Project Synopsis

Provide process engineering vessel inspection support during a major petroleum refinery turnaround.

Project Summary


The ultimate client owns and operates a mid-sized petroleum refinery in the Southeastern U.S. as part of a circuit of refineries located in the U.S.  Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) was subcontracted through a regional engineering company who was already doing business with the ultimate client and was asked to provide over three weeks of continuous on-site process engineering assistance in support of a major refinery turnaround involving approximately one half (1/2) of the refinery.  Specifically, the refinery needed help with vessel inspections from a process engineering standpoint.

PROCESS‘ primary role was to supplement the refinery’s process engineering staff for the inspection of a wide variety of process vessels. These vessels were opened for inspection after being cleaned/washed/blinded/vented by refinery operations personnel or by outside contractors.  PROCESS performed initial inspections to help find and document issues that needed to be addressed that may negatively impact the processing performance of the vessel.  Equipment drawings were reviewed prior to inspections for the purpose of becoming familiar with the particulars of each vessel (including critical components and/or dimensions that needed to be checked).  Distillation columns were inspected tray-by-tray.  Engineering findings reports were issued as needed so that problems were accurately documented and conveyed to the turnaround staff for work scheduling.  Minor problems were conveyed directly to contractors for more immediate correction.  PROCESS worked with both refinery personnel and many types of contractors (general mechanical, cleaning, specialized inspection, insulation, catalyst loading, etc.) to help ensure that the problems that were discovered were documented, communicated, and corrected.  PROCESS also performed follow-up inspections and signed off on closure forms if/when the repairs, internals installation, and/or vessel cleanliness were acceptable prior to final closure (installation of manways and heat exchanger dollar plate flanges).  These inspection services were performed in the Crude Unit, Continuous Catalytic Reforming Unit, Sulfur Recovery Unit, Hydrotreating Unit, Cryogenic Unit, and Naphtha Hydrodesulfurization Unit. General classes of vessels inspected included fired heaters, heat exchangers, flash drums, knock out drums, distillation columns, scrubber towers, and stripping towers.

PROCESS also provided process engineering oversight for the installation of a structured packing wash section in a new crude tower that was being installed during the turnaround.  Prior to installation, vendor drawings for the new crude tower were reviewed and PROCESS independently calculated an acceptable leak rate for the chimney tray above the packed section. This information was incorporated into the tower commissioning test plan which PROCESS personnel helped prepare.  Liquid distributor levelness was verified using a laser level.  In addition, all the tower internals were checked by PROCESS to verify acceptable installation, orientation, dimensions (weir height, downcomer clearances, etc.) and levelness.

Additional duties for PROCESS included helping ensure vessels were ready for catalyst loading, monitoring of catalyst loading, and utilizing its licensed commercial process simulation software heat exchanger rating/design package (CHEMCAD’s CC-THERM) to perform analysis on a set of heat exchangers to help determine the impact of plugged tubes on heat duty and pressure drop. As opportunities presented themselves, PROCESS also mentored several of the ultimate client’s junior process engineers on process engineering vessel inspection.

Throughout the course of this work, PROCESS personnel strictly adhered to all refinery safety rules and procedures.  These included but were not limited to rigorous vessel entry permitting procedures, use of various fall protection systems, and use of a variety of personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the conditions surrounding each job assignment (chemical resistant suits, gloves, face shields, dust masks, body harnesses, etc.).

Industry Type

  • Petroleum Refining

Utilized Skills

  • Vessel inspection
  • Distillation tower structured packing installation oversight
  • Heat exchanger evaluation

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