Interview: Back to basics
Essam Al Sheibany, general manager, Mina Al Fahal, Orpic, tells RPME how with absolutely no capital investment the plant achieved its highest utilisation rate to date
Sheibany’s journey began three years ago, when the oil industry was in a much healthier state than today. Still, operational efficiencies and improvements were extremely important to ensuring not just higher bottom line, but also better performance, reliability and customer satisfaction.
Little has changed today. If anything, stakes have increased. With demand on the wane and margins shrinking at a faster than expected pace, operators are increasingly having to do more with less.
Therefore, it is no small for the 34-year old refinery to reach a record 94% plant utilisation rate with no capital investment whatsoever. As the man in charge of the project, Sheibany hardly wants to take any credit and says it was the result of hard work and team effort.
“Mina Al-Fahal is one of the oldest refineries in Oman and we wanted to make it shine among its peers using the experience, knowledge and skills available within the refinery. So we set out on a journey that we called ‘Back to Basics’, a programme where [people from] different disciplines have one goal and that is the continuous improvement of the plant,” he told RPME.
“This simple programme focuses on core areas such as health, safety and the environment (HSE), operations and plant equipment to reassess and re-evaluate key areas for improvement.
“We didn’t add any equipment or new technology. Instead we focused on something very core: reliability improvement and process safety, which has helped us on a continuous basis to achieve better results.
“In order to achieve the company’s goal of high utilisation while maintaining safe and reliable operations, it was pertinent to go back to the simplest basic practices.”
The key driver behind the task was to improve the refinery’s reliability, as Sheibany explains: “Everyone was able to make a contribution, using their perspective and their respective expertise.
“The maintenance team came up with a number of initiatives to make our repairs one-offs, i.e. not having to go back and do them again. The inspection team followed an early monitoring programme, looking at everything that could threaten the reliability of the plant.”
As a result, Mina Al-Fahal was able to achieve 99.9% plant availability, which is almost unprecedented and exceeds by far every industry benchmark.
A milestone for both Orpic and Oman, the achievement was almost a necessity. As the Sultanate’s main fuel supplier, the company has no choice but to keep its refineries in top shape, and ensure the smooth running of operations.
“The majority of fuel consumption happens in Muscat itself and 70% of the nation’s output is consumed in the capital. To minimise the cost of transportation, we have to make sure that the MAF refinery runs at a very high utilisation rate as it is the main provider of fuel for the nation,” said Sheibany.
Executing an efficient plant turnaround plays an important role in ensuring plant availability and avoiding unplanned shutdowns, which normally cost operators millions of dollars in maintenance and repair, and decreased production.
“A successful plant turnaround will yield reliable and very good process safety environment throughout the plant. If you don’t have good turnaround you will always have problems where you would have to have intermediate feedstocks. The good plant turnaround, if executed successfully, will allow you to run the plant until the next turnaround without any stops,” Sheibany said.
Every refiner would agree that the key to a successful turnaround is planning. In the case of Orpic, improved planning, round the clock inspections and more focused strategic thinking resulted in an improved and more streamlined approach.
“We moved away from the conventional way of running turnaround where you have to do everything when the refinery stops. So now we are just focusing on what’s the next thing we have to do when the refinery stops. We can do everything else while the refinery is online: we can do spare capacity, repairs and inspection online and do a plant turnaround only if something cannot be done unless the refinery stops production.
“With that we’ve been able to focus more, have a better plant for the turnaround, and a lower cost and scope. Although the plant turnaround requires a capital investment, you can minimise it and have it as low as possible by having a proper planning,” Sheibany added.
Orpic also has its own approach to operational excellence, a core component in every organisation’s strategy. With four main focus areas, the company refers to it as RITE, which stands for Reliability, Integration, Talent Management and EBIDTA, or Profitability.
Sheibany explains: “Reliability and process safety includes building a framework and arriving at a change of behaviour.”
“It is about bringing a foundation of predicting and building leadership, tools and best practices. Integration focusses and identifies areas of integration of the new large projects, SRIP, MSPP and LPIC,” he added.
Talent management and development forms an important part of the operational excellence strategy of the company, which also has some of the highest localisation targets in the region.
In 2015 Orpic won the Oil & Gas Middle East and Refining and Petrochemicals Middle East Localisation Strategy of the Year award for its Student Internship Training Programme.
The company has recently trained over 800 young Omani nationals and through some of its key downstream projects such as the Sohar Refinery Improvement Project (SRIP) and Liwa Plastics Project will create thousands of new jobs in the Sultanate.
“Some of the projects like Liwa Plastics require international expertise so we have been recruiting people from all over the globe but not at the expense of local talent.
“We encourage and promote Omanisation to ensure the sustainability of knowledge and talent development at Orpic,” Sheibany concluded.