What are shutdowns and turnarounds?
A complete guide to refinery shutdown and turnaround activities
What is involved in executing shutdowns and turnarounds?
Let’s get the basics out of the way, now. A turnaround – which is sometimes referred to as a TAR – is a highly-expensive planned period of regeneration in a plant or refinery. During this time, an entire part of the operation is offlined whilst plants are inspected and revamped. Not only are the tools and labour required for executing a turnaround extremely expensive, but the revenue lost through shutting down elements of production can amount to a significant portion of an annual budget. Turnarounds often throw up more issues than anticipated, making them difficult to keep on track, and requiring very experienced managers.
Refinery turnaround activities
With the world now completely reliant on oil and gas, planned cessations are a necessary part of the refining process. These turnarounds can be due to a need for maintaining, renovating, or refitting facilities – usually every four years or so. Turnaround activities require well-organised labour and equipment for a few weeks at a time – the duration of which are usually measured in shifts. Most facilities will be inspected during shutdowns and turnarounds, and so may have their turnaround extended if additional issues are flagged.
Extending turnaround activities may result in fuel shortages, price increases, or both. Strain is increased on other suppliers to meet demands, and turnarounds which become shutdowns can be catastrophic for supply at a regional level.
Turnaround activities may include preventative care of equipment, general corrective repair of faults, strip-downs, complete replacement and overhaul, or maintenance.
Refinery shutdown activities
Unlike turnarounds, shutdowns are not always planned. Often, if supplies of natural gas or other reagents needed for the manufacture of gasoline are lacking, refineries will simply grind to a halt. These supplies can be found wanting if the natural resources are scarce, or prices are simply too high – often, one as a result of the other. Shutdowns and turnarounds can also occur when accidents, natural disasters, terror threats, or political upheavals occur.
Shutdowns and turnarounds (and outages)
Outages are the third and most-often overlooked type of shutdown activity. Unlike shutdowns, outages don’t occur in an effort to protect equipment or personnel. They happen when power supplies are interrupted, equipment breaks down, or deliveries fail to arrive. They are also (usually) much shorter in duration.
The goal for all types of interruption should be to achieve a return to normal process within time (difficult in outages), on budget, with no harm to staff, and with as little unplanned work as possible. Additional goals often include a forward plan which should aim to extend the period between shutdowns, and set out how to implement short, targeted periods of maintenance.
Shutdown and turnaround managers are few and far between, and a smooth cessation and resumption of business is a difficult thing to achieve.
Planning successful shutdowns and turnarounds
Good planning is often the key to success, and with shutdowns and turnarounds, it is no less true. With an average duration of between three and six years, major shutdowns are dependent upon research into other similar events within the company and similar operators, cooperation across divisions and teams, and the very best industry knowledge. All major oil and gas companies are committed to developing both their scientific and service knowledge, ensuring that shutdowns prioritize what is best from a technical and customer point of view.
See also: top 10 oil and gas companies in 2018.
Equipment in need of maintenance, repair, or replacement should all be identified in advance, and the necessary resources, equipment, and personnel prepared on the back of this. A base analysis of a refinery will give an overview of the scope and duration of any shutdowns and turnaround needed. Last-minute changes and alterations may still occur, but with strong planning, deviations can be accommodated safely.
Evaluating shutdown and turnaround activities
Often, the best way to plan ahead for a shutdown or turnaround is to evaluate as soon as one has been completed. This will allow a company to learn from any mistakes, and to have a plan laid out years in advance. Not only are these events engineering- and maintenance-led, but they have significant impacts on all parts of the business – from the shareholders to the suppliers.
As entire business events, they can make or break teams, KPIs, budgets, performances, and entire companies. Because they are cyclical, these outages should be dealt with as holistically as possible, and not treated simply as a break in normal proceedings.
Risks: how not to proceed
There are a few key areas to focus on when proceeding with an STO.
- Ensuring all STO personnel are safe – this includes everyone from management to sub-contractors,
- Keeping the project to an appropriate timescale and extent – including the risk of misallocating resources or overworking on unnecessary tasks,
- Staying within budget – including the need to account for everyone’s time and energies: a sloppy budget will cause a sloppy TAR,
- Coordination of logistics – including the monitoring of external workers who may be unfamiliar with processes and the STO site, and
- Evaluation – including the collection of data metrics and the ultimate goal of improving business performance.
Crucially, all shutdowns and turnarounds should be well-defined, planned realistically, and executed efficiently. Failure to fully realise any one stage of the STO process could result in delays, costs, and potential damage to the business.
Understanding your turnaround activities
Before planning or implementing a shutdown or turnaround, all interested parties should be contacted and involved – opening communication across the business and beginning the process of identifying the scope of the project. All elements of the process should be planned and assessed, and the key decision makers should then be able to make a call on whether or not this clear set of objectives are attainable.
Planning your shutdown or turnaround
Once defined, the STO activities need to be organised. Tasks should be prioritised and scheduled, before the viability of the project can be assessed. It is at this point that materials and personnel can begin to be sourced and budgeted-for, and the normal operations of the company can be prepared for change. Risk assessments should be completed and any flagged issues resolved. Any changes to the plan should be made here, and the system for measuring the progress and success of the STO activity put in place.
Executing the STO process
As you would imagine, this phase of the turnaround covers the deployment of the planned activity. Keeping schedules updated and maintaining standards are vital to smooth operation, and management teams should ensure they have consistent monitoring capabilities. This part of the process also includes a return to function, and reporting on that restart.
If you enjoyed this guide, you may be interested in our guide to minimising downtime during an STO.