Planning for a turnaround

Without the efforts of professional craft planners and logistics professionals, turnarounds will be a serious challenge

T.A. Cook

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Article Summary

Refinery turnarounds are massive events. For organisations to be competitive, they must be able to manage these maintenance overhaul projects and meet all safety, cost and duration targets. Considering the quantity of labour, and the materials and services a turnaround requires, coordination is a huge undertaking, especially because all of these resources add up to significant sums of money. Beyond the financial pressures, the logistics of predicting the costs for all of the scope, which will include both known and unknown work, is particularly challenging.

A successful turnaround execution means that there are absolutely no safety or environmental setbacks, all cost and duration targets are met and the affected units are guaranteed to run at the expected rate as soon as the event ends until the beginning of the next scheduled turnaround. To reach that point, a site must have a strong preparation strategy in place. With the help of best practice techniques and organisation requirements, a site can control a maintenance project of this proportion. This article will explain how to properly detail planning, scheduling and overall management for the preparation of a successful turnaround.

Phase 1: planning, site-wide support, risk management
Before actually executing work, the right people need to plan how they will do it. Setting goals, developing strategies, outlining tasks, and creating a schedule are all important aspects of planning and form the basis of overall turnaround development. The first step in the process is to clearly define the turnaround’s objectives. Only then will the scope of work begin to take shape. Before the scope can be defined, let alone finalised, management must decide what work will be done, and what work will not be done, by creating a clearly defined set of criteria. The question of what should be included in the turnaround’s scope should be minimised at this stage by being as black and white and selective as possible. Any ambiguity will lead to scope creep. This type of spontaneous increase in work load will affect the event’s cost and duration and make it very difficult to maintain the already challenging targets.

Although there are many ways for an organisation to structure itself to perform a turnaround, one aspect is non-negotiable: this is a site-wide event and must be supported by everyone. Without this mindset, it is difficult to accomplish the turnaround’s objectives. Once the goals have been fully defined, management must make sure that everyone is aligned and understands all of the project’s objectives. In order to communicate all the details, management and decision-makers need to host an informative meeting for all turnaround stakeholders. In this meeting, decision-makers need to share all facets of the upcoming event. The areas of topic will include turnaround objectives, project preparation schedule, capital project integration, sharing of lessons learned from previous turnarounds, identifying the core turnaround team members and resource requirements as well as initiating a dynamic risk management process that remains in place until the project officially closes. The alignment meeting is the time for employees to ask questions and for management to provide answers. After this, the team should be on the same page and the overall site should be prepared for the event.

The initiation of a risk management process is a key piece of turnaround preparation. It needs to be mentioned that risk management is dynamic; it is forever changing. Risks are inherent to all projects, but fortunately they can be dealt with. If mitigating activities are planned, risks are minimised (although not eliminated) as much as possible. In most cases, the list of identified risks can be lengthy. However, core turnaround team members will never have risk mitigation as their only function. In order to efficiently and effectively manage risk, we must rank the risks and work on the ones that have the greatest potential impact on a turnaround’s success using a risk matrix (see Figure 1).

The turnaround team starts by minimising the risks with the highest impact. Risks will be added to and subtracted from the list based on the identification of new risks, mitigation of existing risks, and changing conditions. Even though not all risks can be managed, if the turnaround team focuses work on the items with the highest impact, the success of the project can be maximised.

Phase 2: scope management – definition and freeze
At this point, the site should have all the turnaround’s objectives defined, all personnel aligned and the scope inclusion criterion finalised. The next phase of the turnaround is selecting the actual work for the event. Developing the scope is a rigorous process. Once the team identifies each piece of work that could be added to the scope, they must evaluate it thoroughly using the defined criteria. If proposed work meets the requirement, it is part of the scope and if it does not meet the requirements staff should consider scheduling it at a different time, such as during routine maintenance, as part of a capital project, during the next outage (turnaround or otherwise), or cancelling the work altogether. Any proposed work that does not make the cut for inclusion in the turnaround still needs to be dispositioned properly.

Beyond scope, there are other preparatory activities during this phase which are part of the planning effort. One of these additional activities is coordination between the turnaround team and procurement to identify long lead time items based upon approved scope. Procurement will also be important to help the site develop contracting strategies based on whether or not scope is clearly defined. There are other factors to consider when selecting a contracting strategy, but completeness of scope definition is a governing factor. Besides organising with procurement, the final piece to the puzzle at this point is the development of a first pass cost estimate. To form the first pass cost estimate, the team must have a fully developed idea of the upcoming work detail. Scope development is a prerequisite for detailed job planning.

Finally, this phase is complete with the closure of scope development, also known as scope freeze. This can happen only after all identified scope has been challenged. Inspections personnel will determine this after thoroughly reviewing all the assets in the area where the turnaround will be executed. During these inspections, decision-makers will be able to consider poor performing equipment or bad actors prior to scope freeze. Once the scope has been determined, the team will be able to determine an accurate high level cost estimate. Additional scope may be added, but it is only warranted by changing conditions. For any additional work, the same rigorous scope challenge is applied and if the additional scope does not meet the challenge, the item must be properly dispositioned.

Phase 3: work packages
The next phase in the process is planning and creating the detailed packages for all work executed during the turnaround. At this point, the frozen scope should be completely clear. Without this, the planner must ask questions in order to completely understand. A well-written scope item should define the symptoms observed and the requirements to complete the work. Then, the planner will only need to visit the job site and begin to develop a step-by-step job plan. This detailed job plan is the first piece of the work package. The whole work package comes about as the product of the planning phase. Each and every task on the scope list will require a work package. That way, the personnel executing the work (usually a contractor) can perform the assignments successfully with little or no interjection from others.

Creating these work packages is a collaborative effort, but the site planner will take the reins. Typically, the planner collects all the required information, which includes visiting the job site to survey the work area and determining what is required to complete the tasks. A checklist is imperative to ensure the planner surveys the site well, asks all the right questions, and comes up with a complete and thorough work package. During this first job site visit, the planner may take photos or create sketches to help explain the task and the location.

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