Geelong Refinery turnaround: Precision planning and outcome

Every four to six years, the Geelong Refinery undergoes a massive maintenance event to service the major sections within the refinery. Viva Energy recently completed the largest-ever event of this kind, the RCCU/HFA turnaround. Costing more than $100 million and involving 1000 people together with regular operations staff, it took two years of detailed planning.

17 Apr 2017
  • Ashley Banks

Every four to six years, the Geelong Refinery undergoes a massive maintenance event to service the major sections within the refinery. Viva Energy recently completed the largest-ever event of this kind, the RCCU/HFA turnaround. Costing more than $100 million and involving 1000 people together with regular operations staff, it took two years of detailed planning.

Viva Energy’s RCCU/HFA Event Manager, Ashley Banks, talks about the stages involved in the turnaround, from planning through to execution.


1. Turnaround strategy

During the turnaround strategy phase we initiate the strategic thinking that will drive some of the key decisions around organisation. This includes decisions about key projects, benchmarks and contracting. The overall objective is to address some of the critical issues early on, to set up the event for success. We started planning the RCCU/HFA event two years out from the turnaround.

What we learnt:

It's important to ensure the site is aligned to the overall strategy of the event. This is key to good and prompt decision-making, both in the early stages and as event preparation gets underway.

2. Preliminary preparation

The focus of the preliminary preparation phase is on setting the objectives and rules for the event and putting together a steering team. During this phase we continue refining the contracting strategy to support all the work to be done. We also start to plan resources, make initial estimations for the budget and finalise a plan for event assurance reviews.

What we learnt:

The clearer the objectives and rules, the more aligned the team is. It’s better to set objectives and rules and adjust them if required, rather than not set them at all. Getting this done early on makes for greater efficiency.

3. Scope development and optimisation

In this phase, we really begin to understand the specific tasks we need to complete as part of the turnaround. We kick off the risk management plan, lay down rules for health, safety, security and environment planning (HSSE), review the event, confirm the make-up of the planning team and review the plan to support customers with products when the refinery will not be operating.

For the RCCU/HFA event, we had 2200 jobs to do and each one was interrogated to ensure it met the requirements of the project. Getting an agreed task list can be challenging. With so many people involved, there are plenty of conversations about what could and should be done. This is where having a set of agreed rules reduces the amount of churn.

Another massive task is event logistics planning. For the recent event, we had to build a new car park and relocate the on-site fire station to accommodate the extra workers.

At the end of this phase we have a ‘frozen’ list of scope items, in the form of a well-considered, complete list of work to be done.

What we learnt:

Make sure you have the right number of planning resources – and skill sets – during this phase, as it's key to the success of the next phase. The earlier this is completed, the easier phase four will be.

4. Detailed planning and scheduling

This is where we start to plan the details. We do site walks and review materials, resources and equipment for every job in the scope list.

Once all the job plans are finalised, we assemble them into one massive schedule using a software package called Primavera, which handles complicated timetabling. This time around, we needed to understand every one of the event’s 2200 jobs and their implications on every other job.

During this phase, we finalise plans for training, onboarding and logistics – having an extra 1000 people on site can present considerable challenges.

We then create a safety plan and a quality management plan. For this event we also created a hydrocarbon plan; it was crucial to understand how we were going to safely turn off each unit, remove the hydrocarbons and decontaminate them before the workers started opening them up.

By the end of this phase we have a precise schedule and a full list of materials, equipment and contractors. We also completed the final cost estimate and took it to the Viva Energy Board seeking a final investment decision.

What we learnt:

In order to successfully deliver the detailed planning and scheduling phase, you need to have the enough people to complete the planning of all scope items by the agreed deadline. Any changes to the scope list, whether you're adding to the list or reducing it, hampers the ability for the team to deliver the planning effort. Either there are more jobs that you didn’t know about or there is regret cost in planning jobs that didn’t need to be completed.

5. Pre-execution work and onboarding

We need to carry out a significant amount of work before turning off the units. This includes building the scaffolding, running preliminary checks and removing insulation to gain access to piping and equipment underneath. We do as much work as we can outside the execution phase, to keep execution as safe, short and sharp as possible.

During this phase, we implement our logistics plan – building the car park, moving people around our site using buses (six buses in the morning and seven in the afternoon during execution), setting up the turnaround villages and preparing tooling facilities and stores. We also start to onboard the contractors and their equipment using the health and safety plans and training and induction packages set up in previous phases.

What we learnt:

The start date of a turnaround cannot be shifted – the whole refinery will be planning on the team delivering as agreed. As such, keeping track of progress through the pre-execution phase is crucial to being ready for execution.

6. Turnaround execution

The execution phase is, of course, where most of the work happens. If we’ve done a good job of planning, the execution phase is extremely busy but controlled – organised chaos, as they say. Every day we hold a series of coordination meetings to guide the work for that day, deal with issues that arise, and confirm the priorities for the next night and day shifts.

Throughout the execution phase we use our quality management process called Flawless to ensure that every job has been completed and that we’re ready to hand the processing units back to operations for start-up.

Because of the size of the event, this phase ran over two months, with critical path activities being worked seven days a week.

What we learnt:

One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I joined the turnaround team was "schedules don’t build boilers" – a way of saying that while you need to be as prepared as possible, the execution system must also be dynamic enough to safely and effectively drive progress. You'll find a number of challenges pop up during execution, such as severe weather conditions, broken or worn-out components that need repairing, or new work not previously recognised. You need to be able to adapt.

7. Post-execution and look back

In the final phase, we remove all the scaffolding along with any waste and scrap, disassemble the turnaround village and generally clean up. At the same time, we close out any outstanding planning aspects such as funding. We then review and record lessons learned through the planning and execution of the event for use when planning future turnarounds.

What we learnt:

Taking the time to think about all the lessons learnt provides us with the best opportunity to keep doing the good things. We're also able to change what didn’t work for next time.

The RCCU/HFA turnaround was massive and we'll need to start thinking about kicking off the process for the next one soon. There are always turnaround events in various stages of planning, execution or evaluation, to keep our sites operating safely and reliably.

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Geelong Refinery