Effective preparation for turnarounds

Defining the objectives, planning thoroughly and ensuring operator readiness will increase the likelihood of a successful turnaround.

T.A. Cook Consultants

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Article Summary

When preparation and execution of shutdown, turnaround, and outage (STO) becomes second nature, the scales will tip in your favour. For operations, a shift of focus from production to STO preparation does not happen overnight, however. For every hour when production is offline, there is a major impact on business performance due to lost revenue. If not thoroughly planned, the transition from operating the plant to clearing the plant in preparation for a turnaround will lead to prominent failure.

Resource requirements not being identified, operator experience levels being below expectations, key roles and responsibilities not being clearly defined, and the shutdown and start-up timeline not communicated to the STO team are just a few issues that will negatively impact the schedule. It is essential that operations managers are committed to implementing best practices for STO preparation as well as production. With the guidance of an effective milestone planning process, efficiency can be maintained when the time comes to take the unit down for an STO. Adhering to the milestone process helps ensure that operations is in alignment with the STO team and delivers an efficient and optimised event. Following this approach, your organisation will yield many benefits:
- Standardisation of processes will be implemented across all areas within an organisation.
- Well defined resource requirements will deliver an effective utilisation of staff.
- Operators are more prepared to execute tasks during shutdown and start-up of the plant.
- The enhanced quality of work will lead to increased productivity.
- The STO schedule will be more viable regarding equipment availability.
- Progress reporting will be clear and accurate.

We all can agree that, in some cases, preparing for a unit shutdown is widely viewed as an ad hoc process, with preparation and training as needed and when necessary. Understandably, operations typically focuses on meeting production targets at the proper run rates and within strict quality and regulatory guidelines. Thus, when an STO comes around every four or five years, preparedness is not necessarily on the ‘high priority’ list. In order to change this ad hoc way of doing business, operations should start preparing for the next STO as soon as the most recent one has completed. The first step would be to review the lessons learned, implement the recommendations, and address what did not go so well. In order to do that, operations managers must commit to driving productivity and efficiency, whether the plant is running at full capacity or preparing and executing a procedure to shut the unit down and bring it back up after all mechanical work has been completed.

Operations is in the business of producing a quality product. The transition from production to shutdown and start-up must go more smoothly. And yes, there is a way to bring about this smooth transition. This all begins with a blueprint for a successful STO. A well defined milestone process outlines those deliverables for which operations is accountable for completing. I bring this up because I have experienced misalignment between the STO team and operations when it comes to planning for an event. It appears that there are silos that exist. Part of it has to do with area of focus and expertise. The key here is to engage operations early in this process and gain buy-in. Within that blueprint are guidelines, targets and deliverables that govern how to effectively strategise, plan, and execute an event regardless of complexity. This article will focus on highlighting those deliverables that are specific to operations during the preparation and execution stages of an STO. This, in turn, will boost the engagement of operations and ensure that accountability is maintained throughout the process.

There are four key phases for operations planning: define, plan, readiness, and execution:
1. Define: develop the SD/SU strategy and V-plan, organisation roles and responsibilities, section and system blinding programme for equipment isolation and the permit process
2. Plan: lock out tag out (LOTO) procedure, SD/SU procedure review and system packages, resource planning and equipment isolation documentation (blind list)
3. Readiness: operator training, procedure training, SD/SU schedule, ISO and P&ID mark-up, mobile equipment lists, checklists and permit preparation
4. Execution: progress reporting, modify staffing plan, permit issuing, system QA/QC and field support

Commitment and engagement
Preparedness is a way of life, not something that happens instantly. In the world of maintenance turnarounds, this statement is especially true. Developing a good strategy, planning, and organising ensures readiness and sets the stage for the successful execution of an STO. But what is essential is the commitment and engagement of the operations staff throughout all phases of the turnaround management process. As owners of the asset, operations personnel shift focus from day-to-day production to clearing and isolating the equipment in preparation for the turnaround work to begin. The plant is turned back over to operations once all planned maintenance activities and construction are finalised. The task for operations is to then resume routine production safely while ensuring that the unit is at full capacity within a short amount of time. Lost production, increased labour, and maintenance costs negatively impact a company’s profitability. When turnarounds are managed effectively, the impact on the bottom line will be less detrimental. Operational readiness is key to keeping costs within a specified range.

Front-end loading (FEL) critical dimensions are scope, cost, and schedule. In this phase, establishing scope is key to accomplishing favourable cost results and schedule adherence. Operations management must provide input into the scope of work for the turnaround. Participation in scope meetings during the beginning of the FEL process is crucial. In order to avoid costly expenditures, every item in the scope work list must be challenged. Needs must take priority over wants. Operations personnel have the working knowledge, experience, and expertise to play an integral part in what goes into defining the scope.

A successful turnaround also depends on having an effective organisational structure prepared well before the event takes place. The overall STO schedule includes the time it takes to shut down and start up the unit as well as the window where all maintenance work is done. So, even if all the scheduled work is completed within the set timeframe, the event will still be unsuccessful if the SD/SU of the unit takes longer than planned. In many instances, the start of the maintenance window is delayed because the operations manager failed to have the equipment available on the first day. For this reason, it is very important to ensure that operations are staffed to effectively manage the SD/SU phases. In order to accomplish this, a thorough review of the current SD/SU procedures must take place.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” There is no better example of this than the specific preparations needed for a successful turnaround. Turnarounds are periodic events wherein processing/production units are temporarily removed from service in order to revamp and make improvements. This pause in production has significant effects on output, thus making precise turnaround planning vital to the overall financial success of the company. Given the importance and critical nature of this event, operations personnel must be actively involved in all aspects of the turnaround.

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