D-Day – 6
This will not be a ‘normal’ post in my blog. In only 6 days, the plant is shutting down in order for us to complete about 50% of the project that I have been working on for the past 5 years. Obviously shutting down a plant costs a lot of money and therefore we only have 56 days to do everything we need to do and then the plant will restart but only if we are successful.
This is traditionally called a turn-around – or T/A for short – and usually there is mostly maintenance work done. In this case, 90% of the work will be for the project. We are expanding the capacity of the plant quite significantly and therefore will have to replcae a lot of equipment, a lot of piping and many instruments. A lot of work, all concentrated in 56 days.
I plant to regularly add to this post during the duration of the T/A sharing the history of the project, our final preparation, eventual successes and failures as we go along, as well as my reaction to this special time since it is a first experience for me.
You may recall that my involvement in this project (the largest ever executed by my company) started in August 2004 when I moved to Baton Rouge. A lot of planning and work had already been done, but I was amongst the second batch of people added to the team. I have been involved in a rather small part of the overall project – the revamp of an alcohol plant – but probably the most complex because of what we are about to start in 6 days. In 2004, we did an initial evaluation of what modifications were necessary to the plant. In 2005 we refind our evaluation and actually designed the modified plant. These two activities are typically done by small teams – I was leading a team of 4 1/2 engineers in 2005 (one was only part time on my project) and there were probably only 50 people involve din the whole project.
Things grew in 2006 – the team which was mainly based in Houston, exploded all over the world. My team went to Singapore and we started to work with our contractor, and a team of 30 engineers and designers, on the next phase of design. Some of my colleagues went to Tokyo, others to Reading and still more stayed in Houston. What used to be 50 people quickly grew to several hundreds. But also what used to be a quick phone call in the middle of the day, became weekly teleconferences late at night in order to reach all the parties all over the world. Doing a world-wide project has some disadvantages. As the design progresses, people joined my team as well – these quickly became friends as we were struggling to keep up with everything that was going on around us.
From day one, we knew that the turn around would be the main event that ultimately defined how successful the project would be. From day one we also started to plan this one special event. We had initial estimates that went from 4 weeks to 10 weeks. We looked at doing several shutdowns in successive years. In late 2005 after another evaluation by experts, we settled on 8 weeks in a single event. And that is when the hard work started. Since then, we have been looking at the event in more and more details to confirm that we could indeed do all the work in only 8 weeks. The answer always came back: “It will be tough, but it can be done”.
Construction for the overall project is still just getting started – we only have 6000 workers on site today while we expect a peak closeer to 12000. However, the project I am working on is almost completed. Only 56 + 6 days to go and we should be done.
More on the road to the T/A in the next episode.
D-Day – 3
It is 1 May – labour day in most of the world, and I celebrated by working, of course.
The real planning for the T/A started in mid 2007 – yes, about two years ago. It is very important to know all of the activities that will have to be executed, and develop them into more and more details so that we know the exact sequence of activities, how long each will take, and how many people will be involved in each. The schedule has become more and more detailed until it now includes more than 20000 separate activities.
Over the last few days, we are finishing the final preparation, making sure that all the material is available, identifying where new equipment goes, where new piping goes, where to cut and where to weld etc.
I will actually be involved in the final stages of each activity which involve turning over completed work from the ‘project’ to the ‘plant’ so that they can actually start to operate it again. This involves the final verifications that all has been built to specifications and that it will be safe to operate. It should be easy, but it never is as everybody seems to have a different opinion as to what is “to specifications” and especially what is “good enough”. There are 4 turn-over teams, three during the day and one for the night shift. At the end of the T/A each team may have two or three T/O to do each day – and this is only a part time activity as all members of the T/O teams have other responsibilities too. My job will be to make sure that all progresses without hitches, or if there are problems, they get resolved quickly.
Much more to come on this topic.
D-Day – 1
We have done all we could. We now have to hope that it is enough.
The plant will start to shut down early Monday morning and therefore for the next few days, there are only limited things we will be able to do as there is a higher risk of spills and gas release – therefore no open flames in the plant and only minimum people around.
We will still start our regular schedule. Basically I will be working 6 days a week from 7AM to 7PM. My day off is Tuesday (we have to make sure that the people who can ‘cover’ for each other have different days off). Probably, for the first few weeks, I will not have to work the full twelve hours, but later, this will be a minimum.
This is a long event and therefore we will all have to pace ourselves.
One of my ‘hidden’ roles during this project, which will become even more important in the next 8 weeks, is that of the ‘fire fighter’. I am often in the best position to solve problems that come up and it will be very important during this T/A to get to resolutions quickly so that the work is not affected. This means that many days, I am not sure what I will be doing before I get to work.
Starting Monday, we will have more than 500 workers involved, 2/3 during the day and 1/3 during the night. Counting the supervisors, managers and others, we will probably have 800 people involved in this event, with close to 1/2 million manhours expended. We have already spent 1 million manhours getting to where we are today. We have unfortunately had a few minor injuries but generally all the work has been very safe. This is our first priority. Only 20 years ago, we would have been very happy to have a project of 1 million manhours and not had anybody seriously injured or killed. The standards have changed so much that the goal for the overall project (with more than 15 million manhours) is no serious injuries. We still have a long way to go.
Big Event – Day 3
We are on the thir day of the shut down and the plant is stopped – no longer making product, therefore no longer earning money.
Here is my typical day right now:
Leave home at 6:20 in order to beat the traffic and get to work about 7:00. I get a bus from Area 17 to ACB where I have a quick breakfast and at 7:30 meet with my colleagues from the night crew in order to find out what happened overnight, and what my team will have to look out for during the day.
Catch a bus from ACB to Area 18 and I arrive at my office around 8:00 and catchup on other overnight events through e-mail
I also need to change into my FRCs (Fire Retardant Clothing) as this is required in order to go into the plant.
By 8:50 I catch the next bus, from Area 18 to the plant in order to attend the Turn-over meeting at 9:00. We discuss what is coming in the next few days (at this stage very little) but also finish the organisation of the teams that will be involved in this activity.
After the meeting, I do a quick tour of the plant to see for myself what activities are going on and what was done overnight.
At 10:00 there is the big construction meeting – about 30 people – to focus on the key activities for the day and what impediments there may be to progress.
I can generally catch a ride after the meeting back to Area 18 until several of us catch a bus back to ACB for lunch around 11:30. Of course there is another bus trip after lunch to get back to Area 18.
Afternoon, I can finally do some work. Today, I wanted to finalise the schedule for turn-overs so that I can be sure that the three teams we have can handle the work load. I also looked at some of the quality processes used by our contractor to continue to see if there are ways to simplify and facilitate the process.
We still have some work that was supposed to be done before the beginning of the turn-around but was not completed. I spend some time reminding every one that they still have this pending, and the sooner they finish, the sooner they will get rid of my constant pestering about it…
At around 18:30, I shut down my computer, change back into my ‘civilian’ clothing and catch a bus back to ACB for dinner and the handover with the night crew at 19:30.
After the meeting, I catch the last bus to Area 17 at 20:00 to get back to my car and drive home where I arrive around 21:00 …
This is the plan six days a week – I get Tuesdays off.
Today, I also found out that the last bus from Area 18 to Area 17 has been moved from 20:00 to 19:45. Since I have a meeting that ends at 20:00, I now potentially have no way to get back to my car and then home at the end of the day. One more thing for me to work on tomorrow…
Big Event – Day 6
It is probably difficult for most people to imagine what is going on in the plant. Let me try and describe it for you.
The plant that we are expanding, and which stopped a few days ago, is normally operated by a team of 6-8 people. Of these, there are 2 maybe three in the plant at any one time. For maintenance, there may be 10 additional people working on something. Therefore, you normally have 4 to 20 people in the plant and rarely 20, fewer at night.
Since Monday, we have in excess of 500 people in the same plant all the time during the day and over 300 at night. In every unit, on every floor of every structure, on every tower and around every equipment, there are people working on something. I know the plant very well, considering that I was involve din the original design and construction and worked in the plant for 3 years after start-up. Right now I get lost in areas I should know, becouse there is scaffolding everywhere, there are barricades and workbenches everywhere.
Yesterday we were also able to set up two of the three large cranes we will be using – two 250 tonners. We do not have heavy loads, but these will be able to reach all parts of the unit from fixed positions so that we do not have to move them often (moving these monsters takes more than a day!). The third large crane (160 ton capacity) is still being inspected to make sure it is in good conditions. All the tools used in the project are inspected before they can be used – this goes from the largest cranes to the smallest electric drill. Many are rejected, and it is unbelievable what some sub-contractors try to bring on site. Electric equipment with frayed chords, exposed wires or hand-made modifications; hydraulic cranes with low quality hoses or by-passed safety switches. We fortunately started getting everything inspected many weeks ago, and almost everything passed, except the 160 ton crane.
Big Event – Day 22
Yes, I have been busy. After a 13 hour day, I do not usually feel like looking at, or doing anything else.
Today was not different from the previous 22 – just I feel like sharing what is happening. A lot of work, a lot of progress, many incidents of all sorts, but also unbelievable ‘misses’ in what should have been a well oiled plan.
Here are some examples:
(1) The 160 ton crane never made it. During the inspection, it was discovered that was was supposed to be a brand new crane had had a very significant repair done. The repair had not been approved by the manufacturer. When we asked DeMag to approve the repair, they started by calling their lawyers. We gave up and looked for another crane.
(2) We had planned for months to cut the foundation of a compressor using a large diamond tipped band saw. The foundation is 10 m long by 3 m wide so the saw ‘blade’ needed to be at least 27 meters long. However, after setting up all the equipment, the specialised vendor discovered that the blade they had was 1 meter too short! It took several hours to be able to continue the work.
(3) We knew that some work needed to be done on the nitrogen system during a 2-day outage. It was time critical as we had only 2 days to do this work. However, there were 7 different tie-ins into the N2 system, and all were scheduled at about the same time. It is only after the system was shut down that we found this discrepancy and had to scramble to identify the 2 tie-ins absolutely required. they were completed in 2 days and the N2 was back in just on schedule.
(4) We had an unscheduled shower today. Another group decided to flush a large line (6″ diameter) with a large amount of water. The line went up to our plant and that is where the water came out. No problems so far, except they forgot to tell us what was happening. Anytime you see a large leak in a plant, there is always some worry. In this case, it was only water, but water sitting in a pipe under the Singapore sun can heat to over 80 C and could cause instant burns if it sprays on anybody. It is always good to know what is happening ahead of time, not after the fact.
These happened over several days, but we have similar incidents all the time. Just to keep us entertained!
Big Event – Day 42
We are bout 1 week behind schedule… My work is three weeks behind plan!
I need to explain this. As I said earlier, my responsibility is Turn Over. Once a part of the plant is deemed finished, I am responsible for organising and sometimes leading the teams inspecting the finished systems. We have devided the plant into more than 90 “systems”. By now, more than 60% should have been completed and ‘turned-over’ to the plant. We have only completed 6!
It is not really my fault! It seems that all the work crews are perfectly happy completing 90% of the work in one area and than moving on to another, leaving small details to be finished, but enough to prevent my teams taking over. The back log is becoming a concern.
Today, I essentially spent all day trying to coax people into completing activities on three systems so that we can inspect them tomorrow. You have to know that even after the work has been done, there are a number of quality checks that also need to be completed. These are summarised in a quality pack and a lot of inspections have to be signed by the people doing the work, the contractors QA inspectors and my company’s inspectors.
A typical conversion went as follows – T-127 is a system that I have been highlighting for a week as “Critical to be finished” and I have been asking for a week what is required to complete the Loop Folders:
Me asking the Instrument Supervisor: “When can you complete the Loop Check for the instruments on system T-127?” (Sorry for the jargon!)
Reply: “We are done!”
Me: “Great – When will you complete the Loop Folder”
Reply: “Cannot do that, the FOs are not installed”
Me: “When can you install the FOs?”
Reply: “Not my job – piping does that”
Me: “Have you asked them”
Reply: “No – should I?”
I than go to see the piping supervisor. Me: “When can you install the FO’s on T-127?”
Reply: “Installed already”
Me: “When did you do that?”
Reply: “Early this week”
Me: “Have you told Instrument that they are in?”
Reply: “No – why?”
Enough to drive you crazy. I later found out that the FOs were indeed installed, but without a check on the diameter and direction, both of which need to be signed off by “Instrument” – so, we will have to take them out and do it all over again!
Big Event – Day 55
We should be finishing the turn around tomorrow, on day 56. We will not…
We are late and nothing we have tried has been able to reduce the delay that built up early. Now we are in a total rush to turn over all the facilities that are being completed to the operating organisation so that they can start to prepare them and eventually startup the plant. We have a few more days to go, but we are getting there and making dignificant progress in eliminating ‘obstacles’ one at a time. It is amazing how many small things can create large impediments to completing our tasks.
Today, I lost my temper for the first time. One of my colleagues indicated that he would no longer accept turn over dossiers (the official document that sanctions the transfer of parts of the plant from us to the operating plant) if they were not 100% complete. Typically, we do so with small items that still need completion and these are tracked to completion. However, this gentleman complained that it was too much work for him to track all these items every day and therefore he would stop everything. This is a person who goes home at 5PM because he has nothing to do while the rest of us stay every day until 7 or 8 PM to complete the work – and I lost it…. I did not raise my voice … too much … but explained to him that he had a problem, not us, and he better find a way to solve his small problem without making a big one for us. I know I should not have lost my temper – on the other hand, I am also proud that I had not lost it earlier – I was close several tiems and always stopped, telling myself that it would not help. This time, I do believe that it might actually help .. it looks like he changed his mind!
Despite all of this, and the delay which is never pleasant, the atmosphere at work is still very pleasant an we can still smile and laugh most of the time. However the tension still mounts, days are still monger and tougher and we have a few more days of this to go through. I know that this is one of those experiences that stays with you a long time, and that gets better with every year that passes. I can only hole that only the good memories will remain. In any case, we are really accomplishing something special right now, and that will remain with us throughout. We have also had only one small injury for the whole turnaround – after 500,000 manhours – and even if we are a little late, that is a success to be proud of!
Turn Around – Finished
Yes – they said it could not be done, but we did it, actually finished a few days ago, but I was too tired to do anything in the evening.
All went well in the end, but I was extremely busy for the last 10 days – working non-stop from 7AM to 8PM and I did not take a single day off for two weeks – a bit much…
But the plant is now producing again, everything that we installed is working and I have not heard of any major problems. The atmosphere remained very pleasant throughout even if we did have ‘words’ on occasion. The team stayed together and worked together, without pointing fingers, until the job was done.
Quite an experience – I am not sure that I am ready for another one though!
Now I am packing and ready to go back to my home country – another experience in a foreign land!