Updating fluid systems

Tips on how to achieve effective installation of fluid system components during a turnaround.

Swagelok Company

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Article Summary

It is never a simple task to undergo a plant turnaround, and chemical plants and refineries must consider all the nuances involved before deciding to undertake one. Typically, hundreds of technicians from different companies are involved, all working on different tasks at the same time, particularly when they are revamping and renewing specific systems or entire plants at once.

One of the significant challenges facing plants as they consider a plant turnaround is the potential downtime. In the case of larger facilities, it can take years of planning and represent major time and money investments on behalf of owners/operators. Therefore, it is important for owners/operators to handle turnarounds as efficiently as possible to limit associated costs and on-site risks. The following best practices will help you better manage a cost-effective turnaround.

Engage early with trusted suppliers
Planning is an important aspect of an effective plant turnaround, as it can help owners/operators avoid potential problems. One way to improve project planning is to engage early with important parts and service suppliers because major fluid systems are multifaceted. The systems often necessitate specialised parts and components made from specific alloys, depending on what they are used for. As a result, it can take longer to engineer and fabricate specialised parts – but the earlier your supplier is involved in the process, the more efficient it can be. Proactive engagement with a supplier can also aid in getting parts in stock well in advance of when they are needed.

Identify areas of new opportunity
The expectation of all turnarounds is that the system will return to its original, optimal working condition once completed. However, the best turnarounds use the revamp opportunity to improve the overall system as well. These improvements can provide even higher reliability and performance than previously experienced.

Making systemic improvements requires approval long before the turnaround itself to ensure you are meeting management of change requirements. Owners/operators who have engaged with their supplier early in the process have advantages at this point, and the suppliers can suggest how other changes might enhance systems even further.

Replacing traditional grab sampling elements in a system with pre-engineered and assembled grab sampling panels is one such system improvement that may initially get overlooked (see Figure 1). It does not alter the overall design of the system but will allow technicians to capture proper samples more easily.

Be prepared for the unexpected
It is important to understand that, during any turnaround project, there will be contingencies that will have to be accounted for in the planning process. By making allowances for those variables, operators can guarantee a more efficient project.

Sometimes operators have no way of knowing which parts – and how many of each – will be necessary to stock during a turnaround because fluid systems are large and complex. In those situations, it is often helpful to have a variety of hoses, valves, and adapters in stock prior to beginning the project so they do not have to be ordered once the installation has begun.

Keeping excess inventory, however, can be costly and ill-advised, especially if the parts go unused. Working with suppliers that can allow you to stock temporary or consignment inventory eliminates the potential costs for unused inventory and can make the project run much more smoothly.

Ensure availability of local support
Inevitably, something will come up that you were unable to anticipate, no matter how good your planning process, and you may need to order parts during the turnaround process. That is why it is so important to work with vendors who have appropriate local support capabilities. They will be able to ship – or even hand deliver if located proximate to the job site – the necessary parts in a timely fashion when such situations arise.

Installation of critical parts
Setting minimum installation standards at the beginning of any turnaround is critical, especially given the number of different technicians and companies involved in the project. After all, inconsistency is something that owners cannot tolerate during a turnaround because success depends on making sure everything works well together. That is why, when companies apply to help with a turnaround, they should be required to meet the necessary training and certification parameters as outlined in the specification of work. If they meet those basic requirements, it is much more likely they will have the baseline knowledge necessary to make sure everything is installed according to best practices.

Prefabricated assemblies
Since fluid systems in chemical plants and refineries are multifaceted and require intricate knowledge to ensure they work appropriately, it can be beneficial to use prefabricated, pre-assembled, and pretested assemblies before the turnaround begins (see Standardising fluid system components below). Once those types of systems are specified, installers will be able to put together the systems more efficiently and effectively, which can free up labour hours for other tasks in the turnaround.

As mentioned before, prefabricated grab sampling panels are suitable for these applications because they provide for safe, efficient sample collection (see Figure 2). Other areas of the plant or refinery where prefabricated assemblies make sense are in mechanical seal support systems, as they help to improve mechanical seal longevity. Finally, analytical subsystems like fast loops, field stations, calibration and switching modules, sample probes, and fluid distribution headers are also candidates for prefabricated systems because they simplify design footprints while bringing efficiency and consistency to operations.

Quality control
Quality control is an essential element of successful plant turnarounds. That is why it is critical to keep tight, up-to-date specifications on hand so that only the highest quality components will be part of fluid system upgrades and retools. It also prevents the intermixing of parts from different suppliers, which could significantly increase maintenance costs down the road.

Turnaround success
Following this roadmap and heeding these suggestions, along with input from reputable suppliers will enable plant or refinery turnarounds to go smoothly, while also ensuring the better long-term reliability and performance of your fluid systems.

Standardising fluid system components
The owner/operators of significant new oil and gas construction projects taking place worldwide are continuously looking for ways to save money while maximising their return on investment (ROI) and making sure their plants will run reliably for the long term.

Standardising fluid systems throughout their projects with high-quality parts, components, and assemblies will help achieve this. After all, these systems are mission-critical to the smooth operation of plants and refineries no matter what function they serve. If these systems fail, the operation can be crippled from the outset, affecting its long-term productivity.

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