I’ve survived numerous stressful outages. So, let me share seven valuable tips.
First, line up extra craftspeople that you can bring in if necessary. By this, I mean have boilermakers available from companies other than the one hired to do the turnaround, and arrange for additional scaffolders, electricians, etc. The foremen managing these extra troops shouldn’t come from your primary contractor. Your primary contractor’s foremen will be swamped meeting scheduled goals.
As an example, during a 15-year internal inspection of a low-pressure vessel, we discovered enough cracks to tie up boilermakers from the primary contractor for eight days. This was unexpected and blew our schedule. We had to postpone work on other tanks until the next outage and set aside some projects. Knowing tank inspections were involved, we should have planned to have appropriate auxiliary staff on call to handle the other tanks and projects. In this case, we should have lined up extra staff including code inspectors and dye penetration technicians as well as foremen.
We learned our lesson after one turnaround from hell; on a similar project three months later, such preplanning enabled us to finish a day early!
Second, managers usually are inefficient in making decisions. They easily can burn through the clock, leaving little time for engineers and workers to implement changes. This process also ties up key people. So, break up tasks into smaller pieces and only involve those who must decide. Publish a daily report of progress.
Why not create protocols for decisions? For example, use vessel inspectors to estimate remaining service life and inspection frequency but also plan in advance what actions to take. This way, you can avoid delays from decision-making.
Speaking of protocols, consider cleaning and isolation. While these topics merit discussion during design of a pipe route, I can name dozens of pipe runs that apparently were expected to run forever. Proper isolation can include a block and bleed, i.e., three valves — two blocks and a bleed in the middle; two spectacle blinds and a bleed; or even a spectacle and a bleed for safe fluids like water. You regularly should review pipeline isolation and correct design errors during plant outages.
Third, ensure communication among operations, projects, process and contractors is as seamless as possible. You not only need radio channels dedicated to different departments but also access to those channels by everyone involved in the outage. A problem with having multiple channels is that critical people may not be listening to the correct channel. So, you need monitors who can page them or beepers for key people. You don’t want a crew costing $500/hr waiting for an operator to sign a work permit.
I’ve worked shutdowns where engineers responsible for project work weren’t given radios. Instead, they scrambled around on foot, logging miles around a facility and dashing back and forth between constructors, their foreman offices, on-site meetings, off-site meetings, warehouses, etc. This results in delays, exhaustion and mistakes. It didn’t help that cell phones were banned. Let’s face it, if a facility is cleaned and purged, excluding cell phones due to static electricity risk doesn’t make sense.
Fourth, establish responsibilities and assign those responsible the resources required to get the job done. If an engineer needs approval to buy gaskets, let alone major equipment, foremen in short order will bypass that engineer.
Fifth, while planning for discovery work seems impossible, make a concerted effort. Scaffolding can pose a particular problem. Vessel inspections require internal and, sometimes, external scaffolding. Failing to keep up on scaffolding resources can cause days of delays — so can lack of skilled boilermakers, electricians, instrument technicians and vessel inspectors. Also, plan for adequate production support, spare parts, tarps, blanks, valves, pumps, e.g., for removing storm water, etc.
Sixth, think about how to most effectively use higher level personnel such as engineers, foreman, operators, contractors, etc. Break down job assignments so such people aren’t crushed and, conversely, take advantage of any idle time by allocating additional work or having them fill in gaps, chase equipment deliveries, do hole watches (confined space entry), or even grab water for thirsty welders in a tank.
Lastly, try to avoid scheduling outages when large process plants and refineries using your constructors, scaffolders and engineering firms are doing turnarounds.
DIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing contributing editor. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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