Achieving turnaround success

Large maintenance overhaul projects are complex, expensive processes, often with unpredictable challenges that call for best practice techniques.

T.A. Cook Consultants

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Article Summary

Managing a turnaround is a complex challenge. The many individual activities and their respective resources need to be coordinated in such a way that the overall duration of the plant downtime is minimised as much as possible so that revenue losses do not mount when the refinery is not running. As a result, most plants are prepared to properly invest significant financial resources if start up can be achieved sooner.

However, the sheer volume of work required during a turnaround means that all refineries face difficulties when organising, managing and executing turnarounds and shutdowns to completion. A large turnaround can include up to 150000 individual activities. With this level of complexity, approximately half of all shutdown projects are delayed by more than 20% and 80% go over budget by more than 10%. Frequently, the work scope increases unexpectedly by up to 50%.

With the help of a series of case study examples, this article will explore turnaround challenges within the petroleum refining industry. Each case study highlights individual problems a site may face in addition to the typical difficulties of planning, scheduling, communication and scope management. Although it requires experience and expertise to recognise potential pitfalls, every obstacle has a solution and in these examples the ways in which sites were eventually able to carry out a successful turnaround are highlighted.

Case study 1: cross-site consistency
In the first example, a North American multi-site company wanted to implement standardised turnaround cross-site consistency for 20 turnaround events it was planning over a five-year period. Although the company had implemented a variety of best practice improvement processes, the scope and resulting schedule continued to exceed the desired objectives.

By implementing new work processes, the capex process was better integrated and management procedures were aligned with industry best practice. To support sustainability, managers identified and analysed the span of control and addressed the issue of resource bottlenecks. To promote proactive management behaviours in the field, compliance to the new procedures and sustainable solutions, all managers participated in behavioural based training and on-the-job coaching.

Massive turnaround projects must excel in many different areas in order to have a favourable outcome. In this case, the 10-Box model for turnaround excellence (see Figure 1) was used to analyse the various aspects of a turnaround. Tools such as this are helpful to assess the effectiveness of integration of the key components of large projects.

Through a rigorous review process with a focus on each individual aspect of the turnaround, the company was able to achieve consistency in its turnaround execution. In the end, it was able to generate 15-25% budget reduction savings over a five year period.

Case study 2: planning procedures
In the second case study, a Canadian refining facility was preparing for an upcoming turnaround. Unfortunately, as the turnaround was quickly approaching, it became clear that it was not going to meet the initial forecasts. A one-week assessment was carried out to identify gaps in the preparation and subsequent improvements to the execution process. The evaluation used data analysis and interviews with key personnel to establish exactly what was delaying planning activities and how those factors could be improved.

The assessment shed light on two key issues in the process. First, only 55% of the planners’ time was actually spent on planning. Second, skilled turnaround planners within the facility were in short supply, which led to reduced planner motivation due to overwork and made supervisors reluctant to carry out active management for fear of losing key planners at a time when no replacements could be easily found.

To address the problem of poor planner utilisation and bring it back on track, the team developed a new focus on their planning management processes. Supervisors worked to establish exactly what goals should be achieved and when. Then these milestones were used to create daily and weekly expectation schedules, which supervisors could use to track planners’ productivity, communicate responsibilities, graph progress accurately and improve the ability to forecast completion. Managing the details of planning preparation for turnaround gave stakeholders the ability to stick to deadlines and provided more transparency in the preparation.

Availability of a skilled workforce is a problem many firms face, especially in Canada, due to the remote locations in which many companies operate. The company’s managers and supervisors identified the level of skills the planners possessed, including their expert knowledge, the software available to them and their ability to use it. This emphasised the exact gaps in planners’ abilities and helped managers address manpower/skill deficiencies for turnaround planning long term. Specialised training topics were developed to close the identified gaps and increase the overall level of competency. By coaching supervisors in active management techniques, the company enabled the supervisors to manage planner productivity better. As a result, by addressing the productivity issue, the firm was able to recover to schedule without spending an additional CAD$1 million.

Case study 3: communication and scope
The next case study explored in this article highlights a large European refinery that suffered from ineffective communication and transparency during preparation for turnaround, which in turn led to difficulties in identifying actual scope. An analysis and external audit was conducted to identify specific deficiencies.

The analysis showed inconsistent compliance to the defined process of scope preparation. The organisation had poorly defined roles and responsibilities, resulting in certain roles, functions and responsibilities not being filled with skilled workers who could competently perform the job. Good meeting practices were disregarded, with several key players choosing not to attend meetings or arriving late and unprepared. Management did not have a reliable plan based on accurate work estimates or work list execution to define and freeze actual work scope properly. Additionally, contractor management was weak, and key performance indicators (KPI) and benchmarks were poorly defined.

A formal, structured scope definition and management methodology was developed and introduced, which helped increase scope accuracy. The budgeting process was revised to increase accuracy and frequency of information being available to improve timeliness of decisions. By redesigning meeting cadence, supporting meeting terms of reference, and introducing new KPIs, the refinery better utilised relevant management operating systems, improving turnaround governance, interface management and contractor coordination.

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