26 Jun 2019

Are You at Risk? Here’s How to Look After Your Plant

refinery plant sunset

We’ve all heard the horror stories of refineries and petrochemical plants that let things slide when it came to maintenance. 

Remember the 2010 explosion at the Macondo plant in the Gulf of Mexico? The blue pod (the emergency disconnect system) had been rendered inoperable thanks to a miswired solenoid that caused a critical battery to drain. No one had managed to get around to fixing it yet... and then, disaster.

Or how about 2009, when a Caribbean Petroleum Refinery tank caught fire in Puerto Rico, setting off explosions in 17 petrol storage tanks?

Again, putting off maintenance was partly to blame: the tank-side gauge transmitter had failed earlier. Data was no longer being sent to the main computer system, so no one could tell that the tank was overfilling until it was too late. It turned out back then that these transmitters were going down all the time, but no one wanted to stop operations for long enough to fix them properly. 

You may be reading these examples with a shudder. Has your team overlooked seemingly small issues like these in the past? Have you waited longer than you should to switch off business-critical processes that need maintenance, because you couldn’t face the huge losses of revenue that might incur as a result?

Avoiding a Shutdown

Shutdowns and turnarounds are a huge headache for any refinery or plant. Most don’t realize, though, that it’s perfectly possible to keep things ticking over during maintenance. 

Switching over to a safe and effective backup solution during this time means you can access all the power, cooling, heating, dehumidification, oil-free air or other utilities you need to run your business as usual. With your business protected, there really is no excuse to delay.

The Domino Effect

One of the things that keeps many a plant manager awake at night is the way that major processes interlink, leading to a knock-on effect when one has to be shut down for any period of time. Typically, supporting equipment all along the chain goes offline, causing major delays to schedules and profits. 

The good news is, though, that this isn’t inevitable. One of our own clients, a large Gulf Coast refinery, faced this exact issue when they needed to close their crude unit for a turnaround, but wanted to keep the vacuum tower and other downstream units open in order to keep hitting their production targets. 

In this situation, we were able to use heat exchangers, pumps and steam condensates to heat the hydrocarbon feed and issue low-pressure steam on the tube side, allowing operations to continue and saving the refinery $14million as a result.

Final Thoughts: Organizing Maintenance

Every part of your plant will need to undergo maintenance at some stage, from IT systems to furnaces to individual heat exchangers. It’s absolutely vital that you address these problems the moment they are detected. 

Leaving it until too late isn’t just a financial disaster, it can lead to casualties. Plus, when there’s a simple, cost-effective way to keep production going during maintenance, you simply have no excuse to put things off any longer.