, who will be brought in by the hundreds to support the field work, is often limited to general refinery safety training and tailgate job safety analyses (JSAs) during shift change.

Yet, the probability of safely meeting the turnaround event’s goals and objectives so heavily depends on these groups working closely and effectively together. How can your refinery ensure this complex co-ordination has the best chance of happening and certify that everyone has the knowledge they require, both by craft and individual, to work safely and productively to meet your turnaround schedule?

Communication is key
The success of any turnaround can be greatly improved, while reducing the associated risks, simply by implementing a rigorous, well-structured knowledge transfer system that communicates the proper process- and unit-specific information, specifications and procedures to all those involved. This means that all of the tasks, schedules, priorities, contingencies and perceived risks that should or might occur to a group of workers, who range widely in terms of craft, experience and responsibility, need to be documented, structured and delivered to the appropriate audience through a validated process. 

Conversely, miscommunication and misinformation typically lead to poor decision-making, which creates misdirection and ultimately results in confusion and potentially hazardous situations. That confusion becomes contagious as shift changes take place across all disciplines and can easily cause a schedule delay of one or two days before everyone can realign as a team and regain momentum.

The other vital part of a successful turnaround is the agreement on common goals and objectives by all the departments involved. Nothing will kill a turnaround faster than departments working independently toward their own objectives. It takes many disciplines working as a team to achieve a successful turnaround, and only one group or department from the usual sectors of management, process engineers, maintenance, operators, turnaround co-ordinators and contractors with misaligned priorities can cause large amounts of discourse, delays and costly setbacks. For this reason, everyone must agree on the primary target and process of the turnaround to improve the chances of success and reduce risks. This can also best be achieved by transferring and certifying the understanding of the goals, assignments and work details in order to create a cohesive, efficient and unidirectional team. Communication is the key. But with so many diverse groups and talents, dissemination of information must be done in a way that is efficient and effective.


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