May 18, 2021

Member Blog: Teamwork Enables a Successful Reactor Replacement at Monument Chemical, Bayport

Replacing a chemical reactor is a major undertaking during the best of circumstances, but what happens when this needs to be done during a pandemic – and multiple teams are involved? Is it possible to safely replace equipment worth millions of dollars expected to last 50 years or more?

As with just about everything at Monument, it is absolutely possible when the right teams come together!

Monument is known for inviting customers to “Challenge Us,” and the project to replace the R120 reactor at the Bayport, TX site was no different for employees. “The original R120 reactor was built in 1955, and when it failed mechanical integrity tests due to pitting and corrosion, we knew we had to move fast,” said Kris Sturgul, Site Leader for Bayport. “We already had a project underway to evaluate the time, money, and effort required to build a new reactor and determined it made more sense to do this instead of repairing and maintaining the existing unit.”

An aerial view of the Monument Chemical site in Bayport, TX.

After securing approval from leadership to move forward with the capital investment needed, the team officially began construction on the new reactor in October 2020, with the goal of having it up and running by Q2 2021.

“We were able to draw on our experience and some of the design elements from building the R140 reactor, which helped accelerate the fabrication process,” said Jerry Traylor, Senior Project Engineer and team leader for the replacement. “Building a new reactor from the ground up allowed us to make key enhancements, such as increases in heating and cooling capabilities, using superior reactor metallurgy to prevent corrosion, and increasing the overall batch capacity by 15 percent. We wanted the new design to be as versatile as possible and added the provision to run the unit as a batch process or CSTR (continuous stirred tank reactor).”

However, making enhancements didn’t come without challenges. Each time the team walked through these changes, considering the flow of the process to be run in that reactor, they encountered minor design challenges that had to be resolved on the fly.

“It was definitely a challenge to go through that exercise with an open mind, not thinking we had already corrected everything and potentially overlooking something else as a result,” said Romain Vidal-Michel, Campaign Team Leader. “Whatever we took to Jerry’s team or our maintenance group, they came back with plans to address them immediately and bring the reactor up to our standard. There is no doubt that R120 is a much safer and efficient reactor as a result of this process.”

Staying on schedule was challenging, given that other capital investment projects were underway at the site, and COVID-19 safety protocols added additional complexities. “Our crews worked seven days a week to finish construction on time, using internal and external resources,” said Jerry. “We pulled in technical expertise from other areas within Monument when we needed to, such as getting support from Jesse Lloyd, whose specialty is rotating equipment and getting things in and out correctly. We had constant audits throughout the project to ensure safety and mechanical integrity.”

As the reactor got closer to starting up, the team – including Jesse Lightfoot, Production Specialist – developed a water testing/batching checklist to ensure it was operating correctly before adding chemicals, many of which are corrosive and highly flammable. They knew they would only have one opportunity to discover and resolve issues safely, so having a comprehensive, thorough checklist was critical.

“R120 is our site’s workhorse batch reactor, so everyone was invested in getting it back online and running as quickly and safely as possible,” said Bob Harbour, Senior Process Engineer. “This project was a great illustration of the power of teamwork, and I’m proud that we were able to finish both on time and without any injuries or illnesses.”

As expected during the commissioning of a new piece of equipment, 24/7 coverage was requested for at least the first few batches of the process to ensure help was available if needed. “The day of start-up, I worked that morning, went home after lunch to rest for a few hours, and came back that evening for the night shift to watch over the first batch,” said Romain. “I can’t say I wasn’t exhausted that morning, but it was also very satisfying to be among the group seeing things work out exactly as planned!”

The new R120 reactor came online ahead of schedule in late March. “We’re already seeing improved cycle times and increased output, which is great news after having to rely on our backup reactor over the past few months. I’m optimistic that this will continue as production ramps up,” said Dottie Linkugel, Production Scheduler.

Congratulations to everyone involved in building the new reactor and bringing it online safely!

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