Plant Turnaround Faster, Safer, Cleaner: The Trends and Challenges in Plant Turnaround

Author / Editor: DOMINIK STEPHAN / Dominik Stephan

Inspections and turnarounds pose enormous challenges for plant operators and project engineers who have to aim for a short and safe shutdown — and yet cope at the same time with longer and longer inspection cycles, highly complex technology and ever increasing demands on safety. What direction is the turnaround business taking in these times of skills shortages and rising costs?

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Rising costs expected: staffing situation seen as a major cost driver in plant turnaround processes
Rising costs expected: staffing situation seen as a major cost driver in plant turnaround processes
(Source: T.A. Cook)

More and more to do and less and less time to do it in — there is no end to the increasing challenges in turnaround processes: As every day without production costs millions, the inspection intervals are stretched to the limits. At the same time, attempts are made to pack as many steps as possible into one single project. Instead of taking single assets out of production and overhaul them gradually, the aim is to turn around an entire site more and more often.

The equation are simple:increasingly complex turnaround projects, higher demands in terms of quality and safety and less time for the job all add up to rising costs. There is an expectation among a majority of experts (at least 61 %) that turnaround will be even more expensive in future — this was the conclusion of a survey by the international management consultancy T.A. Cook (“Komplexere Stillstände bei weniger Fachkräften — Trends im Turnaround–Markt” [increasing complexity of shutdowns with decreasing levels of skilled staff — trends in the turnaround market]). Around 74 % of the interviewees are expecting the costs for shutdowns and inspections to increase by at least 10 %, while over 20 % of them are actually expecting a much sharper rise in costs.

Labor, Safety and Quality are the Number One Cost Drivers

Primary cost drivers are not only labor costs, but also increased safety and quality standards. Further, operators are experience difficulties in finding staff with the necessary skills. While this situation may not yet have reached crisis proportions, many project planers fear that there will be a serious lack of metalworkers, welders and other specialists in future. Companies are also desperately looking for project managers and planners. As it is difficult to develop these skills internally and keep them up to date, companies rely on external service providers.

Money is Only one Factor in a Successful Turnround

However, operators cannot sidestep their duties by engaging external contractors: Plant owners must be able to keep strict checks on planning and working processes at every step. If they cannot do this, it is possible to bring in external project managers as “owner’s representatives”. In this position, these specialists represent the owner during the project in all matters, from planning and contracting right though to execution. Furthermore, they also are accountable to service providers and to the owner.

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