Asset Performance Networks: Powering Optimum Performance for Projects and Turnarounds in the Energy Sector

George N. DeBakey Jr. & Brett R. Schroeder, Managing Directors If a company aspires to be a Software as a Service (SaaS) providing innovative solutions for capital intensive businesses, then undoubtedly there is no better industry to serve, and clients to have, than the largest oil producers and chemical manufacturers in the world. Asset Performance (AP) Networks, a trusted partner to refineries, chemical plants, and offshore facilities around the world, brings predictive analytics, innovative evaluative tools, standardization of work processes and best practices, and a proven record of significantly improving the outcomes of their clients’ turnaround events and capital projects.

In this context and for the energy sector, turnarounds are periodic planned shutdowns of a facility to perform maintenance and install new capital projects. These proverbial ‘pit stops’—turnaround events that occur periodically (every few years)—must be executed with an effective strategy and preparation to enable achieving the planned schedule and estimated budgets.

“An average high complexity turnaround event for refineries can cost $100-200 million, and has a timeframe of up to 60 days,” says Brett Schroeder, Managing Director of AP-Networks. Significant and complex preparation plans that define turnaround events often overwhelm the system, staff, and organization as a whole. Bringing all the players and their plans to come together in unison is an inordinate challenge. Traditionally, the manager chosen to execute the turnaround, drives these plans based on experience, with little involvement of all the involved departments. Not surprisingly, these events eventually spiral out of control and significantly overrun schedule as well as cost. Tackling these challenges head on, AP-Networks has developed the world’s foremost practice in helping clients improve turnaround outcomes. The company’s approach combines recognized industry experts, innovative software tools, and unrivaled data and predictive analytics. “We have implemented innovative web-based tools in facilities worldwide that transform the way they execute turnarounds,” says Schroeder.

"NaviTrack provides much-needed visibility into a corporation’s portfolios of all their turnaround projects across their refineries globally"

The power to tie together all stakeholders in a coherent manner and prepare data-driven readiness reports, work processes, and risk assessments for each turnaround event was realized by AP-Networks as early as in 2001, when the company introduced its first set of web-based turnaround management tools. “One can assimilate those initial best practices, and evaluative tools in the SaaS category, although the name was not coined back then,” reminisces George DeBakey, Managing Director at AP-Networks. At a time when ‘the Internet’ was a buzzword, refinery and chemical facilities relied on binders and spreadsheets to keep track of work processes and monitor the completion of the turnaround.
The leap, Schroeder says, from a paper-based world to the new-age web tools like the one provided by AP-Networks, made a significant impact on the industry as a whole.

We have implemented innovative web-based tools in facilities worldwide that transform the way refineries execute turnarounds

Licensed in over 300 facilities globally, AP-Networks’ web portals for refinery turnarounds, capital projects, and upstream projects have created a wave of standardization in the oil and gas arena. The company has created, in essence, a new lexicon for the industry—using their terminology, processes, and best practices in the areas of turnaround management and capital projects. “Our customers in the oil and gas arena have now standardized their data gathering process to align with work breakdown structure on the online data input modules of our web portals,” Schroeder explains. The online data collation module performs instantaneous checks to inform users about any mismatches of fields and bands with the input data. Schroeder reckons that AP-Networks’ strength lies in the database they have been investing in since their inception, and in the resulting expertise and extensive knowledge in the refinery and chemical turnarounds and capital projects arena. The amassed data informs AP-Networks’ tools, powering their benchmarking and analytical capabilities.

Tools that Enable Standardization

The Turnaround Readiness Pyramid, one of the earliest tools developed by the company, is a diagnostic metric that apprises the management team on the availability of the organization’s resources to deal with large-scale turnaround execution at key points of time. The real-time indicators on level of preparation, planning, and team alignment ensure that refineries do not experience huge financial and time-scale losses while executing turnarounds. Once the decision on readiness is made, it is time to develop various scenarios to create a preparedness plan. A plethora of variables within the turnaround—type of units involved, technology, and human element—is studied and the inherent risks associated with each of these standalone characteristics, and in a coalition, are derived by the Quantitative Risk Manager tool. Built within its architecture, a set of algorithms translates these qualitative risk indexes into quantitative metrics that define different outcome-based scenarios.

Once the intended schedule and costs are resolved, the actual preparation for the turnaround—which in the case of the largest events, starts 24 months before the event—is monitored and guided by AP-Networks’ NaviTrack system. Uniquely beneficial as a work process tracking tool, the web-based portal creates an organizational action plan and go-by templates for the teams involved in the turnaround. The leading indicators of processes are juxtaposed with the desired schedule and cost, and any discrepancies in any functional areas are brought to the management’s notice. “NaviTrack provides much-needed visibility into a corporation’s portfolios of all their turnaround projects across their refineries globally,” states DeBakey.
In one instance, the NaviTrack system replaced archaic paper-based silos for a large U.S. refinery that faced severe performance issues in turnarounds due to incessant overrunning and delayed schedules, which eventually impacted their bottom line and shareholder price. AP-Networks worked with the refinery to customize a standardized work process that led to better consistency of data gathering and preparation across all their portfolios. “We had it deployed and trained the users and then started measuring their performance at key points over the course of 5 years, and saw them go from an abysmal performance to a stellar one. This had a dramatic effect on their bottom line and they are now saving hundreds of millions of dollars every year,” explains Schroeder.

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The consultative approach employed by AP-Networks is driven by its subject matter experts, who also help fortify the design of their solutions. More recently, the company ventured into developing web-based tools for capital projects along similar lines. Early on, the company focused more on the turnaround sector since the founders saw a greater need and urgency and a way to revolutionize that area. AP-Networks is bringing innovative and advanced project development best practices rooted in analytics and evaluative tools, to the fore in capital projects. For brevity, Schroeder rapidly articulates four pioneering solutions: 1) An adaptive workflow process to fit and capture the projects’ value proposition and bypass time-consuming bureaucratic stage-based workflows while offering scalability and speed that are essential for capital-intensive projects; 2) An advanced Benchmarking Methodology that is scope-based; 3) A first-of-a-kind methodology to align portfolio characteristics with capability and improve fit; and 4) Another first-of-a-kind to improve the value of Plant-based Capital Project systems.

Apart from technology, AP-Networks brings a human element of understanding and expertise that suits the refinery and petrochemical industries. The company offers complementary consultancy to their customers, working with them to identify key areas for improvement, and culminating in a feedback presentation that constitutes the output of the engagement over the days. “In many cases, our consultants conclude those presentations with a sense of satisfaction, since these meetings help identify and tackle predicaments all the way to the root, and the outcome infiltrates all the way to the top management levels,” says DeBakey. “This makes our consultants almost like physicians diagnosing a patient’s condition, prescribing remedies to improve their outcomes. Other than the instant job satisfaction they get from these engagements, our employees also enjoy a sense of work-life balance.”

DeBakey extends this philosophy to long-term customer relationships, where AP-Networks acts as ‘corporate memory banks’ for its clients —a data repository that feeds their analytical expectations. “In the next five years, we would like to see increasing use of our data online to provide more real-time benchmarks, granular levels of details, and more sophisticated analysis for our clients,” says Schroeder. On the business front, the company wishes to expand into mining, steel, and the power generation industries. In effect, AP-Networks continually pushes the envelope for streamlining large-scale projects of capital-intensive industries, producing optimal turnaround strategies that lead to success.

Asset Performance Networks

Bethesda, MD

George N. DeBakey Jr. & Brett R. Schroeder, Managing Directors

Provides web-based tools and consultancy services to oil refineries in turnaround events and capital projects to meet budget and schedule requirements

Asset Performance Networks