Optimization of a major shutdown strategy and capital investment practices.

The first pilot studies of component activities (maintenance tasks, spares requirements, problem-solving/root cause analysis) revealed scope for multi-million dollar potential savings or performance improvements.
An extension from the current 2-yearly shutdown to 4-yearly would hold net cost/risk improvements worth $2.8m/year
The average payback for many of the necessary capital investments identified was just 3 months.
De-bottlenecking revealed considerable scope for cost/risk/performance savings, worth a total of $7.5m/year
Contract Objectives

SASOL in South Africa, is responsible for around 50% of the total domestic fuel and lubricants market, largely through its world-leading coal-to-gas-to-oil conversion technologies.  The Secunda site comprises the largest such production facility, some 10km x 4km of integrated process plant, with over 23,000 pressure vessels and a feedstock obtained from 5 coal mines operating 24/7. Great pressure has been applied to the unit production costs, product quality, and operational flexibility of the plant, and significant investment has been made in new technologies and ways of working. A more integrated Operational Reliability approach would be far-reaching in education, organization structure, and in potential benefits.

Activity Description

The first pilot studies of component activities (maintenance tasks, spares requirements, problem-solving/root cause analysis) revealed scope for multi-million dollar potential savings or performance improvements. A Reliability group was established to coordinate and facilitate the adoption of such methods, and a more systematic (criticality targeted) roll-out of RCM and RBI studies ensued.  At the same time, a number of further studies were performed using the Decision Support Tools™ cost/risk optimization tools to explore not just what is worth doing, but the optimal amount, interval or timing of the tasks.  These showed further spectacular benefits in cases ranging from turbo compressor inspections and maintenance, valve reliability and design, gas turbine rotor spares, pipeline corrosion monitoring and electrical protection system testing.

The study considered the top maintenance and risk areas, each modeled using Decision Support Tools DST™ to allow exploration of data uncertainty.  This modeling identified the optimum maintenance or inspection interval, and the cost/risk penalty for deviating from the optimum.  In cases where a 4-yearly turnaround cycle was found to be unachievable (too costly and/or risky), alternative designs, configurations or operating strategies were also evaluated.  Such de-bottlenecking revealed considerable scope for cost/risk/performance savings, worth a total of $7.5m/year and representing a payback for the necessary capital investments involved averaging just 3 months.

The cost, performance and risk implications of current 2-yearly and proposed 4-yearly shutdown cycles were then quantified, and key decision drivers identified. This study revealed that an extension from the current 2-yearly shutdown to 4-yearly would hold net cost/risk improvements worth $2.8m/year. Combined with the improvements available from the ‘debottlenecking’ actions identified in individual equipment studies, this represents a total benefit from the study of $3.5m/year.  This is based on conservative estimates for total cost, availability and risk effects, and includes ‘worst case’ projections for the associated risks (so the ‘most likely’ benefits are even greater).

Contract Project Outcomes

Examples of individual study results include:

Change SAS Reactor Coil Guide beams to a new design, carbon steel or stainless steel to allowing 4-yearly inspection.

  • Business impact: $67,000/year/reactor for changing to stainless steel, payback period: 1 year compared to current, 2 years compared to new carbon steel design.


Install a second pilot unit on each Hot Quench Tower & Separator Drum Pilot Operated Relief Valve, allowing on-line maintenance of pilot and 4-yearly on the main valve.

  • Business impact: $2.3 million/year for the 24 x ‘015’ valves, payback for capital costs is 2 months (015 valves) and 4 months (024 valves).


In addition to the individual study results, the team assessed the current policy of conducting Planned Shutdowns on a 2 yearly major turnaround (15 days), plus 2.5 events per month of average 4 hours downtime (unplanned). The study recommended a 4-yearly turnaround, with a slightly higher frequency of minor stoppages in the second half of cycle. The business impact $4-9 million per year average production increase (£5.6m and $7m SAS trains respectively)

The Woodhouse Partnership would be delighted to show you how the SALVO process and Decision Support Tools™ can be implemented to benefit your business, contact us now for a free initial consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.


“We were facing the apparently urgent replacement for obsolete equipment to the order of tens of millions of pounds. With SALVO™ we were able to reduce this by 60% and renegotiate support arrangements for the foreseeable future.”

Christine Pretorius
Industrial Engineering, Sasol Synfuels South Africa

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