The Benfield Column Repair Project

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Ian Boggon, PMPr General Manager, INTENS SA PM Network, February 1996, pp. 25-30

Sasol Benfield Plant

At 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, 1994, a fire broke out in the carbonate regeneration column in the Benfield Unit of the Gas Circuit at Sasol Three, one of the factories of Sasol, a leading South African coal, chemical, and crude-oil company. The column, which was open for repairs and maintenance during the annual factory shutdown, is used to process hydrogen. It is one crucial component in a long chain of equipment that converts coal to oil and chemicals. Without it, a large section of the factory could not function, resulting in a considerable loss of income.

A damage investigation revealed that buckling in the shell of the column had caused it to bend in the middle to such an extent that the top of the steam chimney was 500 mm (20 inches) off-center, making the 70 m (231 feet) column resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Decision analysis revealed that, to get the plant safely back online in the shortest possible time, the damaged portion of the shell would have to be

Ground Rules

■ The project will be schedule driven, riot cost driven.

■ There is NO float on this project.

■ Plan to reduce scheduled times, not be governed by them.

■ The project will be a team effort with Sastech and Sasol Operations as partners, assisted by Sasdiens and CBI.

■ Safety will not be compromised at any stage during the project.

■ Quality will not be compromised at any stage during the project.

■ Technical decisions will be authorized by Mr. J.D. Bosch and Dr. J.H. Snyders.

■ Process decisions will be authorized by Mr. A.S. du Toit and Dr. J.H. Snyders.

■ Resources will not be considered as a limitation.

■ Commitments will be adhered to.

■ Communication will be continuous at all levels.

■ Sasol Mechanical Maintenance and Production will be notified of all work before it takes place in the unit.

cut out and replaced. The main component of the project, therefore, was to strip out the original shell, fabricate a new section, reinstall the column, and re-commission the unit.

And all this was to be accomplished in forty-seven days.

The project team. Sastech, a subsidiary of the Sasol Group of Companies, was requested to undertake the repair at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 10. The Sastech project team consisted of a project manager, a senior project engineer, a cost engineer, and a planner. The total team, however, had twenty-seven members: four process engineers, six mechanical engineers, a pressure vessel specialist, a metallurgist, a welding engineer, a pipe stress engineer, a piping draftsman, a mechanical draftsman, a structural engineer, a structural draftsman, three quality assurance inspectors, a commercial contract officer, and a commercial procurement officer. Members were drawn from Sastech, Sasol Three, Sasdiens, Chicago Bridge and Iron Works (the original fabricators of the column), and from suppliers of the equipment and material.

CBI was contracted to remove, fabricate, and replace the vessel, with Sasdiens providing the rigging, piping, electrical, and associated work. Some of the CBI engineers involved when Sasol Three was built fourteen years ago now worked on the repair. The cutting up and removal of the damaged sections of the column was a combined effort between CBI and Sasdiens.

Within fifteen minutes of receiving the contract, CBI had contacted employees from six sites in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and South Africa and were faxing drawings from their head office, placing provisional orders for material, completing the rigging study, and arranging delivery of the massive spreader beam to be used to lift off and replace the damaged and new sections. This speed of response set the standard for everyone involved.

The column was handed back to production on Sunday, April 3, at 12:30 p.m., certified as "ready for commissioning." The project completion certificate was signed on Friday, April 8, at 4:30 p.m.—fifteen days ahead of schedule.

Special management methods. Conventional project management techniques were not sufficient to ensure that the work was carried out in the shortest possible time. Two areas were identified as requiring special attention: innovation and creativity, and enthusiasm and commitment. Because r •

Project Statistics

Disabling injuries . o

Welding rods burned 3r500 kg

Packing rings loaded 157 tonnes

" Bottles of cola consumed 15,000

Companies supplying material/equipment . 12

Budget R23.3 nrttl ($85.3 million)

Amount under budget R5.9 mil ($21.6 million)

Hamburgers eaten 12,000

Contractors employed 12

Activities in the schedule 450

People involved 700

Project duration 25 days

Days cut from the schedule 15

the time frame was short, any time saved on individual tasks would have a direct effect on the overall project duration.

But because the majority of the workforce had been involved in the maintenance shutdown when the fire started, they were locked into a mindset that the schedule governs the duration of each task and a successful task is perceived as one that is completed "on time." On the first day of the repair project, two people were overheard saying that they had "plenty of time" to finish a particular task. It was explained to them that, for this project, they would be given credit for work finished ahead of schedule rather than on schedule.

This story was recounted at the next meeting, and supervisors were asked to pass the message on to their teams. The result was incredible. People came up with ideas for saving even five minutes—unheard of under normal circumstances. Such was the enthusiasm created in the workforce that this became the dominant culture. On the third day, when a new supervisor joining the team said that he would start first thing in the morning, there was an immediate uproar, with everyone in the meeting shouting that he should begin immediately!

It was agreed at the beginning of the project that to get the commitment of everyone involved, they had to know what was going on at all times. This was achieved in a number of ways.

A list of ground rules, developed in conjunction with the client's senior management team, was distributed to everyone on the project. Any decision, even if unconventional, could be accepted if it complied with these rules. For example, the welding foreman hired welders from a rival company rather than delay completion of a task because the ground rule stated that resources could not be considered as a limitation.

A board was put up outside the command center caravan and updated twice daily. When people performed well, their names were posted there. This was a real morale booster. The project team was located on-site and was present before the night shift finished in the morning and after it started at night. Visits were frequently made during the night, removing the feeling of isolation normally associated with this shift. The project team also made a commitment to visit every crew at least twice a day to give feedback and encouragement. Frequent visits were also made to off-site supervisors. Each member of the project team had a pager and the crews were encouraged to make contact at any time of the day or night, which helped to speed up the decision-making process.

From the first meeting, we encouraged innovation and creativity. Even silly ideas were examined in case they produced a worthwhile solution. This continuous push for innovative ideas produced numerous time-saving solutions.

Each person was encouraged to work for the benefit of the project as a whole and not for his or her own interest. The person responsible for a critical path activity would get help voluntarily from all other members in the team because he or she understood that to shorten the critical path would also shorten the total project. This concept was so successful that at one stage a fistfight nearly broke out because three different artisans wanted to work on one particular section of scaffold at the same time, such was their enthusiasm for the job.

A policy of 'Accept It... Or Change It... But Never Complain About It" kept meetings positive. In addition to the shift change meetings, communication sessions were convened twice a day when the activities of the next two days were discussed in minute detail.

This positive spirit created a dedicated project team that had many successes leading up to the overall success. Over one million Rands ($3.6 million) worth of material and equipment was ordered and not one single item was late. Each piece of piping fitted correctly the first time—and there were many hundreds of meters installed. The managing director of one company opened up his factory over the Easter weekend to supply urgently required material. The production department, swept up in the spirit of the project, applied the same principles to re-commissioning activities and slashed the previous record for bringing the plant safely back online. The human factor was what made the project a success.

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