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.
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.
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.
Forward-thinking plants have implemented new strategies to mitigate these challenges, including:
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:
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.
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The post Mitigating Shutdown, Turnaround, and Outage Issues appeared first on the Emerson Automation Experts blog.
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