Years ago, the FRAM filter commercial became a cultural phenomenon of sorts: The contagious tagline that many still use today was, “You can pay me now… or you can pay me later.” The commercials depicted auto mechanics who recommended replacing the oil filter now rather than replacing the entire engine later. Even as a kid, that made perfect sense to me. A couple of decades ago, some maintenance managers actually built their reputations around “saving” money for their sites. They would find workarounds to offset turnarounds and bring huge reductions to their maintenance costs. They would get their bonus, accept their promotion and be off to the next assignment, but pity the poor guys who came behind them and tried to sustain their unsustainable maintenance model!
Depending on the product line, chemical plants can be especially susceptible to seasonal demands, market trends and general economic fluctuations, leaving them pressured to squeeze maintenance budgets literally to the breaking point. Despite these challenges, the industry has become savvier and turnarounds in chemical plants are increasingly essential to the stability of the equipment life-cycle.
These planned pauses in plant production allow for critical repairs, strategic upgrades and routine maintenance to take place. That’s not all though. Turnarounds can also cut down on harmful emissions and restore a plant to peak performance thus keeping the refinery in prime condition and ensuring production continues at the highest level. When dealing with chemicals, safety is a high priority. We all respect the same standards: No harm to people, no harm to the environment and no harm to the equipment. Turnarounds allow time for inspections to take place and product to be assessed, ensuring that every process is running as it should.
The opportunity to stop production also allows for the restoration of catalysts in chemical processes. The catalyst is an important part of production for chemical plants as it speeds up reactions by providing alternative pathways for breaking and making bonds. Without catalysts functioning correctly, production time starts to lengthen and products can suffer. Thus, taking the time to manage these important factors is crucial in chemical plant turnarounds.
The fact that chemical refineries share the same resource pool as the oil refineries is both good news and bad news. The good news is all the processes, procedures and lessons learned about turnarounds in the oil refinery are directly transferable to the chemical refinery turnarounds. The same contractors perform the work, the same vendors supply the equipment, the same shops do the rebuilds and the same project controls personnel manages the planning, scheduling and cost. The bad news is these resources, especially the personnel, are limited.
With smaller budgets in many instances, chemical refineries have a greater need to avoid waste when it comes to turnarounds and should give careful attention to all the established basics and best practices.
Quality Management: Ensure you are seeking out the best management team for your turnarounds. This is not the place to squeeze your budget dollars. No team can rise above the level of its governance.
Scope Control: The early development of a comprehensive worklist cannot be understated since it directly influences the priorities of the reliability group, engineering, procurement and planning.
Ownership: When the highest level of leadership shows the highest level of commitment at the earliest point in the turnaround planning, it inspires widespread ownership throughout the site, allowing the turnaround to receive the support it needs when it needs it.
Support: With knowledgeable people retiring all the time and more reasonable staffing strategies in place, plants no longer have all the essential people on hand to carry out successful turnarounds. Obviously, plants have to bring in world-class support to achieve world-class results.
Although turnarounds are sometimes seen as a necessary evil, they have also proven to be extremely beneficial. Statistics are beginning to show this change in thought as the number of turnarounds scheduled for chemical plants is on the rise. This recognition of benefits stemming from turnarounds will be sure to establish excellent performance and safety in this growing industry.