A Love Hate Relationship with Turnarounds (FMEA for Critical Path)

A Love Hate Relationship with Turnarounds (FMEA for Critical Path)


I LOVE Turnarounds! 

The excitement – The planning – The organization
One major focus with a million minor tasks that consume you for at least 12 hours a day (or night)

As in the movie “Apocalypse Now” with Robert Duval as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, delivers the classic line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” something big is about to happen.  Turnarounds are a great learning and repair opportunity, getting into vessels and equipment that you may not see the “guts” of for another 10 years.  You finally get the opportunity to fix things that you have been “living” with for years.  It is a REALLY good opportunity.  The organization is all pulling in the same direction; Operations, Maintenance, Engineering, Safety, Contractors all are focused on the Big 3… Safety, Duration, and Cost.  Complete the event on target and everyone feels good.  Plenty of credit to go around and high moral abounds.  The only issue is that…

I HATE Turnarounds!

The dread, the weight of pulling it off, the higher risks, the company is looking at you under a microscope.  I really do not like turnarounds.  If there is going to be an accident or incident there is a high likelihood that it will happen in preparation, execution or commissioning for the turnaround.  Not to mention the stress on people working 12+ hours per day, 7 days a week; family issues and coworker issues are all heightened when facing the stress of a turnaround.

Turnarounds – I love them AND I hate them.   What’s one to do?  Besides all the standard processes for planning and executing a turnaround, one of the biggest hazards of implementing a Turnaround is hitting target on the Critical Path (the biggest and often the costliest impact of the TA).   If Critical Path goes over schedule, then most things go “south”.  You end up keeping more people around, increasing personal safety risk, pressure mounts and people want to get in a hurry and rush to completion, causing a snowball effect of problems. Safety, Cost and of course, Duration are out the window, when you fall off the Critical Path to completion.

One effective way to prevent failing on the Critical Path job is to do a more robust and detailed analysis of what issues could knock you off that path to success.  What helps? I have found is that using a modified FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) approach PRIOR to executing the critical path eliminates some pitfalls.  Completing the FMEA before – even several months before the Turnaround begins – is the best way to avoid missing the target.  The FMEA Process looks in detail at every way a process (or piece of equipment) can fail. It covers all the “what ifs” and forces the team to proactively look for solutions or mitigation plans and document them.  If the “wheels come off” on the Critical Path Job, and one’s done a FMEA for all possible failure scenarios, it is very likely that the problem was anticipated and there are plans/actions that can quickly be pulled to get the TA back on the right path to completion. 

A lot of people may look at FMEA and say “well, that’s not rocket science”, but actually, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE! Though initially developed by the Military, NASA programs using FMEA variants included ApolloVikingVoyagerMagellanGalileo, and Skylab.  It’s used because it works. It has a proven track record of reducing failures and increasing successes.  When you absolutely, positively have to bring the Critical Path in on target, this is a tool that will help do it.  

Additionally, it will help you will Love Turnarounds a lot more and Hate Turnarounds a lot less.

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About The Author

Tom Bradley is an Advisor in the Becht Reliability Group, focused on recommending effective technical and operational solutions to clients worldwide. Mr. Bradley holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from University of Louisville, JB Speed Scientific School. He has more than 36 years experience in production, reliability management and maintenance, primarily in the Plastics Business. He served as a Production Engineer, Production Manager, Maintenance and Reliability Manager, which included Turnarounds. This role led to Reliability and Maintenance Leadership for Dow Chemical Plastics Business worldwide that  included implementing reliability solutions, upgrades to equipment, startup support for new projects, turnaround management, and reliability training for maintenance and production engineers and technicians. Tom has a passion to focus on all initiatives to improve reliability in order to make the company money and life better for employees.

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