Why a Pit-Stop Approach Can Increase High Margin Production
Plant STOs (Shutdown, Turnaround, Outages) are often thought of as maintenance events where a bulk of the work is done by non-operations personnel. However, some are actually quite different. Many chemical manufacturing sites have smaller events. The scope of these events is strictly driven by the internal condition [cleanliness] of key equipment, and these events are executed primarily by a team of Operators. Since Operations led events tend to be shorter in nature, a structure on how to approach these type of events is commonly overlooked. While different in duration and cost, the concepts that apply to managing a large, multi-week, multi-million dollar STO can be applied to managing a 2-3 day wash event as well.
Operations can effectively prepare and execute these washes similar to “pit stops” at a racetrack to maximize production, particularly on high margin chemicals.
Early in 2017, a team of “Cookies” was invited to evaluate sources of production loss at a chemical manufacturing facility in Texas. As part of the structured analysis process, production loss events and drivers were categorized into scheduled and unscheduled sources of loss. It was observed that multiple production units were shutting down for cleanings more often than previous years, and that the shutdowns were taking longer than previous averages by over 35-85%.
A joint task force comprising T.A. Cook’s experienced STO and Operations consultants, and the client’s in-house chemical process experts and wash execution team were asked to dig deeper into this observation, pin-point why this was happening and implement solutions to eliminate these losses.
Through wash observations, data collection & evaluation, and conversations with multiple team members, the consultants found that these short, focused events that were once a mainstay at the site had become multi-day, loosely managed washes & maintenance events. The same problems that plague an average turnaround were now affecting these short duration washes.
The following things all negatively impacted washes:
• Scope creep
• Missing scope challenge methodology
• Vague cleaning guidelines and procedures
• Poor schedule adherence
• Lack of clearly defined preparation activities / deadlines (roadmap to execution)
• Missing risk identification process / risk register
• No formal meeting structure / agendas prior to execution
The bottom line is simple. Over time, people changed. Processes were ignored and / or forgotten. And focus was lost. Period. Getting the team back on board was a joint effort between team members on both sides. The “Cookies” had site members on their team that knew wash duration could be reduced – because they experienced it. They had Process Engineers that could pull supporting data showing when fouling was likely to occur over time, and the results of historical washes and how extensive they had become. Without this team effort, and credible people that believed in this effort, buy-in and sustainable results would have been way more difficult to achieve.
To address these issues the team agreed on regular wash reduction team meetings and outlined a path forward. Meetings were also set up with plant personnel that executed washes, Production and Maintenance people, to review the same data and findings that were mentioned above. Once the intentions were clear the path forward was relatively smooth. The team filled most of the gaps over a two – three month period, implementing missing processes and updating those that were no longer being used, and began realizing benefits over a relatively short amount of time.
The joint team successfully realized improvements through the implementation of a “pit-stop” approach to these scheduled shutdowns for cleaning of process equipment. The benefits of this workstream resulted in several additional production campaigns, providing the opportunity for this client to produce more of their high-valued chemicals. An additional outcome of this optimization was that the cost of maintenance work being performed during these outages could be controlled, resulting in an overall reduction in maintenance expenses as well due to the higher cost of hiring specialized resources to perform maintenance during a plant shutdown, and expediting parts required due to discovery work.
The client team’s commitment to sustainability eventually provided an unmeasurable and unexpected benefit of this work. The chemical product manufactured in the focused production units became vitally critical to the fight against COVID-19 and allowed the client to produce increased volumes as a raw material in the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the pandemic. Increases in commodity prices further delivered millions in increased revenue from the ability to increase production without needing to shut down the plant for cleanings as frequently or for as long as they chose to in recent years.