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Industrial Shutdowns and Turnarounds

Factory of petroleum industrial plant with gas storage sphere tanks at twilight

Turnaround and shutdown projects demand pinpoint accuracy and execution for success

Turnarounds are scheduled events, while shutdowns are emergency events that are rarely, if ever, planned. In both cases, this scope of work completely shuts down a plant’s important processing unit or even the entire plant. Unique capital upgrades and common maintenance occurs in complex operations such as refineries, petrochemical plants, power plants, and pulp and paper mills. These activities are so broad and time-challenged, plant managers hire contractors to provide a turnkey solution to the turnaround’s scope.

Contractors hired to execute turnarounds face three challenges. Turnarounds are the most significant portion of a plant’s yearly maintenance budget and can affect the company’s bottom line if mismanaged. These complex upgrades often encounter significant surprises requiring quick field decisions to rectify. And after the initial installation, there can be additional plant issues as the process moves online towards full production.

Contractors meet these challenges by adopting unique turnaround management techniques that differ significantly from standard construction project planning. The focus is on the turnaround’s critical path, as event durations are calculated in minutes rather than shifts or days.

Steps To A Streamlined Turnaround

How can contractors provide a speedy turnaround and return the plant to production faster?

1. Inquire about the conditions causing the turnaround.

Closely review the scope of work. Is it a routine upgrade performed before? Is the project replacing worn out equipment with new equipment with minimal changes to the MEP plant systems? Or is this turnaround a significant upgrade in technology that could bring unanticipated conditions to the plant?

2. What sort of technical support will be on site during the operations?

If the turnaround involves new equipment, reach out to the vendor to identify the associates familiar with the new equipment. Their staff can be an informative source of past installation at similar operations. Also coordinate with the plant personnel, the location and availability of any key and spare parts in case of damage during installation.

3. If possible, ask to review any plant-conducted inspection reports.

Recent reports leading up to the turnaround can provide insights on potential trouble spots. The reports also provide the contractor insights on how thorough plant teams have been.

4. Try to secure a list of key decision makers.

Turnarounds often involve several different plant departments. Secure a list of those who will be involved in each step of the turnaround’s critical path.

5. Limit the turnaround’s scope of work.

One important coordination activity is to reduce the workload by performing as much of the plant’s normal maintenance requirement in advance or postponing some work until later. Some experts suggest that every dollar of maintenance that can be moved out of the turnaround and into more efficient routine periods will save significant dollars and time.

6. Clearly outline each team’s responsibility.

If the plant’s workforce is planning to conduct some maintenance activity, work closely with the operation’s maintenance staff to define each team’s responsibility. It’s important to coordinate sharing and movement of key support items such as cranes, scaffolding and telehandlers in space challenged areas.

7. Have someone on site to monitor conditions.

As the date for the turnaround nears, have someone on site to monitor conditions. A turnaround’s scope is dynamic, and many changes often occur as final inspections are made. Planning and scheduling are generally finalized until the scope is approved, generally near the shutdown date.

8. Some aspects of a turnaround can be work-order based.

Certain contractors may be asked to take on tasks that weren’t linked to the initial project’s scope. Productivity experts recommend limiting these requests to less than 30% of total turnaround cost to help focus on the cpm.

9. Urge your supervisors to adopt a quarter-hour planning approach.

Completing a task at 6:30 AM instead of 7:00 AM can have an enormous impact to the overall schedule and cost, as some plant downtime costs can tally at $50,000 to $100,000 per hour.

10. Plan manpower requirements carefully.

Include redundancies for key skills and experiences. Turnaround scopes are flexible. Staffing requirements change often during execution. Identify key personnel such as certified welders, millwrights, and crane operators to ensure additional support is readily available. This is important for continuous operations, as extended work assignments can lessen productivity.

11. Plan for unexpected equipment failures during startup.

Valves, differential pressure transmitters, and other parts that were working fine before they’re powered down, often fail on startup.

12. A large percentage of work can be postponed to a later window of opportunity if necessary.

Take advantage of these opportunities to streamline the main work. But work with the owner to ensure your team completes the tasks before leaving the project.

13. Safety is always paramount, but turnarounds present challenges to every successful program.

Contractors are working in new environments, performing special tasks, and under greater pressure. Many of these tasks can require special equipment, confined spaces, hoisting, and respiratory conditions. Be sure to be ready for all conditions. And have plenty of gloves, safety glasses, and vests.

14. Leave some wiggle room in your schedule.

Unexpected events can throw the project’s critical path entirely off course. Determine the lead time on additional consumables, repair materials, and maintenance supplies. One of the most disastrous things that can happen on a shutdown is to get to a critical task only to find that something that takes hours, days or weeks to order isn’t on site.

15. Build strong relationships with your suppliers.

This will prove essential as vendors understand common problems that emerge during turnarounds. There are several fast-setting materials designed for quick repairs, grouting, and foundation installation.

Constructing Equipment Foundations

Many turnarounds include the install of equipment on existing or new concrete foundations. Installation of these units have precise tolerances to ensure alignment and require uniform support. Contractors cannot achieve these requirements by placing the units directly on finished concrete surfaces as there could be irregularities that result in alignment difficulties and bearing load concentrations. To meet these tolerances, machine bases or soleplates are aligned and leveled by shimming with the resulting space between the machine base and the foundation filled with a load-transfer material.

And should the turnaround require the installation of new foundations there are additional considerations. Contractors must adopt different construction approaches when installing foundations for plant equipment that is either static or dynamic in operation.


The American Concrete Institute’s Committee 351 has published three useful documents that provide contractors the current best practices for these installations.

351.1R-12 Report on Grouting Between Foundations and Bases for Support of Equipment & Machinery provides an overview of current practices of grouting for support of equipment and machinery. The report describes materials and installation methods for both epoxy and cementitious-based grouts used as the load-transfer material between equipment bases and their foundations. Plant engineers will find the characteristics of placed material, test methods for forecasting long-term performance, qualification of grout materials, useful in the foundation design and detailing.

Contractors will also find the information useful when considering other grouting applications, such as under column baseplates or in precast concrete joints

351.2R-10 Report on Foundations for Static Equipment provides contractors information on static equipment foundation engineering and construction.

351.3R-18: Report on Foundations for Dynamic Equipment describes design criteria and methods along with construction requirements.

All three documents are available at www.concrete.org.

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