One of the most important planned events for any onshore or offshore facility is when production and operation is halted completely. This process, known as a turnaround, shutdown, or outage, is a major exercise in scheduling and organization, often planned up to a year in advance. It is during this period that operators conduct regular and necessary maintenance, modifications and servicing that is not possible while the facility is online and operational. The highly volatile process of oil and gas extraction and petrochemical refining means that safety takes precedence and staffing numbers are strictly controlled. The facility shutdown and evacuation of all potentially hazardous materials allows operators to fully focus on their planned projects and complete them in one concentrated period of time.
Steve Westcott is a Senior Construction Manager for GIS but has been on secondment to BP for more than a decade. As a turnaround specialist, Steve is very aware of the prior planning that is vital for a shutdown’s success:
“Here in the Gulf of Mexico, there are facilities of all ages from newly commissioned platforms to facilities that are hitting their third decade of operation. Turnarounds are crucial for the continued performance and safety of the site. Some minor repair projects, providing they fall into the safety parameters stated by the regulatory authorities, are conducted while the facility is operational, but the more dangerous, intricate, and major upgrades need to be prearranged and scheduled during a turnaround.
The hazardous nature of the oil and gases extracted and stored on site is not the only limiting factor, the fundamental difference are personnel numbers. The extra requirement of people needed to execute the work in an offshore facility is the biggest constraint. It’s tied to the number of beds that are available. When additional specialist staff are essential to complete the work, it is impractical to ferry them to and from the facility and shore. For a major event we use what is known as a ‘flotel’ – a floating hotel. When you’re conducting a turnaround, you have two full shifts working round the clock to complete projects in the shortest, scheduled time.”
And it is this key point, the scheduled time, that is most important of all for turnarounds. Should a planned shutdown of, for example, thirty days goes over time, even by one day, the impact can be significant. This deferred production can have a negative bearing on a company’s planned cash flow.
It is therefore an unprecedented fact that turnarounds must stay on schedule to remain on budget. But what are the factors that determine the success of an on-time turnaround? Steve believes it is accurate, prior planning that delivers a positive result and technology is the key to future success:
“There are many elements that make a significant impact on turnaround schedules. Once the finalized scopes are agreed, an estimated time for each job can be calculated. Those who calculate the length of time it will take to complete each task, are very good at it, so it’s not the accuracy of estimation that is the issue. Completed work packs for each scope have an itemized and detailed material list and the management and tracking of these materials is crucial. Delays and budget overruns are a given, should a vital piece of equipment be missing, especially when miles out at sea on offshore facilities.Several of the major energy sector organizations have embraced digital transformation of their practices and processes. I personally would not want to return to the ‘old ways’ of paper-based tracking and documentation. It was slow, inaccurate and efficiency and effectiveness was not consistent. In our business, we strive for predictability and using digital technology and specialist software helps us do that.
When we started using laser scanning combined with dimensional control, when planning a refit or repair, suddenly our accuracy went to 100%. Superior quality data from the first stage of turnaround planning mitigates any massive errors later on in the process. We know that what we’ve measured will fit first time and that gives managers a huge amount of confidence.I’ve used MODS software solutions during several major turnaround projects, the various products help with materials management, project visualization all the way through to commissioning. It is a faster and more accurate turnaround when using digital software, especially when it is all connected together. There’s less data entry, less paperwork, everyone can view what’s going on from anywhere in the world, signoffs are must faster and the crucial factor is, that using digital software and accurate, consistent data drives predictability and that’s what is needed.
And what I mean by predictability is that at every stage of the turnaround from planning, pre-TAR preparation, completing the scopes, all the way to commissioning, I don’t want any surprises. It is imperative that all the equipment and tools ready to go. By using barcodes and QR codes, you can scan and track where every single item is with Material management software. And you can see, much further in advance, where any delays might be and adjust the schedule or find alternatives.
When working a turnaround, we want to know what’s going to happen and when, we want the security of knowing everything will fit and all the components are there – predictability. And this ability to have better foresight is invaluable and ultimately saves the Operators time and money.It would be naive to think that there are no surprises during the planning, preparation, and executional phase of a turnaround. Best practice ensures there’s a contingency plan incorporated into the schedule during the initial estimation phase. Digital software, without a doubt, shortens schedules, improves efficiency and communication, and gives clarity and confidence to all involved. Operators who have embraced digital technology and have no doubt reaped the rewards; turnarounds become more predictable than ever before and without specialized software, you cannot be certain that your turnaround will be on time and on budget. A data driven turnaround is the future, the only way forward to ensure first time success and schedules stay to plan.”