Al Fadhel ... planning is key to a successful shutdown and maintenance

The 4th Annual Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages Technical Middle East Conference (STOTME) 2023 took place in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in time to focus the minds on the impending challenges that the industry will face in the summer as it looks to renew its assets.

Ali Al-Ruwaily, Executive Manufacturing General Manager of HADEED-SABIC and the Conference Chair, noted: "The conference gives the opportunity from a Saudi perspective to share knowledge, create a networking relationship among interested parties, and provide technical programmes that are meaningful and that emphasise the hands-on aspect versus the theoretical side of mechanical engineering. There is no escaping the fact that this knowledge is very much made in Saudi."

Qualified shutdowns, turnarounds and outages (STO) managers will always be a scarce commodity, so ensuring the right knowledge and experience is transferred and shared is key to delivering long-term operational excellence.

One such veteran, Abdul Rahman Al Fadhel, a former stalwart of Aramco and the Riyadh refinery, shared his insights on the pitfalls to avoid during the shutdown and maintenance process.

Al Fadhel, for reasons of time, condensed lifelong expertise into 15 minutes.

"The Riyadh refinery shutdown is limited to take 45 days. Any delays can result in losses of $1-2 million per day or half a day."

The secret of a successful shutdown and maintenance, according to Al Fadhel is in the planning.

"Two years before the scheduled shutdown, I would recommend a detailed plan of hazards identification and risk mitigation."

By adopting this process, the management team will be able to flag up issues such as work permit requirements for the maintenance labourers. Advance planning will also look at the basics of access to the assets during shutdown.

"Access to the asset owned by the company is not the only issue. What about all the other points of passage before you get to the asset—the government checkpoint and restricted security access to the facility; this should not be taken lightly as you will have upwards of 6,000 contractors, in the case of Riyadh refinery, on site daily."

Al Fadhel’s solution is simply to start early and include all the stakeholders as part of the process to ensure a unified, seamless solution.

"To protect slim margins, STO strategy is increasingly focused on extending the period between shutdowns, or advising small, targeted periods of maintenance. This shift needs to be managed carefully," he advises.

A final word of advice from Al Fadhel is not to leave each contractor to be responsible for fueling of their machinery and equipment.

"Providing diesel to refuel cranes and other equipment and vehicles is simple enough, but not in a STO situation. Can you imagine the organised chaos and delays that can arise from waiting for vital equipment to be refueled with diesel? We anticipated this as a problem and Aramco had a whole refueling fleet on standby specifically to refuel the maintenance contractors."

New software and technologies continue to enhance the planning and the implementation process. These in turn will deliver value-added opportunities for the petrochemical sector.

The key to delivering a measurable impact to a company’s bottom line and competitive position as part of the STO process is in the planning and the implementation. In the words of Al Fadhel, "Die in the planning to enjoy peace in the execution and implementation."

By Ahmed Suleiman