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Mitigating Shutdown, Turnaround, and Outage Issues

by , | Dec 19, 2023 | Services, Consulting & Training, Valves, Actuators & Regulators

Scott Grunwald

Scott Grunwald

North America Service Outage Planning Program Manager

Plant shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages (STOs) have never been simple, but in recent years they have become even more challenging due to labor shortages and difficulties procuring parts. My article in Processing, titled “Rethinking shutdown, turnaround, and outage planning,” discusses the impacts of these challenges on STO planning and execution, and it offers strategies to minimize their effects.

Increasingly limited availability of skilled workers, combined with longer and more variable lead times for parts, are forcing STO planners to rethink their execution strategy.

Increasingly limited availability of skilled workers, combined with longer and more variable lead times for parts, are forcing STO planners to rethink their execution strategy.

 

STO overview

A typical STO involves an expanded staff of hundreds of workers, often provided by external contractors, compressing months or years of normal maintenance work into a few weeks. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that tasks are defined, parts and materials are ready, and teams are coordinated. This has always been a demanding process, but particularly in our post-Covid world, new strategies are required to avoid major disruptions.

 

Supply challenges

Prior to Covid, most parts were stocked, or at least attainable from vendors within a few days, meaning replacements could be easily obtained in the event of unexpected damage discovered during an STO. But due to current supply chain disruptions, far fewer parts are stocked, and lead times are erratic.

Because of this, discoveries of unanticipated damage can become a show-stopper, forcing the plant to remain out of production until a part can be found, or an alternative solution devised.

In addition to parts, many big plants require armies of contractors to perform STO tasks including capital expansions, maintenance repairs, and valve refurbishments. In the past, worker supply was not typically an issue, but now, most support firms with skilled staff are booked months in advance.

 

Many STO planners are resorting to shorter outages focused on a single operating unit, like these distillation columns, rather than a facility-wide turnaround. This better utilizes the more constrained workforce available in most geographical areas.

Many STO planners are resorting to shorter outages focused on a single operating unit, like these distillation columns, rather than a facility-wide turnaround. This better utilizes the more constrained workforce available in most geographical areas.

Strategic STO adjustments

Forward-thinking plants have implemented new strategies to mitigate these challenges, including:

  • Stocking more spare parts
  • Standardizing on specific part makes and models to reduce the range of replacements required
  • Beginning STO planning earlier to ensure parts are available in time
  • Incorporating what-if analysis during planning to anticipate complications
  • Planning shorter, more limited outages, rather than taking down the entire plant and performing all STO tasks at once
  • Coordinating the use of contracted resources with other local plants
  • Including contractors in STO planning to ensure that the expected resources will be available

 

STO Pitfalls

In contrast to the above effective strategies, STO teams should beware of the following mistakes that are likely to lead to startup delays and unreliable operation:

  • Buying counterfeit parts, which often don’t work at all, or fail soon after installation
  • Hiring uncertified repair contractors, who may perform unsatisfactory work or use counterfeit parts
  • Assigning contractors tasks that fall outside of their skillset

 

Effective STOs in a changing world

For the greatest odds of success, plants should plan STOs well in advance and employ the strategies discussed above to secure necessary parts and labor. Knowledgeable external partners can assist in evaluating plant needs, identifying required parts, and overseeing work within their areas of expertise.

 

Are you looking for the right valve service provider? Check out Emerson’s service network, which includes Emerson service centers and Emerson Accredited Service Providers. Find your local service provider here.

 

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.