Turnarounds Are Being Deferred

PetroVietnam Dung Quat Refinery is another of the growing list of sites announcing the deferral of their planned major turnaround for 2020. Anyone who has worked in a refinery or petrochemical plant will know that the last year of the cycle is tough - equipment is fouled, pressure drops are higher, equipment is damaged and performing sub-optimally. This drives routine maintenance workload up dramatically, requiring careful planning to avoid workforce overload, high overtime costs or unplanned shutdowns/non-availability of critical equipment. That’s why, for me, it has always been a massive relief to finally start a shutdown, so everything can be refreshed ready for the next campaign.


Operators are facing several difficult challenges – keeping the plant performing effectively and at minimum cost; and the rapid rescheduling of a complete turnaround, with some items being brought forward into mini- and block-wise shutdowns ahead of the main event.


COVID-19 Is Presenting Serious Challenges
While the current difficult market conditions are a perfect moment to do a full turnaround, COVID 19 and the resulting social distancing laws are making this impossible, forcing facilities to limp through until it is safe for their employees and contractors to work in close proximity again. That timing may, unfortunately, coincide with some improvement in margins. The focus will then, naturally, be on minimizing the turnaround duration to get back into full operation as quickly as possible.


Digitalization Can Help
Challenging times require a new mindset and innovative technologies. Digitalization and having a detailed digital plan can ensure that maintenance activities are as efficient as possible. Field maintenance technicians can have a complete overview of the work to be done on a rugged tablet: the field location, tools required, replacement parts needed from stores, safety, lifting and maintenance procedures, operating instructions, drawings, etc.


Digitalization of maintenance activities enables pre-planning and optimization of routine maintenance tasks in detail, as well as providing a platform for turnaround planning that offers an environment for simulation and ‘what-if’ scenario development, ahead of the start of maintenance activities.


COVID 19 has also brought online collaboration to the fore. Digitalization enables remote monitoring of ongoing field maintenance tasks (helping to minimize person-to-person contact), an overview of the real-time status of the job and the tracking of personnel locations (especially in relation to the location of other work crews).
Turnarounds represent the extreme of maintenance planning and execution activities. Typically, these are the most complex maintenance tasks that a refinery or petrochemical facility faces, requiring many man years of advance planning. The decision to defer a turnaround is not one that is taken lightly – factors such as availability of contract resources, cranes, cost of holding long-lead replacement equipment in stores, as well as local market factors (neighboring facilities’ turnaround schedules) and many other issues, all need to be accounted for. The ability to rework and re-optimize a complete turnaround schedule very quickly is a key benefit of digitalized turnaround work processes – which can also be used to manage personnel interactions and the relative proximity of crews, plus the implementation of effective 24/7 shift working plans to pre-emptively assess the impact of any longer term evolution of social distancing regulations.