Generator and compressor rental company Rand-Air’s oil-free compressors, portable generators and nitrogen generators ensure ‘well-oiled’ refinery shutdowns, says Rand-Air Durban area manager Rudi de Vry.
In June, South Africa’s largest refinery completed a month-long shutdown, during which contractors worked on-site around the clock.
“With the immense deadline pressure, equipment downtime had to be avoided at all costs – something which Rand-Air managed to do with great success in this instance.”
During the shutdown, various sections of the refinery needed to be activated temporarily for testing purposes.
De Vry explains that, during this stage, compressed air is used for driving the refinery’s control systems. Ironically, though the installation is an oil refinery, the air used in control systems has to be free of oil vapour and other contaminants.
“Fortunately, Rand-Air can meet this requirement with its Class 0 oil-free compressors. “The company’s ability to supply pure, clean, dry compressed air has built up a strong niche for Rand-Air in the refinery market,” De Vry continues.
Similarly, during the shutdown, temporary power was also needed for various functions in the refinery. These included extensive welding for repairs and maintenance, the execution of which was also achieved more efficiently with the use of Rand-Air portable generators.
Meanwhile, De Vry notes that, apart from compressed air and portable power, Rand-Air – through parent company Atlas Copco’s global rental network – is also able to supply nitrogen generators to its refinery customers. Nitrogen is used for inserting, blanketing and purging, the aim being to suppress flammability by reducing oxygen levels to a point where combustion is no longer possible.
“Refineries are, after all, in the business of producing highly flammable liquids and therefore the potential for risk is high unless very stringent countermeasures are taken. Rand-Air recognises this critical operational and safety consideration and therefore every single equipment item that is sent to a refinery is checked and double-checked to ensure that it meets with the customer’s safety, health, environmental and quality standards,” he comments.
Further, De Vry highlights that, owing to the complexity and nature of the oil refinery process, shutting the plant down for ad hoc repairs is not an economical option.
Oil and gas refineries are designed so that they will run uninterrupted for a period of 18 months to two years, after which sections of the refinery are shut down for scheduled periods of repair and maintenance.
During what is invariably a period of frenetic activity, all repairs, upgrades and maintenance are carried out. These pre-emptive measures prevent the eventuality of unscheduled (and extremely expensive) downtime.
As a shutdown at a major refinery could disrupt the flow of fuel to the nation, these events have to be meticulously planned and timed, adds De Vry.
He adds that before a shutdown, the oil refinery contacts all the repair and maintenance subcontractors that will be needed during the shutdown. To ensure that the shutdown proceeds as swiftly and smoothly as possible, these contractors need to ensure they have the tools and equipment with the correct capability and the highest levels of safety.
“To give an idea of the scale of a refinery shutdown, often thousands of contract workers are involved, who in many cases, need to be supplied with temporary compressed air and power, as well as other tools and equipment.
Meanwhile, for Rand-Air Durban, situated strategically near several major oil refineries, shutdowns are therefore critical events in their yearly project hire planning.
“For these, before the shutdown starts, Rand-Air needs to assemble a specific ‘fleet’ of rental equipment which can include dozens of items.”
In terms of this, the logistics can be challenging, as often equipment items have to be brought from Rand-Air’s other branches to meet refinery shutdown requirements.
“The company has been in business for more than 46 years and, during this time, Rand-Air has become the preferred rental equipment partner to many South African oil refineries.”
During nearly five decades of operation, Rand-Air has developed and nurtured a close relationship with South Africa’s oil refineries, including those in Durban, observes Rand-Air GM Louwrens Erasmus.
“At Rand-Air, we have achieved this through scrupulous adherence to one of our fundamental business tenets – to always exceed what our customers expect of us, in every single area of the business,” Erasmus concludes.