June 2019

Project Management

The new normal in petrochemical revamp projects

You have made the decision to increase plant capacity—with a change in feed—in the existing facility.

You have made the decision to increase plant capacity—with a change in feed—in the existing facility. You have shortlisted the licensor and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors that are best in quality and cost. As engineering work starts, you receive the bad news that the existing furnaces and columns are not designed for additional capacity; so, the add-on furnace and columns must be redesigned. Further complications are that the feed contains certain compositions that will result in the need for an additional reactor and adsorber; therefore, additional plot area is needed. These changes require additional engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning and cost. The relatively simple job has now turned into a more complex, more expensive and delayed one.

Often, these types of projects seem to be simple and easy jobs, but this scenario has become the new normal during the revamp of a petrochemical plant, especially for cracker projects. The term “revamp or brownfield project” describes projects that are carried out to replace, upgrade or increase production capacity in the existing plant. A “new or greenfield project” is a project that is carried out to build a completely new facility and is not constrained by any existing facilities. The main challenges of revamp projects are:

  • The existing facility’s license technology design package and its intellectual property (IP) rights
  • The condition and operational restrictions of the plant.

Cracker revamp projects have often proved most difficult to execute effectively due to common challenges, such as process design, poor execution, and cost and schedule overruns. In the current “low-cost cracker project” scenario, clients are looking to utilize the most of their existing facilities.

It is important that revamp projects are carefully assessed, planned and have Process Design Package (PDP) or basic engineering completed with Class 3 (+/- 10%) total installed cost (TIC) open-book cost estimates to reach final investment decision for the project to materialize. This article defines some of the key paths forward for the project execution team to consider during petrochemical revamp projects. The key differences between revamps and new projects are shown in TABLE 1.

Execution model, strategy and approach

The main objective of the project execution model is to perform the work according to the plant’s turnaround (TAR) schedule, functional safety and environmental requirements of the client’s existing facility. The execution strategy must be focused on:

  • Meeting health, safety and environmental (HSE) compliance with the client’s HSE philosophy, while adhering to project objectives
  • Meeting the client’s project schedule (e.g., key milestones) and developing a reliable open book cost estimate to support FID
  • The contractor’s experience, integrated project task force and lessons learned from previous projects
  • Early involvement of construction and commissioning personnel during the engineering phase to develop module/prefabrication concepts, constructability and operation and maintenance expertise
  • A dedicated project control group to monitor progress and cost development and to prepare comprehensive project reports, with a continuous focus on activities identified as critical.

The project execution should be performed in five staggered phases:

  • Phase 1: Debottleneck study/PDP/front-end engineering design (FEED) engineering, cost estimate Class 3 (+/-10%) and Level 3 EPC schedule
  • Phase 2: Bridging phase with value engineering until FID by client, including procurement activities to finalize full scope purchase orders of long-lead items
  • Phase 3: Detailed EPC planning
  • Phase 4: Construction, including pre-commissioning to mechanical completion (MC), and training in cooperation with the licensor
  • Phase 5: Commissioning, startup and performance tests.

Global workshare execution and high-value engineering center

Well-established, long-standing global workshare execution always ensures a seamless workflow for cracker revamp projects. Division of responsibility is a well-established concept to all engineering discipline deliverables and percentage workshare between execution centers.

Design basis. The hidden items in a revamp project can result in poor project execution. If an item is missed (e.g., something important in the early design phase), cost and schedule can be affected significantly in later stages. Therefore, a debottleneck study and FEED are the most important items during cracker revamp project execution.

Project specification. All revamp projects are required to review the as-built documentation, local codes and standards, Process Industry Practices(PIP) standards, existing facility requirements and licensor design requirements. The execution team must develop minimum requirements, with main cost drivers using cost-impact-checklist (CIC) lists. The team must also review and apply lessons learned from previous projects.

Scope of work and constraints

Determine the current operating window and spare capacity of the existing plant—primarily the equipment, instruments and piping, which are the main parts of a revamp project. This includes the increase of the production and utility system’s design capacity; the number of tie-ins and their final location; electrical, instrumentation and controls; and new and/or replaced transformers and the control room.

Work closely with the existing plant operations team to review and ensure that actual capacities are defined. Piping and civil structure constraints must be identified and analyzed in the early phases of the project and should be designed to align with the plant’s future capacity. The key deliverables—especially piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), tie-ins list with locations, 3D models, etc.—should be developed to clearly define the revamp scope and changes in the existing plant.

Safety and integrity of the existing plant

The project team must identify the mechanical integrity and lifespan of the existing facility, especially the equipment and piping, where the tie-ins will be made, and to check and confirm that items are not obsolete. This should include, but is not limited to, checking equipment sizing according to the revamp capacity; the thickness of the pipe wall, especially at the tie-in joint; positive isolation; and confirming the sizing of control valves for better controllability and an acceptable noise level. This activity will help identify hazards. Hazard analysis, risk assessment and mitigation must be carefully planned, reviewed, designed and considered as an integral part of the overall petrochemical revamp project.

Management of change (MOC)

All revamp projects must be subjected to the MOC process, which ensures that a design change is managed safely by identifying risks, developing measures to mitigate them and developing or updating the documents to support the change. This process requires extensive reviews at various phases of the project [e.g., P&IDs review, hazard and operability (HAZOP); hazard identification (HAZID) and quantitative risk assessment (QRA) studies, and constructability reviews with the design engineering team, the client’s HSE and operations personnel].


The planning of TAR/shutdown activities should be thoroughly assessed and carefully reviewed with the operations team. The shutdown sequence of the existing plant must be developed from the design phase by both the execution team and operations team. For example, the number and location of piping tie-ins must consider the detailed design of the complete system, considering key factors such as hot tapping or cold tapping, pipe cleaning, pipe material, strength, stress, supports, positive isolation, valve access, etc.

Operations and maintenance

P&ID review, HAZID/HAZOP analysis and all 3D design reviews should be carried out with the client’s operations and maintenance teams to review and confirm that the proposed designs are safe and reliable to operate and maintain.

Construction and commissioning

Construction and commissioning teams should have early and continuous input on the design in the engineering phase. A constructability review must be done with a 3D model with all possible engineering disciplines and client personnel. The demolition and installation scope must be planned, reviewed and frozen during the engineering phase.

Key success factors (KSF)

Major elements for the revamp project’s execution are described in TABLE 2, with a special emphasis on the organization and technical execution. Based on experience, some success factors require attention as these factors can determine the success of the project’s execution.


Revamp projects are an important part in the lifecycle of any petrochemical plant. A proactive approach, good communication, high-value engineering and an integrated team effort are key to successful execution of cracker revamp projects. Highly qualified and experienced design engineers play a crucial role in the execution team. It is the execution team’s responsibility to develop a smart approach that can fit within the constraints imposed by the existing systems and facility to avoid later surprises. Successful execution always requires a healthy approach to understand the existing facility design and as-built documentation; proactive coordination and involvement of operations; robust planning; stage-wise reviews of all engineering deliverables with construction, commissioning and operations personnel; and effective project management to control and monitor the overall project execution plan. HP

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