Reconstruction of air separation plant (ASU) in Malaysia.

80,000 parts on the move

Moving an industrial plant in the gas industry is no easy task, but the experts at LINDE PLANTSERV® are up to the challenge - even across national borders.

International relocation of an air separation unit

  • Plants built for the gas industry have a long lifespan. But when the economic goalposts shift, relocating the entire plant may be the most cost-efficient option to safeguard the investment.
  • Linde’s team of experts provides all the services needed for a custom relocation of an industrial plant – completed efficiently and on time.
  • LINDE PLANTSERV® relocation project crosses national and cultural boundaries with flexibility to smoothly move a plant from China to Malaysia.

The winds of change can shift rapidly in today's economy, often also redefining customer needs. It is not easy for operators of industrial-scale gas plants to quickly and easily adapt to change. Building a new facility is costly and takes a long time, and it also means committing to a specific location. LINDE PLANTSERV® offers plant relocation services to bring dead capital back to life. In other words, an existing, technically functional plant is moved to a new location and adapted if necessary. The Shah Alam project is a prime example of a gas plant that was successfully relocated from China to Malaysia and then adapted to support new product requirements.

The story begins in 2015 in Chengdu, China. An air separation unit (ASU) for the liquefaction of oxygen, nitrogen and argon has just been built. A mere two years later, however, the operator of the gas plant realizes that demand for those gases has dried up. There is a need, however, for an ASU in Shah Alam, Malaysia – albeit with a different set of requirements. The focus there would be on gaseous oxygen, or GOX, rather than just liquefied products. Generally speaking, it is possible to technically adapt an ASU to support different product streams. “Building a new facility would have been a costly investment,” says Esra Oezel, project manager at LINDE PLANTSERV®. “Moving the plant was the cheaper option in this case, especially since it was in good condition and still at the cutting edge after just a few years in operation. As such, we got the go-ahead to organize the relocation from start to finish,” states Oezel. Linde engineers and project managers in Pullach and Hangzhou were then faced with the colossal task of moving the industrial plant 3,000 kilometers to the south – an undertaking that required smooth teamwork.

Simulation reveals necessary plant adjustments

Before making the move, however, the experts had to be sure that the ASU would be capable of producing GOX in the required volumes. To check this, Linde carried out a detailed feasibility study as early as 2016. The engineers simulated the new process conditions and used these insights to decide whether the equipment could be re-used and to what extent the design needed to be adapted to the new requirements. “The study showed us that we could take many of the plant’s components and simply modify them,” explains Oezel. The Linde expert’s team also discovered, however, that the coldbox, which is responsible for cooling the gases for air liquefaction, had to be replaced. This is because the pressure and temperature process requirements for GOX differ from those of liquid oxygen. The existing coldbox was simply not designed for these conditions. “We needed to place the engineering and construction order for this key component as early as possible as we knew it would take a while to complete it at our workshop far away in southern Germany. We were able to press full speed ahead with the rest of the project in the meantime,” according to Oezel. Two further tasks for the Linde team involved carrying out minor adjustments to the air compressors and adding two more internal compression pumps to the existing rectification column to adapt it to the new process conditions.

Optimum organization, smooth transport

Planning for the move began in earnest in February 2017. In the initial phase, Linde’s engineers examined the piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) of the existing plant and integrated the required new components. This digital document mapped the entire plant with all relevant control elements and ensured that all project stakeholders were on the same page. After that, the team led by Oezel conducted a systematic safety analysis of all plant components and created a 3D model. The planning for the move itself got underway from that point. The team had to figure out which parts could be taken to the new location and which ones would need to be replaced or retrofitted on account of wear or altered requirements, for example. By carrying out all of this upfront preparatory work, the LINDE PLANTSERV® team paved the way for a seamless and efficient relocation process.

Another factor that had to be taken into account was the regulatory framework in Malaysia. “All imported pressure vessels require approval from the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, and the application has to be submitted well in advance to avoid any delays in the subsequent construction phase,” explains Oezel. “But our detailed planning process ensured that everything ran according to plan.”

 Reconstruction of air separation plant in Malaysia after plant relocation done by the LINDE PLANTSERV® team.
Reconstruction of air separation plant in Malaysia.
Linde Plant Relocation The international team at the new location in Malaysia after the plant relocation of an air separation unit (ASU) from China (LINDE PLANTSERV®).
The international team at the new location in Malaysia.

Intercontinental teamwork

The building site may have been located in Malaysia, but the project management was handled 3,000 kilometers away in China. Responsibility for the relocation lay with Linde’s experts in Hangzhou, who were overseeing their first project of this kind in Southeast Asia. They had to organize the dismantling, transport and reconstruction of thousands of components in continuous liaison with their colleagues in Pullach and Shah Alam. Bin Xu, project manager at Linde and the man with overall responsibility for the move to Malaysia, had to smooth over some regional differences: “The workers on site were drawn from many different nationalities, for example Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. Differences in communication and working habits presented some challenges at the beginning, but we were able to work everything out with the help of our Malaysian colleagues.” The weather played a role, too, with spells of heavy rain leading to frequent interruptions on the construction site. “We were able to reach many of the project milestones by completing construction and subsequent commissioning activities in parallel – obviously always in full compliance with the applicable safety regulations,” explains the project manager.

Model of success

The biggest technical challenge for the Linde experts was using a mixture of relocated, retrofitted and new components to assemble a functioning new unit. Many parts from the original plant, the piping systems in particular, were built according to the Chinese Guobiao standards. These specify the materials, dimensions and load limits of the components. “Malaysia, however, uses the international ASME standard issued by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. This meant that we had to replace or retrofit parts in order to get the necessary approvals,” explains Xu. The computerized operating systems also had to be updated to make them compatible with the new components. But thanks to the project manager’s experience and the input of his expert team, the plant was commissioned in early October 2018 one day ahead of schedule. “Despite the incredibly complex nature of this project, our detailed advance planning ensured that everything ran smoothly and as expected. An outcome we are extremely proud of,” claim Xu and Oezel as they sum up this successful project for LINDE PLANTSERV®.

Relocate - the fast, efficient way