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Infrastructure

Computerization of maintenance, inspection, and materials business processes was in its infancy. Computers were used largely as work list repositories. Work planning was fairly advanced. For major projects and plant shutdowns, Critical Path Planning with resource leveling was carried out using commercially available software, CASP®™. However, once the project execution began, there was little or no progress toward monitoring and updating the plan. The critical path charts remained as decorations on the wall.

Shutdown Work

Preparation for a shutdown mainly meant pulling out last year's work list, adding the current wishes of the operating and inspection departments, and having it estimated and converted to a critical path plan with CASP®™. The operators added tasks such as shutting down and gas-freeing at the front end, and starting up the plants at the back end separately to this plan. Technologists gave their requirements to the operators for adding to the plan. The project engineers made their own separate mini-plans and appended them parallel to the main plan. There was little coordination of the preparation activities between these departments. In the absence of a milestone chart, these preparations were never completed in time for proper award of work contracts—and contract work was required. This meant that there was never enough time for proper competitive bidding, so prices were higher than necessary. Local contractors maintained a skeleton work force of skilled craftsmen. During big projects, such as a shutdown, they hired temporary workers. Often, they hired whoever was willing to work, without regard to skills or experience. Contractors and their personnel were viewed with suspicion by the refinery and always kept at arm's length.

During execution of shutdowns, the maintenance engineer was supposed to be the coordinator. Other participating departments did not recognize his role because top management never announced it formally. As a result, the execution was as if there were many separate football games instead of one well-orchestrated team.

In the past, management did not formally spell out the objectives of the shutdown. The duration was fixed by the refinery schedulers on the basis of past history. Authorization of overtime work, extra work, additional contract work, etc., was done in an ad hoc fashion, without an overall guiding principle or premise. In short, there were no clear answers to the following questions, before and during the course of the shutdown:

  • • Why are we carrying out this shutdown?
  • • On what basis is maintenance and inspection work selected?
  • • Is the shutdown to be realized in the shortest possible time?
  • • Is the shutdown to be realized at the lowest possible cost?
  • • What are the economic consequences to the refinery and its partners

if the shutdown is realized a day earlier or a day later than planned?

  • • Who is the person overall in charge of the shutdown activities?
  • • Is the work going as per plan?
  • • Are the costs on track?

Top management rarely, if ever, visited the shutdown site. Cost and time over-runs were accepted as inevitable.

The management team, including the Maintenance and Engineering Manager, considered maintenance as a necessary evil. In their perception, maintenance was primarily the act of fixing things when they broke down. As long as there was a credible story to explain to the outside world why a plant did not deliver its planned production, they were happy. There was no impact on the compensation to the refinery!

 
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