Careful, data-driven planning combined with OEM expertise is the key to a successful plant turnaround
CHAPTER ONE Turnarounds have a significant impact on future plant performance
The fundamental tension between managing risks and ensuring maximal production is greatly amplified when process plants plan and execute turnarounds, typically understood as major shutdowns lasting anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months.
Turnarounds are expensive and the stakes are high. Anything can happen from the moment the process is shut down to the moment production returns to normal levels, and an extra day can add losses of millions of euros. Every turnaround is also unique and as such presents a unique set of challenges for the teams involved.
Turnarounds have a significant impact on future plant performance. A successful turnaround will increase production capacity, improve product quality, maximize energy efficiency, reduce unit downtime due to equipment problems and lower operating costs. On the other hand, latent problems left unaddressed can have severe consequences on process performance and safety in the following years.
In short, carrying out a successful plant turnaround on budget and on schedule with no Lost Time Injury requires good planning, skillful management and a good understanding of how to keep equipment in peak condition.
Valves are one of many pieces in the turnaround puzzle, but one with a disproportionally large impact on the process. The goal is to return valves to “as good as new” condition so that they continue to perform as intended, won’t cause unplanned outages and will not adversely affect the safety of the plant.
This places a heavy burden on the planning team whose task is to select the right valve to pull for maintenance within the constraints of a set budget and timeframe. Just as elusive a task is to select the valves that should not be sent for unnecessary maintenance. This places equally heavy a burden on the execution team to ensure valves are pulled, services and installed back in the pre-agreed sequence, while meeting all quality and safety expectations.
Achieving all these goals calls for a partner who not only understands the plant’s needs and targets, but also has the expertise and proven methodology to implement best practices in any given STO.
Neles has been manufacturing valves since 1956 and servicing them globally since 1975. Today the company offers valve services through its 40 service locations and anywhere in the world. Neles’ teams were involved in 250 larger shutdowns in 2019.
CHAPTER TWO Longer intervals and higher targets introduce new challenges
50 years ago most process plants shut down on a yearly basis. Today – with increased focus on uptime, technology and reliability – turnaround interval in the oil and gas industry typically range from three to six years. Integration between interdependent plants – for example refining, petrochemical and industrial gas sites – is also more common, and turnarounds are becoming increasingly complex and expensive.
Pushing planned outages further apart from one another while at the same time meeting rising availability, safety and environmental targets has introduced its share of new turnaround challenges. To begin with, this creates more demand and more wear on critical control and sequencing valves, and fewer opportunities to pull emergency shutdown valves for inspection.
In response, process plants have increased their focus on diagnostics, predictive maintenance, good process control and poorly behaving equipment. Digitalization has also offered new solutions to make sense of the data generated.
Another key challenge for process plants is lack of staff experience, as many technicians may in fact be participating in their first turnaround. This shortage of skilled staff is one reason turnaround costs are expected to continue to rise in the coming decades.
This is where bringing in the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) early in the planning phase and keeping them involved throughout the project will pay off. Neles knows the equipment it has delivered over the years better than anyone. Neles has also learned how to leverage the experience it has accumulated over years of analyzing and troubleshooting shutdown and startup problems to predict and guard against them. Ultimately, Neles sees itself as the ideal reliability partner to help process plants prepare for the unexpected and ensure the safety and availability of the plant until the next planned shutdown.
“It is very important that customers can rely on our know-how during a tightly scheduled shutdown project. Having us as a reliability partner for shutdown planning secures that the right valves are maintained and that the correct materials and resources are available when needed,” says Sami Nousiainen, VP of Services at Neles.
Being well prepared and working with partners with extremely high HSE standards contributes to occupational safety too. It’s not uncommon for on-site staff numbers to triple during a turnaround project, and more accidents occur during a turnaround than at any other time due to open piping, crowded conditions, overtime fatigue and the presence of a large number of contractors.
“Our major concern is the safety of the customer’s and our own personnel. Therefore, our people follow the customer’s and Neles’ safety rules stringently, whether the work is taking place on site or at Neles’s or the customer’s service facilities. Following the rules and planning the work well are key to a safe workplace,” Nousiainen emphasizes.
CHAPTER THREE Defining and executing the valve scope is a project in itself
A typical process plant is laid out with hundreds of valves that are good candidates for workshop maintenance. The first task of the turnaround planning team is to determine where to focus efforts and budgets.
A basic rule of thumb is that the turnaround scope must be aligned with the plant’s overall business objectives. Valves that have little immediate effect on production costs, product quality, process reliability or safety – and obviously those that can be serviced while the plant is running by way of a bypass line – should be the first dropped from the scope.
The next assumption is that all valves do not operate, wear and affect process performance and safety equally. Valves are regularly added to turnaround scopes for no other reason than they have always been on the list, but criticality and process demand should have a strong influence on a plant’s maintenance strategy for valves.
Data extracted from smart devices and control systems can also give insight into the health of equipment and justify adding or removing valves from the scope list.
“We currently use diagnostic data, performance data and historical maintenance data to determine which valves need be maintained during a shutdown. In the future, we want to be able to utilize this data even more effectively,” adds Nousiainen.
As valves generate data and trends, so do Neles’ years of experience manufacturing and servicing them. This has recently allowed Neles experts to write application-specific recommendations for maintenance and build custom plans for inventory, turnaround maintenance or obsolete equipment upgrade.
All these strategies aim to focus turnaround budgets on the problems that deserve the most attention and/or will bring the greatest return. This also eliminate unnecessary work.
CHAPTER FOUR Expert support available
In addition, dedicated Neles shutdown project managers support process plants to tackle a common pitfall of turnaround planning: lead times. Starting with the desired date and planning backward, time is allowed for purchase orders to be processed and issued and later for equipment and parts to be manufactured, shipped, received and inspected.
Even the best-laid plans can’t account for the unpredictability of an STO once the valves are pulled and opened. Spare parts may for example be needed at the very last moment. In such cases it is crucial that plants can count on a partner who will react quickly.
The involvement of Neles experts – on site or at the workshop – during the turnaround ensures the plant’s valves are serviced with the highest quality and safety standards. These service experts are backed by Neles’ global network of specialists and can promptly detect and resolve problems during startup to ensure a quick return to full production.
Even as a stressful turnaround project reaches its end, it’s important to document all the work and results, and evaluate lessons learned. Neles provides tag-specific service reports, test certificates as well as recommendations for future maintenance, upgrades and replacements.
This information will help process plants answer the following questions in assessing the success of the turnaround: a) did careful planning prevent the turnaround team being overwhelmed by surprises? b) was the intended scope of work completed on schedule, on budget, according to quality requirements and with the highest possible safety and environmental record? c) was the turnaround accompanied by a smooth startup and reliable unit performance? d) has work already been identified for next outage?
The end of one maintenance project is also the start of the next one. These recommendations will help the process plant negotiate regular maintenance more confidently and contribute to continuously improving the planning of future STOs.