Insights in a Refinery Turnaround Pit Stop for a Refinery – The Turnaround–Challenge

Author / Editor: Dominik Stephan / Dr. Jörg Kempf

If you want to see the checkered flag, you need to get your pit stop strategy right. The same applies to plant inspection, maintenance and revamp. With good turnaround organization and management, a plant shutdown can be turned into a competitive weapon. We were in The Netherlands to witness a refinery turnaround.

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Teamwork is vital when 15 companies from around Europe all have to pull in the same direction. As Managing Contractor, Bilfinger has total responsibility for all the work done, but some of the work has to be delegated to third parties.
Teamwork is vital when 15 companies from around Europe all have to pull in the same direction. As Managing Contractor, Bilfinger has total responsibility for all the work done, but some of the work has to be delegated to third parties.
(Illustrations: Bilfinger; © typomaniac -

7 A.M., Rotterdam, Europoort: the first faint hint of dawn appears in the dark sky over Europe’s largest port. A strong wind drives the rain through the dim yellow haze, and reflections of the floodlights can be seen in the oily puddles. The air smells of diesel, salt and rain. At this hour of the day, there is little sign of the normal busy activity at the docks and harbour facilities. A few seagulls languidly flap their way out into the darkness. From the direction of the Caland Canal, a tugboat can be heard sounding its horn as it tows a barge out towards the North Sea. The only place where the work day has already started is a construction site which incidentally is probably the biggest in Rotterdam. Hundreds of people are already hard at work at the Europoort Q8 KPE Refinery (Kuwait Petroleum Company), despite the fact that not a single drop of oil will flow there today.

Refinery Turnaround in Rotterdam Up Close - The Race is On!
Gallery with 16 images

The refinery is "dry" (or “sweet” in the words of the operator) and has been so for nearly a month. It is time for the turnaround, the general plant revamp which takes place at regular intervals. This does not however mean that things at the site are quieter than normal. A production plant which has been shut down is not generating revenue. On the contrary, every day without production is a day lost and easily costs the operator enormous amounts of money. Turnarounds of major industrial facilities are nothing unusual, but shutting down an entire refinery site all at once is something that even the experts do not experience very often.

Additional Information
The Project
Turnaround in the European Capital of Oil

Rotterdam is Europe’s most important crude oil transshipment point. Fully loaded supertankers can enter the port which is connected via pipelines to Antwerp and the Ruhr region. 101 million metric tonnes of oil were handled at the port of Rotterdam in 2004. Petrochemical facilities are concentrated in Europoort and Botlek where six harbor basins are reserved for tankers. This is where the Q8 refinery, a subsidiary of Kuwait Petroleum, is located. Lubricants are the primary products at the refinery (nearly two million barrels a year), but gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, bitumen, sulfur and kerosene are also produced on site. Q8 has around 350 employees in Rotterdam. Bilfinger has been a Q8 service and engineering partner since 2006, and it has been involved in 4 partial shutdowns during that period. A new turnaround strategy was introduced in 2013. Instead of revamping parts of the refinery on a two-year cycle, the decision was made to shut down the entire site every five years for about 2 months to do everything which needs to be done all at once. Both lubricant refining and gasoline production are shut down for maintenance and restarted again.

Until now, only half of the production assets at the Rotterdam site were overhauled simultaneously on a rolling two-year cycle. This is the first time that the entire facility has been shut down. So it is no wonder that hundreds of workers, arriving from all directions, converge on the site long before 7 A.M., many of them dressed in the Bilfinger Group's blue and yellow overalls.

Industrial Service Providers: Specialists for Tough Jobs

The Mannheim-based construction and industrial services company is a specialist in the turnaround business – The company has been a Q8 business partner since 2006. Bilfinger was involved in four shutdowns at Europoort, but a mega project on this scale, where an entire refinery is turned inside out, is something which commands the respect of even the experienced veterans. It is hardly surprising that Rainer Gross turns his head in every direction as he walks across the site. Rainer has a background in Mechanical Engineering and is head of the Central European Turnaround business at Bilfinger. As Contract Manager, he has responsibility for ensuring good teamwork on site and is also responsible for the customer interface. It is him that some Q8 employees come over to, to complain about several workers who seem to be rather disinterested in what is going on around them...

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