The Importance of Turnarounds in a Plant’s Operations

Plant Shutdown

Plant turnarounds, also known as shutdowns, are one of the most crucial events in the routine operation of an oil or gas plant. They also have the power to strongly affect a company’s bottom line. A turnaround that goes badly, lasts for too long, or exceeds its budget could result in the company unexpectedly reporting fiscal losses. On the other hand, a turnaround that goes well and stays within its budget and timeline will make a huge contribution to the plant’s efficiency and safety…setting the plant up for even bigger success in the future.

What Is A Turnaround?

A turnaround is a scheduled period of non-production within the plant. That means that day-to-day operations cease completely during the duration of a turnaround and instead the focus shifts to maintenance related activities, cleaning, inspection, and repair. During this time the plant’s employees, and often outside contractors, work around the clock to get everything ready for the plant or unit to resume its regular operations. Speed is of the essence when it comes to shutdowns because they are extremely expensive in terms of production lost, increased labor and equipment expenses.

A turnaround generally includes the following phases:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Detailed Planning
  • Organizing
  • Execution
  • Closeout

Strategic Planning is the more generalized phase of planning in which a rough overview of what will take place and how it will be accomplished is determined. During the Detailed Planning phase the specifics are hammered out and more firm plans are set. In the Organizing phase work and tasks are distributed. Execution involves the actual business and tasks of the turnaround itself. The Closeout phase involves reports about the turnaround an analysis of results.

What Do Turnarounds Accomplish?

Refinery BoilerTurnarounds provide an essential opportunity for various maintenance issues to be resolved because they cannot be addressed while the plant is operational. They also allow for an internal inspection of equipment that would otherwise be impossible while the equipment was running or while it contains the product. These processes serve to improve the efficiency of the plant and also enable workers to fix or prevent problems before they cause even more costly outages or accidents.

Shutdowns also provide the ideal time for major system overhauls to take place. This can include replacing equipment and piping. Ideally a turnaround should result in the plant returning to peak performance levels when it comes back online and should allow it to function efficiently until the next shutdown.

Why Are They Necessary?

Turnarounds are necessary for a number of reasons. Most of the aforementioned tasks and benefits can only occur if the plant is temporarily shut down. Even though they render a plant nonoperational for a duration of time they are an important investment in the plant’s future.

However, turnarounds are also important because they are often mandated by various regulatory bodies. This is required with the goal of preventing accident and improving safety at the plant. In addition to regulations which might require the plant to have a turnaround periodically, they’re also necessary to meet the warranty requirements on various pieces of expensive equipment.

What Costs Are Involved In A Turnaround?

Refinery TurnaroundTurnarounds are typically perceived as a “necessary evil” by many people in the industry. This is because they are extremely costly. A turnaround lasting only a few weeks might cost the equivalent of an entire year’s maintenance budget! The reason for this is two-fold: increased spending to execute the shutdown and loss of production and profits during the process.

Turnarounds are extremely expensive in terms of the amount of labor that is required to complete the maintenance tasks. As mentioned before, a shutdown must be done as quickly as possible to prevent the plant from losing even more money due to halted production. This means that work is often done around the clock. Workers frequently amass large amounts of overtime and a larger workforce are routinely on the clock during a turnaround.

Turnarounds typically utilize various third party contracting companies. These contracting companies bring added value and efficiency to the shutdown at a cost. Plus during all the maintenance and cleaning there is a huge expenditure in resources and supplies. New equipment is routinely purchased or rented during shutdowns as well.

Who Is Involved In A Turnaround?

Shutdown WorkersDepending on the size of the plant a turnaround could involve hundreds or even thousands of people. It is very likely that the plant will utilize most of its internal workforce; however, it is also very common for additional contractors to be hired and for them to bring their own crews. This results in a very busy, active plant.

One of the key people involved in a turnaround is the Turnaround Manager. This vital role is the person who is responsible for overseeing the entire turnaround as a whole and who provides the primary guidance and direction for the work being completed. At some plants the Turnaround Manager may vary from turnaround to turnaround among the various key people at the company. However, in other cases the it may be the same person every year.

Ideally the main people involved in the turnaround will represent all of the key areas of responsibility as a whole. Typically this will include the plant’s Administration, Operations, Maintenance, Engineering, Health & Safety, and Quality Assurance. It is also very important that all of the people involved in the shutdown are well trained and understand their place in the turnaround process. This is important for contract workers who may not be familiar with the company; however, it is also important for the company’s regular, day-to-day staff because their responsibilities and roles can be different from their regular duties.

Ultimately the thing to remember about a shutdown is that though they are expensive, and also a major disruption from regular operations, they are extremely crucial. They provide an important opportunity for maintenance tasks to be completed that would otherwise never have the chance to be done. They also serve to ensure the overall safety and efficient operation of the plant itself. If they are completed safely and correctly, turnarounds will ultimately prove much more beneficial to a company regardless of the temporary expense and delay.