5 steps towards the perfect ‘plant dismantling for re-erection’ project

At a time when materials reuse and recycling is high on the general environmental agenda – across the world and in all walks of business – it’s no surprise that the dismantling of processing plants for re-erection, remains a popular consideration for operators. But how exactly do such colossal projects come to life? RVA’s managing director Richard Vann shares his thoughts…

Of course, the careful salvage of complete or partial assets is nothing new – dismantling specialists have long been able to safely and meticulously disassemble individual pieces of equipment or entire structures, for reconstruction and reinsertion into the global supply chain. So, it is only right that this process is validated or discounted as a feasible option – just because the plant may have reached the end of its useful life for one organisation, doesn’t mean it cannot have operational potential elsewhere.

However, there are naturally numerous criteria to thoroughly evaluate, to ensure that such a dismantling project represents a safe, cost-effective and environmentally sound route for the plant. And if the project does go ahead, what then? Here are five key pieces of advice to consider:

1) Confirm that the project is genuinely feasible

In truth, these projects only work in very specific circumstances. Of almost 800 RVA projects completed worldwide, to date, less than 1% of assets have been dismantled for re-erection.

When this route is of interest, an impartial feasibility and options study should be conducted to uncover an objective, clear and realistic view as to its true liability or opportunity.

Multiple factors must be considered. At a very basic level, the plant and/or machinery should still comply with current legislative standards.  Many assets – particularly those constructed in the 1960s/70s – have simply reached the end of their design life, certainly in the Western Hemisphere. They therefore represent too many inefficiencies – not to mention safety and reputational risks – to warrant ongoing operation, or they may have reached a ‘sell by date’ when it comes to compliance, which naturally makes dismantling a ‘no go’.

If the above compliance boxes are ticked, other data-driven findings must also be uncovered, including realistic costs, the delta in value that the sale will attract relative to the scrap alternative, timeframe and the vendor’s business drivers – to name just a few.

2) Find a plant buyer

On occasions the ‘buyer’ for a dismantled asset is a sister company in the same global group as the plant’s seller. The driver for the purchase may be to enhance production of a similar plant on the receiving company’s site, to provide a source of major spares or even because the second-hand plant will provide a useful ‘stop gap’ while a more modern facility is being constructed.

If an external buyer is sought, the completion of a mutually-attractive deal is a challenging exercise, as the costs of sequentially dismantling, refurbishing and relocating the plant – on top of the baselines decommissioning fees themselves – commonly eat into any potential profit margin. Delays which are common in the negotiation process will also contribute to excessive site security, maintenance, leasing and other holding costs, so financial awareness must stretch far beyond the price tag on the sale of the plant itself.

The numbers matter more than ever for this type of project, which is why the sale for reuse avenue should, in most cases, be seen as a ‘plan B’.

3) Don’t underestimate the complexity of the project

Dismantling for re-erection is a technically demanding and resource-intensive assignment, so the scheduling of work and the formation of a suitably-skilled project team should also form part of the business case for going ahead, or not.

If the dismantled asset will not remain in imminent future use – perhaps because it will be stored prior to shipment and/or re-erection – this will almost certainly impede the project’s viability as the likelihood of corrosion, decay and/or contamination is simply too great. Preservation to the required standards can be costly and difficult to achieve.

Maintaining the operational integrity of every component part is critical – otherwise, a highly-valuable resource could become nothing but a very expensive scrap metal jigsaw.

4) Decide on the definition of ‘clean’

Before any decontamination works begin, the asset’s condition – including the type and level of hazardous materials, cleanliness and structural integrity – must be rigorously audited. It is important to gather as much information as possible so that appropriately-skilled personnel – equipped with the necessary PPE – can then proceed with minimum risk.

In the general dismantling and demolition world, the objective should not be to over-clean an asset so that it becomes completely contaminant-free, but rather the priority is to take it to a ‘known state’. However, as relocation projects often involve taking plant across international boundaries, the  decontamination regime typically has to be set at a very high level.

In practice, it will have to be mandated for safe shipment, but remember that with the international transfer of plant, there are usually varying standards at play. Works must therefore comply with the regulation, documentation and certification rules of the plant’s origination and destination locations. However, to ensure best practice and maximum peace of mind, legislative parameters should only ever set the very minimum criteria. A responsible decommissioning professional should always strive to take EHS management to the highest achievable level.

5) Master match-marking and laser scanning

Prior to dismantling, it is often recommended that the plant is fully digitally recorded by a specialist laser scanning team.  This will ensure that on re-erection, the asset will be correctly configured and aligned. Once sufficiently cleaned, every individual component part of the plant should be match-marked with unique codes for ease and accuracy of reconstruction at the onward destination, and ideally carefully packed and shipped with accompanying drawings and maintenance records – where available – to aid the reassembly process. The specialist refurbishment and certification of some components may also be required, so it is crucial to maintain a detailed ‘log’ of everything.