Turnarounds in large industrial plants can become money pits if the advance preparations aren’t right. The new Project Intelligence Tool from T.A. Cook helps to improve the quality of preparations, thereby significantly reducing the risk of longer shutdown periods or budget overruns.
During his presentation at the TAR annual conference, Gert Müller didn’t immediately talk about turnarounds as usual, but about Parkinson’s disease – and about a medical achievement that is giving hope to those affected: the brain pacemaker. Around 60,000 patients all over the world have already had this innovative device implanted. The operation takes several hours and the effects are considerable. Targeted electrostimulation in the brain ensures that locomotor disorders can now be controlled. Yet at the same time, this surgery on and in the brain is a risky medical procedure. Patients are fully conscious throughout the operation because they must be able to communicate with the surgeon at all times, keeping the latter constantly informed of their patient’s bodily functions. The only chance to alleviate the condition is if the pacemaker is positioned in the right place with millimeter precision.
Gert Müller knows that communication and transparency in relation to the status of patients during difficult procedures are key success factors. This is due to his long-standing experience as a turnaround specialist at T.A. Cook. “The quality of turnaround preparations is a key element in ensuring that everything runs smoothly and efficiently during the TAR. Anything that isn’t done (or isn’t done well) in the preparation stages will backfire during shutdown.” Müller has developed a tool to ensure that this doesn’t happen. It gives everyone involved in turnaround preparations an X-ray view of the preparation status at all times. The aim was to replace subjective progress assessments with reliable, volume-based information.
Transparency was the guiding principle when working on the tool. The “target” and “actual” status of preparations in all key areas can be viewed at a glance. As such, the software gives those responsible for the turnaround the chance to identify risks and deviations at an early stage and take corresponding countermeasures.
Dashboard gives a bird’s-eye view
Rather than supplying the necessary information as an impenetrable data jungle, the Project Intelligence Tool aggregates it in easily understandable graphics that highlight plan deviations in a cascaded layout. Project managers at a company’s headquarters, for example, initially receive only the basic information relevant to their bird’seye view of proceedings – arranged in the form of a dashboard: Where and when are the shutdown periods at the company’s sites around the world? What kind of complexity is involved? What will they cost, how long will they last, and how big is the expected loss in production?
If a red warning light appears at one of the turnaround locations, the manager can drill down deeper at the click of a mouse to where the aggregated information for each turnaround is available to the relevant departments – and can even go one level deeper if necessary. This allows the manager to progressively get to the bottom of the problem little by little. Within a matter of minutes, for example, he is informed that the costs of a shutdown period in southern Germany are getting out of control. He can also see that the contracts with the mechanical contractors have not yet been agreed and almost half of the 1,000 work packages have not yet been put together.
There are delays when ordering materials with long lead times. Slow progress is also being made in working through important inspections that have to be completed several months before the TAR. The manager can also see that that the entire preparations are lagging behind their set milestones. “If TAR preparations are delayed, this has a complete knock-on effect,” says Müller. For example, tenders are
sent out later, contracts with external companies cannot be concluded, drawing up of timetables is delayed, and so on. “The planning work is crammed into an ever shorter space of time – and the quality of the preparations ultimately suffers, increasing the risk of the TAR taking longer and costing more than originally planned.”
Excel tables obstruct the overview
Müller explains that many companies are often still a long way away from having the transparency needed to be able to efficiently manage TAR preparations and identify risks at an early stage. Until now, status information and potential risks have been hidden away in individual departments. Data entered into Excel tables or stand-alone solutions prevents the turnaround managers responsible for the shutdown period from getting a good overview. When it comes to choosing contractor partners and signing contracts in good time, for instance, Müller repeatedly sees a dangerous tendency to take a “we’ll manage to do it” attitude. One week before the milestone, the department then waves a white flag and says: “Sorry, we won’t manage to do it.” Then it is usually too late, because the contractors’ fitters are already booked to work elsewhere months in advance. “If you conclude the contracts too late, the risk of not being able to perform the turnaround with an A-team of external companies
The new Project Intelligence Tool from T.A. Cook gives the buyer, the TAR manager, and those responsible for the project within the company management a precise overview of the contractual preparations’ status for each plant: Have inquiries been sent? Have quotes already been received from companies? Have we already decided on a supplier? Have the contracts been signed? For example, the turnaround manager can see that 36 out of 156 contracts have already been concluded with external service providers one year before the shutdown period is due to begin, meaning that the preparations are on schedule. Yet caution is necessary here. A look at the next graphic on the TAR dashboard reveals that the contracts already concluded are worth just 25 million euros – not even a quarter of the total contract volume. It becomes clear that the bulk of the work has not been concluded. Risks therefore remain.
This kind of transparency, however, requires an open culture across all organizational levels. It’s not
about “naming and shaming people because they haven’t done their job properly,” says Müller, explaining the Tool’s raison d’être. “It’s more about using transparency to identify risks.” Unlike before, problems no longer build up with individual employees. Consequently, managers become aware at an early stage, for example, that the detail engineering is delayed for nine of the 17 investment projects to be integrated into the TAR and can intervene in good time: What must we do to catch up? “Until now, such issues only came to light shortly before the shutdown period,” says Müller. “Or during the shutdown. Then it is too late.” Just like fitting a brain pacemaker, it’s all about the exact timing, optimal
preparation, and perfect coordination.