General

Debottlenecking Project – Analysis of Business Problem Application

Olusegun Oludare Written by Olusegun Oludare · 1 min read >

Process debottlenecking is a concept used in the Oil and Gas Industry to increase the capacity of an existing plant by making modifications to specific areas that constitute bottlenecks in the process. A bottleneck is simply a section of the plant that constrains or limits the flow of the process fluid. It could be a piece of equipment or pipe. The major advantages of this engineering process come in terms of cost and time savings. Modifying a small section of a plant will cost much less and can be achieved a lot faster as compared to building additional facilities to achieve the same level of capacity increase.  

For instance, on a facility with a feedstock storage tank that can hold 50,000 barrels. The sister facility that feeds the tank can fill it in 5 hours based on the inlet pipe size and pump capacity of the sister facility. Typically, after filling the tank, the feedstock is held in it for about 5 hours to enable any water present in it to settle at the bottom of the tank and subsequently drained out before it is pumped out to the downstream vessel or equipment for further processing.

The facility manager desired to increase the facility throughput by 50 percent based on increased market demand for the final product. Rather than building additional facilities on the plant’s limited real estate, the engineer carried out engineering studies to determine bottlenecks that could be removed to achieve the same or similar results at a cost that is about 10 percent of what it was estimated to build a new facility. Although only about a 40 percent capacity increase could be attained without having any significant effect on final product quality specifications.

However, one of the biggest problems of a debottlenecking project is the inadvertent introduction of new hazards into the operations and the creation of another bottleneck downstream of the process. Every debottlenecking project usually involves making some form of compromise between what is desired and what is achievable: a careful tradeoff between the quality and quantity of the final product. Having been a member of several debottlenecking project execution teams in the past, I now realized we have been applying the seemingly new concepts I am learning from the Analysis of Business Problem (ABP) course unknowingly. I am however looking forward to a deliberate application of the under-listed eight steps concepts of ABP.

Step 1: Understand the context of the problem, business dynamics, or industry peculiarities

Step 2: Clear definition of the problem. This step is critical because a poorly defined problem could lead to dealing with symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem

Step 3: Determination of objective. What good looks like a yardstick for measuring success

Step 4: Generation of possible alternatives

Step 5: Criteria development

Step 6: Evaluation of available alternatives against pre-determined criteria

Step 7: Decide on the alternative that best suit pre-defined objectives and criteria

Step 8: Develop an implementation action plan and backup plan

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