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Typical challenges during a Turnaround – expert's perspective by Sjors Wijgerde

Typical challenges during a Turnaround – expert's perspective by Sjors Wijgerde
15 January

Throughout my career, I have been involved in Shutdown’s, Turnarounds, and Outages (STO-events) from different perspectives at several different companies. Like everyone else, I have had to overcome obstacles that stood in my way. In this blog, I aim to shine a light on the challenges I faced in the past. In my experience, every turnaround has the same basic principles, but all STO events are differentWork-lists, also known as scope, are always very dependent on the maintenance needs and projects that must be implemented. I will go into some of the challenges I have come across and discuss how digital tooling would help improve some of these situations. 

My journey through the world of STO 

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, I started in a hands-on position as a service engineer for ABB, later transitioning to Supervisor E/I at Huntsman. Then I moved more into planning and coordination as PM Planner for Nutricia (Danone) and as Team leader Planned Maintenance for Spie (at Lyondell Basell). During my time at Huntsman, I had the opportunity to plan and coordinate E/I teams during the Turnarounds. In my most recent jobs, I scheduled turnarounds and maintenance work, and later moved into the role of turnaround management at DuPont. During turnarounds, everyone encounters typical problems and challenging situations. Below, I have listed some of the issues I encountered and the subsequent lessons I learned.  

Having the correct information in the field

It is crucial that all information is up-to-date and available to all parties involved. This sounds very straightforward, but is, unfortunately, not always the case. Incorrect information leads to rework, loss of efficiency, and or troubleshooting and may even lead to incidents. Moreover, retrieving the correct information during execution takes time, which leads to costly delays.  

In my time as a service engineer, I often experienced that the correct information was unavailable when the work was supposed to start. This led to waiting times and, ultimately, charging customers for it. On the other hand, I also experienced similar problems from the owner’s perspective. During turnaround execution, a contractor changed some drawings to represent the as-built situation and handed them over to the engineering department. However, these revisions were unavailable for operations during commissioning, causing issues during start-up, and leading to costly delays.  

These experiences highlight the complexity of information sharing. Fortunately, digital tooling helps with this. 

By centralizing all data in one platform, digital tools allow for efficient management and sharing. Also, customizable labels enable users to print specific information for designated individuals, and mobile applications facilitate real-time access, even from the field. For instance, a mechanic could access documents and use them to finish their work. Imagine how much time you can save by having all QA/QC documentation at hand during commissioning, and accessing it real-time in the field.  Digital tooling streamlines information access, fostering efficiency, reducing delays, and enhancing overall project effectiveness. 

Working in the same area or equipment

Addressing the challenges of working in the same area or with shared equipment is complex but crucial. Planning must account for the physical space required for execution activities. The difficulty is to take all other activities that might restrict access. Such as lifting activities, opening flanges on top of vessels, or X-ray examinations. While these considerations may appear obvious these relations between activities may seem small but overlooking them will result in significant delays.  

In a previous turnaround, it was identified during planning that project and maintenance tasks were occurring simultaneously in the same area. However, they were on different equipment, so it wasn’t identified as a clash in the schedule. Early identification of the clash during execution prevented start-up delays, but big adjustments were made to be able to ensure safe and timely completion. This could have been prevented if spatial relations between equipment had been considered.  

Managing this challenge is often overlooked and challenging, but digital tools with breakdown structures and asset information can provide assistance. For instance, breaking down the scope with different filters in digital tools can facilitate the creation of work packs per equipment. Additionally, the emergence of Building Information Modelling (BIM), traditionally used for project work, now offers opportunities to visualize changes in a 3D model. Increasingly, there are possibilities to relate work packs to the 3D model and identify potential interactions. 

Deviations and/or field changes

Deviations and field changes can significantly impact the success of plant commissioning, as illustrated by an incident during the startup of a debottlenecking and DCS migration project. While supporting the startup during a night shift, an issue arose with the valve controlling the main supply to the first reactor. Investigating the problem revealed that, contrary to the drawings, a new electric positioner had been installed instead of the specified pneumatic one. 

Despite great efforts in consulting scope and work packs, no relevant information was found. Consequently, the startup was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. The next day, subsequent investigation revealed that the valve replacement had been part of the turnaround scope, but a change was made but not adequately documented. The absence of registration for the field change resulted in an incorrect valve type being programmed into the software. This delayed start-up impacted the overall success of the turnaround. Although not the sole problem, proper control and follow-up of field changes could have easily prevented this issue.  


In the upcoming second part of this blog, I will address a few more common turnaround challenges. Meanwhile, feel free to join our LinkedIn Group and stay tuned for the update release! 

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