04 Planned and Emergency Turnarounds

Up front planning plus a real time “war room” is the key, here


My first job as a college graduate in Chemical Engineering was within a Chevron refinery which had recently completed a large construction program, doubling in capacity, making opportunities available for us energetic young turks anxious to find out and prove of what we are capable. In this competitive environment, one of the goals was to run planned and emergency plant turnarounds. These are exciting: a unit is shut down usually about every two years and work is performed against the clock which is running at $100,000 per day or higher in lost earnings during that period. Inherent in this work, are several strategies that are common throughout the industry:

  1. Upfront planning including work packages,
  2. A war room mentality and
  3. After the job reports – Post Mortems


Bold Decison:

The bold decision here is simply to utilize the turnaround mentality on large grass roots projects, particularly in the later phases of such jobs.


Work packages

The content of a work package is simple: everything that is needed  to execute the work, all in one place.  The scope of the work is defined, all of the required drawings and specifications are attached, and all of the materials that may be needed are listed, along with where they are located in the laydown area.  These are pretty hefty documents, typically generated by the shutdown engineers, but thoroughly reviewed by operations, maintenance and inspection.

In terms of partitioning, each work package generally relates to an equipment piece or a small geographical area.  There may be twenty of these on a small turnaround, fifty to a hundred or more on a large one.  A really large piece of equipment, such as a FCCU regenerator, may have several work packages: a procedure to cool down, open and stage for inspection, a package for anticipated repair to the shell and refractory, a package to repair the steel supports which often deform in the cool down process, etc.


The “War Room”

The war room will be large enough for twenty or more people.  It will have quick access to the unit drawings: these may be stick files or drawings on rolls, but they will have the latest revisions and will be available for real time problem solving when issues arise.  Standard specifications and company practices on equipment, metallurgy, lock out and tag out procedures, etc will also be available.  As will additional copies of the work packages and the documents upon which materials were ordered, delivered and located.

The walls of the room will typically be devoted to easily update-able graphics for performance metrics, work sequencing and schedule tracking.  The constrained resource on a turnaround typically starts with opening equipment, inspecting for surprises, and further defining work scope, after which the constrained resource may be how many workers can effectively attack the work within the space available.  I have seen a wall that utilized index cards to track the work packages and the smaller activities which comprise the work package, each card placed against the matrix of the calendar days and the shift within that day when work is planned, and then when it is completed,.  Cards are clever, because they are easy to move around.

There will be several meetings during the day.  The owner representatives usually have the first meeting to update status and identify key issues and actions for the day.  Prior to each shift will be the meeting with representatives from each of the contractors on the job.  They may also have an end-of-shift update session.  Separate meetings may be held to resolve specific issues, such as expediting material deliveries or developing a plan of attack for surprise findings.

Key to these meetings will be leadership from the man or woman with decision authority and timely support from his/her staff.  The tenor of the war room is not just that timely decisions are made here, although they are, but also that quality decisions are made because all of the relevant details and information are at the group’s fingertips.


End of Job Reports – the Post Mortem

The first step that a shutdown engineer will undertake in preparing for a plant turnaround, will be to review the end of job reports from the previous shutdown engineers.  It turns out that Chevron had a history of really excellent Port Mortems – the quality of such was a point of pride.  These included all of the major items, but also small specifics: the deisobutanizer trays have very small manways – make sure 5’4″ 125 pound inspector Joe Jones is assigned to that one.  And because of that, they had a record of very successful work on these.

This may seem like a small thing, but an attitude of capturing lessons learned is actually a big thing.  Every new project may seem like a stand-alone batch process, but capturing commonalities from previous work is extremely helpful.  We will explore in later chapters how this works towards predicting future manhours and costs: capturing actuals allows for better prediction of futures.

The naive manager might feel like his/her success will stand out more if the next guy flops, or he/she may just not want to put in the time and effort required for a good end of job report.  But… well, let’s just plan to be the type of person who does this right.



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