How The Time Of Year Affects Plant Turnarounds

January 14, 2014

Turnarounds are such important, massive undertakings that they affect just about all aspects of a plant’s operations. In most cases, a turnaround will make up the majority of maintenance and service budget, ultimately affecting productivity, labor costs, and product quality. Because of the far-reaching effects tied to this particular service, there are many different factors that can impact a turnaround. The time of year is a very important factor that should be considered more often in planning discussions for a plant turnaround.

Time of Year and the Plant’s Production Cycle

One of the reasons that plant turnarounds are such expensive and time-sensitive processes is because the plant must be fully shut down during the turnaround, thereby completely ceasing production. It is very important to consider the overall production cycle of the business. Performing a turnaround during a time of peak yearly production demand may amount to massive fiscal losses. Completing the turnaround during a relatively slow or off period, perhaps with some surplus product already in the tanks and storage facilities, is likely to be a very wise financial decision.

It is critical to consider all the benefits that a turnaround yields and figure out the best way to maximize those benefits. For example, turnarounds generally increase the overall productivity of the plant and ensure that all of the equipment is operating safely and reliably, making unplanned and costly outages less likely. It is wise to schedule a turnaround so that it is completed just prior to peak yearly production demand and that the plant is operating at optimal efficiency during the most crucial parts of the year.

Time of Year and the Weather

Depending on the geographic location of the plant and the climate conditions in that area the weather can also have a big impact on the success or failure of a plant turnaround. During a turnaround it is not uncommon for a plant’s workforce to scale up dramatically in size, often increasing two or three fold, as crews become scheduled for longer hours. Since most of these people will have at least some commute to get to the plant, it could be a major project bottleneck if the roads in the area were flooded or covered in snow and ice. This could easily result in a much longer and much less productive turnaround.

Time of Year and The Fiscal Year

In most cases, plant turnarounds are the largest item on a company’s maintenance and service budget. They have significant impact on payroll and the associated costs of parts and equipment. An inefficient turnaround can make an otherwise profitable year dip in the red. On the reverse side, an effective turnaround that comes in under budget, could help salvage an otherwise dim balance sheet. It may be prudent to consider your company’s fiscal year when planning when to do a turnaround. Do you want to schedule it early in the fiscal year and shape the remaining budget around it, or schedule it later when you have a better idea of how much money is left in the budget for a turnaround?

Time of Year and Resource Availability

Turnarounds require a huge amount of resources to perform effectively. These resources come in the form of equipment, parts, and materials, but also human capital. Planning for a time when all of these resources will be readily available is important to consider. Effective management and oversight of the turnaround is crucial and employing key personnel is particularly important to a turnaround’s success. If one or more of these key individuals will be retiring or leaving the company soon, it may be worth considering moving up the date of the turnaround.

The most productive turnarounds are usually planned down to the minute details: the careful selection of parts, equipment, and contractors, clearly stating and communicating objectives, designing a thorough schedule, and monitoring the turnaround’s benchmarks throughout the process. Though time of year is only one aspect of a much bigger picture, it should still be considered carefully because like other factors, it can have a major impact in the overall success or failure of the shutdown.