Refinery shutdown in Germany

The start of the stop


Projects with a lot of external specialists and minutely timed complexity can be held up by any number of things. When you add a national lockdown because of a global pandemic into the mix, partly shutting down a refinery makes it even more complicated.


Refinery shutdown in Germany

The start of the stop


Projects with a lot of external specialists and minutely timed complexity can be held up by any number of things. When you add a national lockdown because of a global pandemic into the mix, partly shutting down a refinery makes it even more complicated. It’s all in a day’s work for KAEFER’s team.


Refineries run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the PCK refinery in Schwedt near Berlin, they handle 12 million tonnes of oil per year and over 240,000 barrels a day. At that scale, it’s a real challenge to shut parts of it down for almost four weeks. KAEFER has been working on site for 30 years, with KAEFER Montage providing insulation services and KAEFER ESG doing scaffolding, so they knew the plant well. However, the shutdown involved replacing an existing aromatics plant, which included 6,500 m2 of insulation. That's a great deal of volume in such a short space of time. In fact, the shutdown of the facility was called into question because of COVID-19. When the decision was finally taken to go ahead with the process, everything had to run like clockwork and all processes had to conform with relevant guidelines and regulations. This wasn’t easy, however. Not least because a large number of KAEFER’s team for the job was based on the other side of the border in Poland.

Initially, there were special permits for commuters, but when lockdown regulations were strengthened, many members of the team had to relocate to Germany temporarily to avoid having to quarantine. For the employees, this meant long periods away from their families. For KAEFER, the challenge was finding enough suitable accommodation close by, as many other companies faced similar challenges.

Working hand in hand

At the peak of the project, there were 60 KAEFER people working at PCK Schwedt. The team are a close-knit group that work together very effectively. Communication functioned well and all the measures necessary to implement safety procedures and make on the spot adjustments were taken quickly and efficiently. The hygiene concept was developed in-house by KAEFER and functioned to keep everyone on the job safe.

There were some challenges to overcome, however. For example, to quickly react to client’s clearances at short notice, insulation needed to be on site, yet it was processed in KAEFER’s metal workshop in Drebkau, nearly 200 km away. So, the team prefabricated 85% of the insulation and then stored it at the PCK facility so that it could be used ‘just-in-time’. In total, 3 columns, 4 containers and several pipelines were insulated and given passive fire protection when the aromatics plant was exchanged – that was no mean feat.

Perhaps the biggest issue though, was the uncertainty of dealing with an infectious disease that nobody knew anything about. This was the start of the pandemic and the pictures coming in from around the world were unsettling.

The team took comfort from one another and knew that they could handle just about anything together. It was a different challenge than usual with regular temperature measurement, masks and social distancing, but they managed to get through it thanks to regular briefings as well as constant communication.

Strength in numbers

The KAEFER team can be proud of one number in particular: zero. There wasn’t a single accident, incident, spillage or a single coronavirus infection during the spring shutdown of PCK Schwedt. “The way we arrive at work is the way we arrive at home,” says Branch Manager Rolf-Dieter Bonkatz. “That’s our safety strategy, which includes hygiene as well. So, I think we can be very proud of what we as a team have achieved.” On top of that, they received a certificate from PCK at the end of the project documenting the success.

“We are proud to have established synergies between our scaffolding and insulation services for PCK Schwedt. Our performance has led the client to request even more scaffoldings services in 2020. This isn’t everything, however. It is projected that KAEFER will have the opportunity to invest in a larger scaffolding yard in 2021, that would make us a preferred supplier not just in insulation, but for scaffolding as well. This is part of our strategy to become a strong partner and indispensable on maintenance sites. We are grateful to have such talented, hard-working teams that represent KAEFER perfectly.”

Gregor Bochynek Managing Direktor KAEFER Industrie