Optimizing Turnarounds in a Post-COVID World


19262 Hwy. 62 South, Orange, TX 77630

Optimizing Turnarounds in a Post-COVID World

For refineries and chemical manufacturing plants, bringing turnaround and maintenance projects in on-time and under- budget is more critical now than ever.

Turnaround & Maintenance projects are necessary for the ongoing or safe operations of refineries and chemical plants. In regular times, projects are meticulously planned far in advance for flawless execution.

COVID has disrupted many things. Most companies have to do more with less, capital budgets are being re-evaluated, and are even shedding non-performing divisions. Necessary turnarounds that were postponed that are being rescheduled will be competing for skilled labor and equipment that is already committed to other companies.

The scarcity of any good or service drives prices higher, which will challenge already tight budgets. Labor, which will be in demand, will likely come at a higher premium. Geopolitics have disrupted supply lines and has driven up the price of certain commodities. Equipment that is usually readily available may be difficult to supply with the rebuilding after storms and other natural disasters. These factors make bringing a project under budget and on-time more challenging.

Control What You Can Control

A full-scale symphony orchestra consists of approximately 100 musicians, each with their timely played instruments in the proper key to pull off a masterpiece, all at the conductor’s direction. Similarly, the success of a turnaround is in direct correlation to the coordination of its planners.

There are hundreds of factors that are required to plan and execute a successful turnaround. Once the scope is detailed, the equipment and materials are estimated, and the total man-hours and duration of the project are quantified to establish the budget

The one controllable, site-specific variable with considerable impact on a turnaround’s success is labor efficiency. All planning will undoubtedly unravel if labor is unable to be efficient. Moreover, the direct cost of inefficient labor is minor compared to days a project extends or, the days a process remains offline.

Near the Work Zone vs. Away from the Work Zone

Since the introduction of API’s Management of Hazards Associated with Location of Process Plant Permanent Buildings (RP752), many companies have tried to save money by relocating occupied buildings — construction trailers, break areas, lunchrooms, restrooms — away from the work zone. For instance, Blast Rated Modules (BRMs) can be placed in the process area but cost more than soft-sided or wood-framed trailers. When reviewed on paper, and just considering the numbers, it would appear BRMs are not economical.

The BRM near the work zone vs. trailers outside the work zone debate began in 1999 when the more expensive BRMs were introduced as a safer option to trailers. Several years after, trailer advocates rolled the dice, won the argument, placed soft-sided trailers in the process area, and saved their companies money. However, six years later, the safety risk and cost of the missing variable was quantified.

n March of 2005, on a day that began like many others, the Texas City Refinery’s ISOM isomerization process unit exploded. This single event killed 15 people, injuring 180, and costing an overall $2 billion in total damages. Unfortunately, just before this tragic event, the company did not consider BRMs a cost-effective option, yet all of the fatalities were in or around the wood-framed trailers.

Value Ad vs. Cost Ad

Risk managers make decisions every day based on data and statistics. Accountants consider cost-benefit, review the numbers, and quickly conclude that BRMs are more expensive than soft-sided trailers.

What accountants and risk managers do not always consider is the savings associated with having supervisors and the workforce closer to the worksite. Proximity affects the supervisor’s ability to make quick assessments/decisions, prioritize timing conflicts at the worksite, and review safety issues. Proximity also helps minimize time away from the worksite associated with traveling distance for meetings, problem-solving, weather delays/lighting alerts, breaks/lunch, and other associated tasks.

Proximity can also reduce risk related to additional traffic in the plant, such as work trucks, slow-moving vehicles, pedestrians walking throughout the plant, or travel to safe shelters. The cost of such inefficiencies is much higher when considering the congestion of multiple projects working simultaneously.

Quantitatively, the cost differential in soft-sided trailers to BRMs can be easily measured. The more challenging endeavor and the essence of optimizing a turnaround are calculating the cost savings on labor efficiency and its effects on shortening the turnaround duration.

An actual case study of a turnaround designed around operational efficiency yielded impressive results. To create the proper flow, they developed a 24,000 sq. ft. BRM city near the worksite. The first floor of the main complex consists of 8,640 sq. ft. of open space outfitted with conference tables, AV equipment used for lunchrooms, meetings, etc. with supervisor offices on the second floor. This investment was for a 57-day turnaround, with 250 people operating 24/7. The net result is the company saved over $7,000,000.

After years of collecting data the benefit of enabling people to operate close to the worksite adds value and far outweighs the additional cost.

Asking the Right Questions

Instead of debating the direct cost of BRM near the work zone vs. trailers outside the work zone, perhaps the better question should be:

How can we best optimize workflow, accounting for timely supervision interaction, access to safe shelters, tools, lunchrooms, restrooms, wash stations within the proximity workspace?

In Conclusion

So, how to optimize turnarounds? By focusing on providing the most efficient and safe workflow, as close to the worksite as possible.

* If space is tight, consider going vertical with your BRMs and/or interconnected modules that offer flexible floor plans.

* Consider door placements and workflow or even multi-use space that provide for meetings and lunchrooms.

* Stage necessary items that minimize travel time for tools, lunch, and breaks.

In a post COVID world, addressing these efficiency issues are becoming ever more critical. With the versatility of the modern BRM fleets that allow for flexible floor plans, improving turnarounds’ efficiency may be easier than initially thought.

Since supplying the first BRM to the refining and petrochemical industry in 1999, Hallwood Modularhas revolutionized the BRM industry by investing in and delivering its clients the full range of BRMs from single modules to large stackable multi-sectional and free span complexes for permanent or temporary applications.

Contact Hallwood Modular’s professionals and learn why they consider their BRMs — your best Return on Investment — (409) 351–3222 or email info@hallwoodmodular.com.


Peace of Mind that Saves you Money!

Turnaround Planners and Managers have attempted to drive efficiencies through operating workforces off-site, which are later proven to be less efficient, riskier for personnel, and caused costly delays in the project.


Let us share how we can provide safety and peace of mind while helping bring your project in under budget.