Opinion: Refining the turnaround process

An integrated planning approach involving all the interested parties in the turnaround process will help minimise risks during the actual turnaround, comment RPME's regular columnists Colin Chapman and Ekaterina Kalinenko.

Colin Chapman, president, Euro Petroleum Consultants.
Colin Chapman, president, Euro Petroleum Consultants.
Ekaterina Kalinenko, project director, Euro Petroleum Consultants.
Ekaterina Kalinenko, project director, Euro Petroleum Consultants.

An integrated planning approach involving all the interested parties in the turnaround process will help minimise risks during the actual turnaround, comment RPME's regular columnists Colin Chapman and Ekaterina Kalinenko.

In today’s complex business environment, turnaround planning and implementation is a critical activity for all refiners. Timing is crucial and it is vital that turnarounds be completed successfully and on time. Any delays can have a negative impact on the company’s margins, market position and obligations. Turnarounds can be for routine maintenance reasons, or for implementation of revamp or modernisation projects. Such types of major turnarounds demand in-depth planning – to be performed well in advance and by having all interested parties involved in the planning process.

Feedstock qualities may vary, with sour and heavier crudes. This coupled with above-mentioned variations of operating parameters may lead to faster depreciation and fatigue (including corrosion and deformation) of assets. As a result, having a holistic approach to asset management remains very important for long-term stable operation of the assets.

Nowadays, most companies understand the importance of taking care of existing assets on an ongoing basis rather than pushing limits and having to replace equipment more often – leading to unplanned and unwanted shutdowns. Predictions show that we shall see more scheduled plant outages, turnarounds and shutdowns this year and next, partly due to the fact that numerous new units are planned for start-up, and operators definitely would not want any delays or problems with integration within existing plants. Asia and the Middle East regions, and the US will be leading the way with turnaround activities.

Due to record processing volumes last year in China and few Asian countries, many Asian refineries are undergoing shut-downs this year – total outages in the first six months were around one mbpd more than in the same period last year. And, the US refiners will increase planned maintenance expenses by almost 40% this year. Long-term strategic planning is more important than ever in these changing markets.

Recent announcements of planned turnaround activity highlight the need for specialised labour in all key regions. Understanding the requirements of personnel and their timing for the required special equipment to perform the turnaround is critical in the planning process. Historically, during turnarounds, two out of three operators experience common problems such as not meeting maintenance goals, growth in cost and scope, and major and constant delays in the turnaround process.

For successful turnarounds, the recommended course of action includes creating a focused team that will manage the turnaround process through all stages – training, leadership and turnaround management with critical path analysis. Development, assessment and review of detailed turnaround execution plan and schedule are also part of the action plan.

Utilising tools and systems for planning, scope management, cost management, earned value management and execution of turnaround project controls become part of the action plan. Daily updates, progress and cost reporting, track and deviations recording, and trend analysis are also elements of the course of action.

Prior to major turnarounds, there could be an opportunity for operations staff to review different options to improve plant performance, including energy consumption and equipment troubleshooting issues. For example, heat exchanger maintenance and monitoring; reliability, availability and environmental safety questions; and updated planning and scheduling models and workflow could be reviewed. 

An integrated approach to asset management supports the objective for firms to ensure safe operations and continuous supply of high quality products. Through the active cost and schedule management, firms will be able to efficiently identify issues to facilitate changes and implement corrective steps to keep turnarounds on track.

Colin Chapman is president and Ekaterina Kalinenko is project director of Euro Petroleum Consultants (EPC). EPC is a technical oil and gas consultancy with offices in Dubai, London, Moscow, Sofia and Kuala Lumpur. EPC also organises leading conferences, including OpEx MENA 2018 – Operational Excellence in Oil, Gas & Petrochemicals – which will take place in Bahrain during 26-27 March 2018. For further details please visit www.opex.biz

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