Legacy Control System Turnarounds: A Planned Approach

As the digital transformation evolves and gains traction, industrial manufacturers can no longer take a wait-and-see approach to modernize their facilities. To improve operational efficiency, reliability and predictability, they must change and evolve, too, or face inevitable equipment obsolescence.

What happens if parts fail or break? Few original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) support spare parts for obsolete control systems. Maintenance teams spend more time reactively fixing problems than they do proactively improving processes. Over time, system reliability begins to decline and the unplanned shutdowns and resulting production losses increase costs.

Consequently, manufacturers find it increasingly difficult to maintain and sustain these older systems, which become susceptible to all sorts of vulnerabilities like cyber security risks. For manufacturers to move forward and stay competitive, they must update or replace these systems to maintain a more efficient, highly functioning and sustainable control system infrastructure. Depending on the project’s scope, this process is a significant undertaking and often involves planned facility outages or turnarounds (TARs).

System Lights Out

No matter how you label it – facility outage, shutdown or TAR – the thought alone makes people shudder, inspiring uncertainty and doubt in even the most experienced personnel who have been there, done that. Any time a facility undergoes a planned TAR or unplanned outage, personnel must complete a large portfolio of maintenance tasks in a tight timeframe. It is difficult to perform all the maintenance work and execute a control system migration during the limited outage time available.

Throughout these large-scale TAR projects, a planned approach is required to ensure systems are implemented and executed properly (see Table 1). A highly qualified team with extensive expertise and service support is also needed, especially to update or migrate legacy systems.

Table 1: A Planned Approach to I&C System Turnaround Projects.

✔ Define project scope
✔ Identify I&C pre-commissioning team for preparation and planning (internal and external resources)
✔ Gather information and develop a schedule
✔ Implement and execute
✔ Ensure proper closeout procedures

Expertise a Must

The key to any project’s success is a qualified team. TARs are multidisciplinary requiring highly skilled teams who have years of experience. Due to their critical nature, TAR projects require proper upfront planning, scheduling and early engagement with an instrumentation and control (I&C) pre-commissioning team.

The I&C pre-commissioning team is a crucial element in successfully collaborating proper preparation and planning to mitigate safety risks and downtime. Miscommunication among the commissioning and startup team can lead to schedule overruns, causing operating expenses (OPEX) and capital expenses (CAPEX) to escalate to unacceptable levels. Many facilities lack the available resources to execute and implement such a complex TAR project, which accounts for a significant portion of their annual maintenance budget.

These intensive planning requirements place an additional load on personnel who are already loaded up with daily high-priority tasks, making it difficult to properly plan non-routine commissioning and startup efforts. Major facility outages only come around every couple of years or more. Personnel who previously had experience in control system updates and TARs may have left due to attrition or retirement, making it hard to find the required level of expertise solely inhouse. As a result, startups leave manufacturers susceptible to environmental and safety incidents due to lack of experience.

In these instances, consider consulting a highly qualified, third-party automation solutions provider who has specific experience and industry knowledge planning, scheduling and implementing migration projects that are installed during turnarounds. They can take a holistic approach to enhance processes and operations for greater efficiency, reliability, predictability and safety.

Engaging a trusted partner early in the planning phase is key to ensuring personnel stay on time and on budget. They can work through any operational and business challenges from start to finish, preventing unnecessary and costly changes later. Personnel can also leverage their expertise to assess, analyze and make recommendations on any projects to minimize risk and downtime and significantly reduce costs. In short, consider an external partner who has:

  • A well-established track record and expertise in performing automation system commissioning and startup
  • Specific skills and technical expertise performing turnarounds
  • Experience improving operational safety and mitigating risk
  • Best industry practices
  • Platform-independence – A main contractor or single point of contact who has knowledge in all the components that make up an automation system and can oversee other contractors or OEMs for the entire project
  • Follow-up continuous improvement consulting services with 24/7/365 monitoring and maintenance support

Preparation and Planning

Preparing and planning for startup early in the process helps synchronize construction activities, which is extremely important to identify any potential equipment issues and minimize risk for a more successful project outcome. The pre-commissioning preparation and planning phase typically occurs just prior to completing the detailed design portion of a project and before starting construction activities.

Each process area in a facility should prepare optimized shutdown and startup plans, having them ready early to integrate into the overall TAR schedule and plan. As a brownfield project, a full-scale control system migration needs additional planning to minimize unit downtime and determine exact requirements for final cutover. This is best achieved if the I&C team maximizes the amount of pre-outage work and associated testing prior to the TAR.

To prepare and plan the process, the I&C pre-commissioning team (typically comprised of internal and external resources) should follow these initial steps:

  • Define scope deliverables in as much detail as possible
  • Gather and document required specification information – During the planning phase, it is important to gather as much information as possible, such as:
    • piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs)
    • instrument specifications
    • single line diagrams
    • loop sheets
    • other pertinent design documents

The team will use this information to create dynamic test plans and document procedures, such as loop checks, distributed control system (DCS) hot cutovers, and more. These forms and plans serve as the execution blueprint for each pre-commissioning assessment and are used to verify that each device performs individually and systematically as intended.

  • Develop a RACI matrix to keep everyone aware of and focused on their role in the project:
    • Responsible – Who is responsible for the execution of the task?
    • Accountable – Who is accountable for the tasks and signs off the work?
    • Consulted – Who are the subject-matter experts who need to be consulted?
    • Informed – Who are the people who need to be updated of the progress?
  • Schedule development
  • Develop pre-startup documentation: loop folders, pre-startup checklist and progress tracking tools
  • Perform location walk-down to visually identify all new and existing instruments, valves, motors, and other
    electrical control devices prior to active testing
  • Ensure team participation in factory acceptance testing (FAT) trials involving hardware
  • Plan for daily status meetings during outages or critical junctures

Testing, Implementation and Execution

Keeping aggressive project schedules on track requires testing at each step of the process to verify performance and fulfillment of specifications. It is important to perform quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) checks of all installation work. A four-step process – including pre-static inspection, static checks, pre-dynamic testing and final dynamic testing – is used for all new instrumentation, valves, motors, and other electrical control devices.

  1. Pre-static inspection identifies installation issues early in the process. This step confirms the I&C equipment has been mechanically completed and matches the detailed instrument and equipment specifications prior to installation.
  2. Static checks deal with wiring issues during electrical construction. These checks are performed before any of the equipment is energized, primarily confirming the electrical specifications of the I& C equipment has been completed and the wiring complies with associated drawings.
  3. Pre-dynamic testing is the first stage where equipment is energized. This stage of the process confirms all devices operate when energy is applied, and control signals or process simulation is applied.
  4. Final dynamic testing is the final stage where equipment is energized, and the logic is exercised to ensure that adequate interlock protection is in place for a safe process and the operational logic functions accordingly with the needs of the specific process. This live testing of the logic confirms that it operates as defined by the control narratives.

Closeout – All Systems Go!

At this point, all process teams have finalized, inspected, tested and double-checked all new specification requirements to ensure they have made the appropriate system retrofits, and all is working successfully. To wrap up the final process, key stakeholders should be given the appropriate documentation to support any new system specifications or requirements. Team leads should also perform a debriefing to review lessons learned and share system observations with facility operators and maintenance personnel.

As the last elements are put in place and late-stage design modifications are made, the team finally gets to reveal their collaborated efforts. It’s time to flip the switch and go live! It’s been a long haul and no doubt some components will still need tweaking. Afterall, continuous improvement efforts are ongoing. At the end of the day, however, enjoy the moment and bask in the new, more efficient, reliable and safe I&C infrastructure … until the next turnaround, well done!

Greg Hardee

Greg Hardee

Greg Hardee is a Field Services Manager at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading
platform-independent automation solutions provider offering industrial
automation, strategic manufacturing solutions and enterprise integration
services for the process industries. Greg has more than 25 years of
experience in I&C field services. Working out of his Charleston, SC,
office, he specializes in managing the industrial installation and
commissioning services startup process.

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