Chemical giant SABIC has committed to investing tens of millions of pounds in the major maintenance and inspection of its Teesside operations.
The work, known as a turnaround, will see up to 2,000 contractors join SABIC’s usual 500-strong workforce to carry out the essential work over a two-month period in 2020.
Carried out every six years, the turnaround involves the shutdown of SABIC’s iconic Olefins Cracker, its world-scale low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plant and other operations at Wilton and North Tees.
SABIC’s Teesside site director Daren Smith says the turnaround investment emphasises the Saudi-owned company’s ongoing commitment to the region.
He said it was “fantastic news” that the firm’s Teesside operations had “earned the right” to the 2020 turnaround during a successful two-year period that has seen it bounce back from earlier uncertainty.
The last two years have seen the global chemical company commit significant investments to upgrade its Olefins Cracker at Wilton, near Redcar, and logistics facilities on the north shore of the River Tees. This was followed by what Smith described as “an excellent year for manufacturing” in 2017.
“I see a real sense of purpose, optimism and ambition to a far greater level than I’ve known in my 18 years with the business,” he said.
“We are succeeding but we must fight to retain our competitive edge by continuing to innovate and build on our privileged position to create a sustainable future.
“To build on those successes, we need, first and foremost, to prepare ourselves for the turnaround in 2020 when we’ll take the Cracker and all of our other operations offline for 60 days to carry out essential maintenance and inspection to ensure our assets are ready for the next six years’ worth of continuous operation.
“Once the 2020 event is successfully completed we will look to earn the right once again for another high level of capital investment for a further turnaround in 2026.”
Although still two years away, detailed preparations have started and talks are underway to contract a number of firms from the region to support a project Smith described as “an enormous event.”
Smith explained: “In 2020 the whole of SABIC on Teesside will go into a shutdown mode. That means there will be a large requirement for support. Internally, we have already restructured to create a bespoke team that is dedicated to making the turnaround a success.
“That team is looking at the work we want to carry out, the contracting companies we need to engage with, how many resources we need to mobilise and what we need to achieve during the turnaround.
“We started initial discussions with suppliers some months ago and given the skilled workforce that exists within the region we foresee much of the support we need coming from local resources.”
And Smith revealed he had laid down the gauntlet for a turnaround that sets new standards for the industry.
He said: “The challenge I’ve given to all of our team is to make it the best turnaround event Teesside has ever seen. We must apply all of the known industry best practice in turnaround execution and then bring further innovation and creativity to make this event the safest, productive, most cost-efficient and effective turnaround we have ever delivered.”
Investing in people and facilities
SABIC is set take on up to 50 new staff for its Teesside operations during 2018 whilst continuing to make further multi-million pound investments in its assets at Wilton and North Tees.
The recruitment drive is a part of the company’s ongoing challenge to transform its workforce without losing the inherent skills and knowledge of its most experienced staff.
Meanwhile, the financial investment will ensure the chemical firm continues to maximise the manufacturing potential of its Teesside facilities, including the Olefins Cracker that has already seen multi-millions invested in upgrades over the last two years.
SABIC’s Teesside site director Daren Smith revealed: “We will put further significant investment into the site this year to make sure we continue to get the most out of our assets.
“The optimisation, debottlenecking and re-lifing of our assets will ensure they are fit to operate for the next 20 years, keeping up with all legislative requirements and seeking to gain further competitive advantage
“These are the investments you need to make to sustain the organisation – it’s about retaining a licence to operate plus enhancements.
“SABIC has committed to these enhancements in addition to significant investment needed for the next turnaround in two years’ time so there is absolutely no doubt it’s a big deal for our Teesside operations.”
Meanwhile, more than 500 skilled individuals were recently interviewed at a major Teesside recruitment event that resulted in the first of what could be up to 50 new staff joining the company.
Smith said recruiting skilled new staff was essential to ensuring the company’s ongoing success.
“We are very fortunate to have SABIC employees who have 35 or 40 years of experience within our business,” he explained. “The inherent knowledge those people have of our operating assets is priceless.
“But we also recognise that many of our valued employees are starting to plan for retirement, so we have an ongoing need to replace them by bringing in new talent and a chance to bring in fresh perspectives.”
Smith added: “The trick is to have an exchange of knowledge and experience between our new starters and our most experienced employees as this can add tremendous value to our business. We have excellent procedures, training modules and classroom-based exercises but there’s no substitute to actually spending time on the job with an individual who can pass on that experiential knowledge.
“So we’re working hard to ensure we employ new people in advance of those retirements, so that there is a transfer of knowledge over several months.
“I’m pleased to say that on Teesside our industrial heritage means we recruit many of our employees from across the region. My ambition is to grow our local industry to keep that proud tradition going.”