Emerson, Austin, Texas
The months leading into an
impending turnaround (TAR) have never been an easy time for operations and
maintenance personnel. Typically, to ensure TAR efficiency, the TAR team must spend extra time identifying problems, analyzing and
documenting those problems, building work packages to schedule and organize,
and kitting out all tools, spare parts and equipment. While accomplishing these
tasks, the team must also monitor budgets and the schedule, ensuring that expenses
and the shutdown timeline do not exceed estimates. Each day of downtime added
to the schedule increases costs and impacts competitive advantages.
Traditional TARs—particularly in the hydrocarbon industry, where teams frequently
rely on aging assets—tend to cause significant anxiety. Even in the best of circumstances
and with peak preparation, personnel nearly always discover unanticipated
problems in the middle of a TAR. Extra
maintenance tasks, part shortages, problems in hard-to-reach areas, and missing
equipment and components (among other challenges) can all contribute to upsetting
schedules, while running the risk of increased costs and time.
For some time, the COVID pandemic
seemed to ease this strain, if only because TARs were difficult or impossible to perform during the pandemic.
Workers were forced to follow social distancing regulations at the same time that
the supply chain was tightened, so many process manufacturers chose to postpone
or eliminate scheduled TARs altogether. Even
for the industries that saw an increase in demand during the pandemic (e.g., chemical
manufacturers producing plastics), TARs were also postponed because the companies simply could not stop
production. For many of these organizations, running to failure was, briefly, a
But as COVID eased, the need for TARs
returned. In fact, for those organizations that have postponed a TAR all this time, the need has become very critical—yet, many of the
key complications that have led to TAR anxiety still linger. While supply chain problems have eased, the
sporadic issues that can impact parts and equipment procurement are still a
Moreover, the worker shortage that
was surfacing before the pandemic has worsened, and for many plants, some of
their best personnel simply did not return to work after COVID-19 began to
recede. According to a 2022 plant engineering report, 72% of respondents
reported difficulty recruiting labor in the previous 12 mos. As a result,
plants face TARs with fewer
analysts to help prepare for them, and with fewer operations and maintenance
staff to ensure that a shutdown will be quick and effective.
Avoid returning to old habits. While it would be easy to assume that the best solution to
impending TARs is to return to
the way they were performed in the past, the lessons learned from the pandemic suggest
a better way forward. Yesterday’s planning strategies might make teams more
prepared, but they increase—rather than decrease—the burden put upon a plant’s
limited personnel. The plants finding the most success emerging from the
pandemic into a new normal for TARs are instead
focusing on further leveraging a critical strategy that got them through the
pandemic: digital transformation of their operations and maintenance.
The most successful plants transitioning
to a new era of post-COVID process manufacturing will be those that continue
their digitalization strategies by evolving their technologies into a holistic,
boundless automation architecture. These companies are achieving 50%–60%
productivity gains during TARs by focusing
on delivering seamless data connectivity and democratization from intelligent
field devices through the edge and into the enterprise to help give staff the
visibility they need to plan for TARs effectively and then execute them efficiently.
Keep up constant valve vigilance. Valve maintenance creates several complications for TAR teams. First and foremost, maintaining valves is time consuming. Because
most of the wear and tear on a valve is on the inside, manual inspection is not
very effective in identifying and diagnosing problems. As a result, TAR teams have long relied on extensive preventive maintenance—taking
every critical valve apart and replacing parts as needed.
However, each valve overhaul takes
time and money. In a plant with hundreds of valves, that time adds up quickly. If
supply chain issues become a concern, parts become more expensive and/or
potentially very challenging to acquire. Without clearer insight into valve health,
it is difficult—if not impossible—to properly prioritize maintenance to meet
time and budget constraints or replacement part limitations.
A better strategy is to continue
the work that most plants began during the pandemic when they needed more remote
access. As personnel became more socially distanced, facilities implemented
digital solutions to help reduce workloads and to provide visibility to
operators and technicians who could not be onsite.
Digital valve controllers are key
components of these efforts because they provide insight into the health of the
inner workings of critical valves, without requiring technicians to open them
up. Teams that do not have digital valve controllers in place can begin
installing them prior to TARs, enabling them
to stroke the valves ahead of shutdown, and to collect data to identify which valves
need repair and which can continue running as they are.
For plants already using digital
valve controllers, the next step in building toward a boundless automation
strategy for TARs is to implement
snap-on software for more granular control and analysis. Snap-on valve
management applications empower teams by seamlessly integrating their valves into
the company’s device manager software, unlocking powerful diagnostics to solve
problems and to schedule maintenance more easily. Teams can quickly and
effectively select which valves must be rebuilt during TARs
to optimize the use of limited maintenance resources (FIG. 1).
Make the most of machinery maintenance. Unlike valves, problems with
rotating machinery are often easier to identify from the outside. In a plant
with an abundance of experienced personnel, daily maintenance rounds used to be
enough to help teams identify when machines—especially the most critical—needed
attention. However, today’s plants are not operating with an abundance of
maintenance personnel, so rounds are often sporadic, performed when and if the
plant’s maintenance staff has time. Moreover, even if the plant has enough
staff to complete rounds, it takes a very experienced technician to listen to a
noise or to examine a leaking fluid and accurately identify a problem. Most of
those experienced technicians have already retired, and those who have not retired
are hard to find and even harder to schedule.
Fortunately, the intelligent
instrumentation necessary to continuously monitor plant equipment and deliver
insights has become more widely available with wireless communications, resulting
in dramatic drops in installation costs. As a result, many plants have installed
a wide array of sensors to help remotely monitor operations and asset health
when personnel cannot be in the plant.
Those sensor installations are a
perfect springboard for a more formal condition-monitoring strategy built on a
boundless automation foundation. As teams install more sensors around the
facility, they can be much more informed going into a TAR, but only if that
information is delivered to a centralized system that helps them identify,
analyze, troubleshoot and prioritize what they need to fix.
The most effective plants are planning
by using powerful asset management software solutions to combine
predictive maintenance with comprehensive analysis. These tools can
automatically collect condition-monitoring data from the plant’s sensors, and then
use online analytics to turn that data into actionable information that teams
can use to plan their TARs more
With the help of built-in
analytics, TAR teams do not require
a deep bench of analysts. The software identifies developing issues in
production equipment so teams can more easily prioritize and schedule necessary
work during outages, across both critical assets and the balance of plant
equipment (FIG. 2).
Maintain continuous corrosion detection. Much like the inside of valves, asset
health inside pipes can also be difficult to determine. However, even if a
maintenance team has enough people to perform regular rounds to manually check all
their piping, areas sensitive to corrosion and erosion can often be in hard-to-access
places that need scaffolding and safety equipment for access. Typically, these
areas are checked infrequently, if at all.
Today’s forward-thinking teams are
circumventing this complication by proactively outfitting pipes—in both
hard-to-reach and easily accessible areas—with online corrosion and erosion
detection systems. Non-invasive online corrosion and erosion detection components
continuously monitor pipe health and alert maintenance teams when an area needs
attention. Actionable information is delivered directly to maintenance personnel
or is sent to cloud systems for higher-level trending and analysis. Teams
receive warnings well in advance of failure, so they can easily schedule pipe
maintenance or replacements as part of their TAR.
Increase effectiveness with cloud connectivity. Each continuous monitoring system—valve
monitoring, machinery health and corrosion detection—provides critical pieces
of information to help operators and technicians better plan and prepare for TARs. However, when those pieces are assembled into a larger puzzle, TAR value begins to increase across the enterprise.
When maintenance systems are
integrated seamlessly into a cohesive whole, they can more easily share
information with enterprise systems in the cloud for higher-level analytics.
This approach can be applied with TARs to improve business strategies, such as those related to environmental,
social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
For example, the tracking and
trending of heat exchanger performance monitoring at the plant level empowers teams
to identify levels of fouling without taking the equipment apart. The TAR team will quickly know how much fouling has occurred, where it is
and how much performance they can recover, helping them to plan a local TAR
However, when that data is shared
seamlessly with enterprise analysis systems, the organization can track and
trend those issues over time to better schedule TARs, equipment purchases and other decisions in line with business
needs, supply chain issues and seasonal energy costs, among other factors. As
data travels from the field to plant personnel on the edge and into the cloud,
it gains more context and value, evolving TARs from maintenance necessities into powerful pivot points for
Moreover, using cloud solutions
(e.g., digital experience tools) to manage lifecycle software and services helps
teams to better track and trend performance and errors. Online
lifecycle support solutions provide dashboards with intuitive health scores and
key performance indicators to help teams more easily plan TAR activities. These same tools can also connect directly to service solutions
for knowledge-based support and live advice from trusted automation suppliers to
help maintenance teams quickly and easily resolve complex issues.
Digital tools form the foundation. As process manufacturers emerge from the pandemic into a new
global marketplace, they will face new challenges that require innovative
solutions. Fortunately, many of the technologies that teams began to implement
and the strategies they learned during the pandemic can be used as a foundation
for more digitalized maintenance.
Today, these same teams have an
opportunity to expand that foundation with additional digital solutions that
will help them move critical data across the enterprise for easier planning and
analytics. Such a strategy not only increases visibility and understanding of
asset health (making it easier to plan for effective and efficient TARs),
but it also helps teams move the data from those same TARs
up into the enterprise to drive operational excellence. HP
b Emerson’s AMS Machine Works
ERIK LINDHJEM is the Vice President
and General Manager of Emerson’s Reliability Solutions business. In this role,
he is focused on driving digital transformation through plant asset management
of automation assets and machinery that enables clients to reach top quartile
performance. Lindhjem joined Emerson as Vice President of Reliability Solutions
and Consulting, Asia Pacific, in August of 2018, based in Singapore. He earned
a Bch degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Virginia, and an
MBA degree from Wake Forest University.