A quick summary to start off with: the two refinery turnarounds in Vienna-Schwechat and Lingen, which had been meticulously prepared in advance by XERVON and BUCHEN, were successfully completed without a single accident. Intensive preparation work had been needed beforehand – with both turnarounds being held at the same time – and this is exactly what the maintenance experts, industrial cleaners and catalyst specialists did. And it was well worth it: the approx. 1,200 operatives deployed to carry out the various specialist tasks performed their work professionally and efficiently.
“We received much praise from our client for the professional way we executed our tasks,” commented Thomas Kramel, managing director of XERVON Instandhaltung GmbH based in Münchsmünster. His team was responsible for carrying out the extensive mechanical work during the turnaround at the OMV refinery in Schwechat near Vienna, one of the largest inland refineries on the European continent. One of its most important facilities – its ethylene cracker unit – had to be shut down between the end of April and the end of May so that it could be serviced and inspected. All in all, around 75 percent of the refinery came to a standstill for a period of four weeks and approx. 3,000 specialists were called in to perform any necessary repair and maintenance work.
XERVON had also been involved in the refinery’s last shutdown, which had taken place six years ago. They had, therefore, already been able to demonstrate the high quality of their work, their reliability and their ability to keep to agreed schedules – three main reasons why the maintenance specialists were commissioned to do the work again in 2017. “We sent a team of almost 400 people this time. They were responsible for dismantling a whole range of plant sections and equipment – such as heat exchangers, columns, storage vessels, oil coolers, machines etc – and then, of course, putting them back together again,” said Thomas Kramel explaining the complex workload faced by XERVON’s team of mechanics.
One of the main challenges they had to cope with – besides having to complete their various tasks within a very tight schedule – was dealing with the actual layout of the refinery.
All in all, around 3,000 specialist staff were on site to carry out the repair and maintenance work
“Some of the refinery’s facilities, such as the ethylene cracker unit, have been built upwards to make up for the lack of area available. This meant that great thought had to be put into how to dismantle the machines as there was so little space to manoeuvre in. More often than not, we couldn’t use cranes as there simply wasn’t enough space for them. In many cases, we had to work with chain lifts – also for moving really large parts weighing between two and three tonnes. And then they had to be transported to a section of the refinery where they could be lifted out by crane,” Thomas Kramel continued illustrating the tricky conditions they had to face at the site.
XERVON had begun planning this project back in September 2016. One of the priorities here was coordinating the various different tasks that had to be carried out on each piece of equipment, such as the scaffolding, insulation, piping and cleaning work. It was essential that everything ran smoothly – and the mechanics played a key role here.
After almost nine months of intensive planning and preparation, work finally got underway at the end of April: divided up into around 40 teams of mechanics, the XERVON (and other) specialists travelled to the refinery to give their best. It goes without saying, of course, that the company’s own team of specialists are not able to carry out such large-scale projects on their own. When organising major turnarounds – especially when two or more are due to take place at the same time – XERVON Instandhaltung calls on its extensive network of reliable and long-standing partner firms whose operatives are managed on site by XERVON and who always meet XERVON’s high work standards.
BUCHEN-ICS, who specialise in reactor and catalyst handling services, were also at the turnaround in Schwechat to perform a number of different jobs. One of their main tasks was to replace the catalyst in 15 vessels and reactors with the majority of this work being performed in a nitrogen environment. All in all, they used their specialist processes to unload and load around 400 cubic metres of material.
“We received much praise from our client for the professional way we executed our tasks.”
Thomas Kramel, Managing Director XERVON Instandhaltung GmbH
The major turnaround at BP’s refinery in Lingen, which lasted from the middle of April to the beginning of June, was also a great success. As with the project in Vienna, planning had to begin well in advance with BUCHEN and XERVON working hand in hand here. BUCHEN UmweltService was responsible for all the industrial cleaning work needed at the refinery throughout the turnaround, BUCHEN-ICS worked on over 30 reactors and XERVON took on the extensive piping and mechanical tasks. In addition, they were in charge of installing all the pipes in a new 45-metre-high column (for distilling crude oil), which was also built during the turnaround period.
XERVON produced and installed several thousand metres of process and product piping for BP Lingen, set up trace heating systems and manufactured several thousand flange joints – a series of highly complex jobs that not only had to be meticulously planned beforehand but also involved many parts having to be produced in advance.
“We started producing the parts, so-called pipe spools, back in the middle of 2016. If we hadn’t done this, it would have been impossible to complete the work within the tight schedule,” explained Tobias Wilming, manager of XERVON Instandhaltung’s branch in Lingen.
The vacuum distillation unit in Lingen
XERVON had up to 450 operatives working on the pipes at the refinery during the busiest times of the shutdown; a further 250 employees were deployed to do the mechanical work, i.e. dismantle and reconnect various plant sections and equipment such as columns, heat exchangers and fittings. Each day, they had to consult with the other specialists on site to coordinate their various tasks – no matter how well such a turnaround is planned in advance, there are always jobs that take longer than expected or indeed are completed more quickly.
“Around 80 to 85 percent of all tasks are completed as planned, the rest have to be sorted out on the spot,” estimated maintenance specialist Tobias Wilming, a figure that was confirmed by his colleague Thomas Kramel. This means that everyone on site needs to be extremely flexible – and this is the secret behind ensuring such turnarounds are completed to schedule. This also explains why clients such as BP prefer to rely on high performance service providers who have both the manpower and the technical equipment to be able to react flexibly no matter what task may crop up. “What’s more, we know the refinery’s day-to-day operations as we have been providing them with a number of different services for several years now. Thanks to these service agreements, we know where all the buildings and roads are which means we can draw up the best solution for the various tasks,” continued Tobias Wilming.
His colleagues from BUCHEN UmweltService are of exactly the same opinion. This sister company has been delivering services to BP’s refinery in Lingen for roughly the same amount of time, carrying out any industrial cleaning work that needs doing. The team at BUCHEN Ruhr region’s branch in Bramsche, which is responsible for Lingen, all agree that “no matter whether it involves an everyday task or helping out during a turnaround, what is important is to deliver high quality work, ensure there are no accidents, protect the environment and complete the job within the fixed budget and timeline”. Having taken part in a similar shutdown at the Lingen refinery back in 2006, they were able to make the most of this experience when planning for this one.
"80 to 85 percent of all tasks are completed as planned, the rest have to be sorted out on the spot"
Tobias Wilming, Manager of XERVON Instandhaltung’s Lingen Branch
The greatest challenge during any turnaround is coordinating the work schedule each day and making any adjustments where necessary
Their workload during this latest turnaround, however, was considerably larger. The plans for this shutdown (TAR 2017) included cleaning numerous heat exchangers, vessels, columns, reactors, air coolers and pipes of varying diameters. A whole range of special cleaning methods had to be deployed here – from diverse environmentally friendly vacuuming processes (for both solids and liquids), to high pressure jet washing systems, dry ice blasting technology with CO2 pellets and blasting systems using modified sodium hydrogen carbonate (better known to non-professionals as bicarbonate of soda), all the way through to setting up dedicated washing areas for cleaning, for example, heat exchanger bundles. Moreover, vacuum/cleaning trucks were used as were gas scrubbers, air conveying systems, mobile high pressure blasting units and a number of mobile water filtration units that enabled water from the River Ems to be used for the pressure tests.
BUCHEN’s regular team had had the machines and vehicles delivered from across the country to enable this major project to be completed – and had called on their colleagues, who knew how to use this equipment, to come along as well. They were even supported by their colleagues in Poland and Estonia. “During the busiest periods we had up to 240 people on site – we were helped out here by our colleagues from many different regions as well as from our partner companies,” explained the three BUCHEN managers in charge of this project. “The operatives were divided up into teams which were then assigned to the day or night shifts – if necessary they also worked at the weekend and on bank holidays. By planning the work this way, we are able to be flexible and respond to any unexpected changes in the schedule.” Each morning, the different specialists consulted with one another and each midday an in-house meeting was held to ensure that the different jobs were carried out smoothly and in the best possible way despite any unforeseen delays.
The pipes leading to the crude oil distillation facility in Lingen
The excellent infrastructure set up by BP made it possible for the companies to take sufficient staff and equipment to the site
According to the BUCHEN-ICS experts, “the greatest challenge during any turnaround is coordinating the work schedule each day and making any adjustments where necessary”. During this particular turnaround, they had up to 60 employees working on up to five reactors at any one time to unload and load the catalyst. They also used their newly developed dense phase conveyor system (DPC) to load the hydrocracker plant for the first time (see our report on page 28). A successful start for this alternative catalyst-loading system – a process that does not need a crane and can be used no matter what the weather. Not unexpectedly, space is always an issue during such turnarounds. The amount of people and equipment on the refinery grounds was huge as around 85 percent of all the shutdown work in Lingen was carried out during the day. BP had set up an excellent infrastructure for their contractors to cope with these numbers and both BUCHEN and XERVON were highly impressed by the results. Thanks to the facilities provided, the companies were able to take sufficient staff and equipment to the site, helping to make sure that all tasks were completed according to schedule. As communications and coordination between the different service providers were equally important, BUCHEN and XERVON made sure they were close to one another in the container village and had got to know each other personally before the project actually began. “If something didn’t quite go as planned then we could sort out the problem among ourselves without having to involve the client. It also helped create a team spirit and bind the individual team members closer together,” said both the BUCHEN and XERVON colleagues.
What is clear is that it is only possible to complete a turnaround successfully if everyone works as a team. All of the different types of work must be coordinated so that everything runs like clockwork, simply because everyone depends on everyone else. Whilst good planning is important, the way each operative actually performs their work is vital – no matter which task they may have to carry out.