Modules Master—October 2013 print issue

KBR Industrial Canada builds sophistication atop its long oilsands history

October 31, 2013
by By Graham Chandler

If Oilsands Review had been published 45 years ago, KBR Industrial Canada could very well have been the magazine’s first Supplier of the Year in 1968. As it stands, the company will have to settle for taking the honours in 2013.

The company’s history in the industry stretches back to the very first oilsands project. As the Canadian arm of KBR, Inc. (originally Brown & Root), it has been involved with Suncor Energy Inc. and its predecessor, Great Canadian Oil Sands throughout the decades as the oilsands business has grown.

“We’ve worked with [Suncor] all along,” says Hal Williams, vice-president, operations for KBR Industrial Canada. “We were part of their Project Millennium, which started in the late ‘90s [a $3.4 billion expansion commissioned in 2001] and we’ve done ongoing work with them right up to this spring when they did their major turnaround.”

A fabrication and construction contractor, KBR Industrial Canada is a Canadian subsidiary of KBR, a worldwide conglomerate that was spun off into a public company from its previous owner, Halliburton, in 2006 when it was known as Kellogg Brown & Root.

The company continues to secure and execute massive oilsands contracts, including those supporting significant innovation, such as module fabrication for Shell Canada Limited’s Quest project, the first carbon capture and storage installation tied directly to oilsands production volumes. But KBR isn’t just about new construction. The firm also makes a mark in ongoing maintenance, repair and operations.

For instance, Williams estimates KBR has completed five turnarounds for Suncor in the last three years, and is currently on site with two maintenance contracts.

Plant turnarounds are no walk in the park—they’re highly intensive undertakings involving a complete shutdown of billions of dollars’ worth of plant production.

“They are very intense periods of time,” says Williams. “You are going 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 30–60 days. We have a thousand guys on site for close to 60 days doing that turnaround.”

During Suncor’s last turnaround, the company shut down one of their two production trains and took Upgrader-1 offline. “We went in and totally rebuilt the hydrogen furnace for them—this is a 30-year-old furnace,” explains Williams.

“And then there’s the regular turnaround stuff where you go in and open up vessels that haven’t been opened up for a year,” he says, “and you clean them out, do any repair work that they need. And there is always repair work needed after a plant has been operated for a year or two between turnarounds; there is a lot of maintenance that can only be done when the plant is down.”

That includes installing anything new and updated that the operator wants installed.

KBR’s turnaround expertise extends to Suncor’s Edmonton refinery too, which is now over 60 years old. “This year we did their spring turnaround,” says Williams. “And last year we did their fall turnaround.”

The refinery turnaround is much the same kind of thing, says Williams: shutting the process down, and then trying to do as much maintenance work as possible. In the case of the refinery, last year’s project had an even shorter time frame: just 37 days to complete a turnaround. During that hectic period, KBR completed the overhauling, refurbishing, installing new equipment, replacing worn equipment, cleaning components like heat exchangers out and getting them ready for another year or 18-month run.

Suncor hasn’t been KBR’s only major oilsands client. The company also worked as part of the original Syncrude build at Mildred Lake, which started in 1973 and shipped first oil in 1978. “We did all the onsite work, we supplied pipes and fabrication as a subcontractor; and then when Syncrude expanded from a major fire rebuild, we were part of that,” says Williams.

And the Syncrude project list goes on: “We were part of DB-1 and DB-2 [major de-bottlenecking projects], the CAP project [Capacity Addition Project commissioned in 1988], the hydrogen plant rebuild, and then we were a huge part of the big expansion UE-1 back in 2004-2005, where they added the third train. We were the CM [construction management] contractor on site for that.”

KBR is currently busy with Syncrude on another large oilsands undertaking: the approximately $2-billion Fluid Fine Tailings—Centrifuging Full Scale Plant (FFT-CFSP), KBR is providing constructability, module fabrication and construction services. The facility, one of Syncrude’s new tailings reduction technologies, is designed to pump fluid fine tailings through a series of centrifuges to separate water from the solids. The water is then recycled and the solids placed in deposits for reclamation.

Module fabrication is well underway. “We are building all of the modules—115 in total—and doing all the site work,” says Williams. “We are on site now and about 30 percent done.”

All modules and piping are done in KBR’s massive Edmonton facility and are then trucked to the Syncrude site for placement. “It’s a huge material-handling project,” he says. “High volumes of water through all these centrifuges and then the stuff that comes out of the centrifuges, which is the solids, as well as the clean water; you have to handle all that.”

Modular expertise
Williams feels it’s KBR’s expertise with modular construction that wins them many contracts. An advanced process called 3rd Generation Modular—where modularization actually drives design right from the start—was developed and patented by Fluor Corporation. “The Shell Quest project is designed using 3rd Generation, and we are building all 87 of those modules,” he says, adding that KBR is the first contractor to build 3rd Generation modules from Fluor.

“We are just building to their specifications, and these are very sophisticated modules. Certainly KBR was chosen to build them because we demonstrated that we can handle such sophisticated modules.”

And that’s an accolade. “What differentiates KBR from other module fabricators has to do with our systems that we have developed over the years,” explains Williams. “We not only have 100 per cent material traceability, but we have very tight quality control standards.”

And that’s critical: 3rd Generation modules demand tight tolerances, and extremely high assembly and fabrication standards are needed so the modules will fit together when they arrive in the field. “We have developed systems to basically guarantee that these things will fit,” explains Williams.

The modules are specifically designed in three-dimensional models so that the dimensions on the drawings are turned into reality. “When we are building these 150-tonne modules to an eighth of an inch tolerance, we’ve got to have some very tight systems in place to ensure that.”

Such accomplishments feed employee satisfaction and pride at KBR, which tends to keep personnel turnover rates low. “We have a large contingency of long-term people who have grown up with the company, who know the systems, who helped develop the systems, and who feel very strongly for the systems,” says Williams.

And that in turn is fed by a strong safety culture. It sounds counterintuitive when Williams says safety at KBR is not a priority. But the truth is, it goes well past that: “You need to say safety is a value,” he says. “And the difference between a value and a priority is that priorities change e.g. schedule or cost; a value is something that you live 24/7—at home as well as on the job.”

With such a consistently strong track record that is as old as the commercialization of the oilsands, KBR Industrial Canada can wear its new crown with well-earned pride.      B2B