Siting and Layout of Process Facilities

Siting and layout of process facilities


Siting and Layout: The words ‘siting’ and ‘layout’ are often used interchangeably, but, strictly speaking, they have different meanings. Siting is concerned with the location of a facility. For example, if a company is planning on building a new chemical plant its management may consider the relative merits of sites in Texas, Mexico or China. Layout, on the other hand, is to do with the locations of equipment, piping and buildings at the selected site and how they connect with one another.


The sketch below shows how equipment and safety equipment (in this case a safety shower) can be laid out.


Siting and Layout of Process Facilities
Layout of Safety Shower

Moran (2016) divides the term ‘Layout’ into:

  • Site Layout ― How plots within the site relate to one another and to facilities outside the site.
  • Plot Layout ― How process units relate to one another.
  • Equipment Layout ― How individual equipment items are laid with respect to one another.

Most layout decisions will be made during the design phase but the topic also needs to be considered when making facility modifications, particularly when new equipment or piping is being added.

The layout of operating units, equipment, buildings and roads is critically important for safe and efficient operation of the facility. A good layout is the most effective means of preventing an incident from escalating. It also provides good access for emergency response services.

It is necessary to pay close attention to this topic in the early stages of a project because, once the major items have been installed, it is difficult and expensive to relocate them. This means that there needs to be close coordination between all the engineering disciplines as well as construction, operations, maintenance and HSE (Health, Safety and Environmental). A 3-D model of the facility (and/or isometric drawings) should be created as early as possible during the design. This gives everyone involved an opportunity to ‘walk through’ the facility as if they were operating and maintaining it.

Location decisions start with the layout of major operating units within a facility. For example, in on oil refinery the relative locations of major units such as the Cat Cracker, Alkylation and Boiler House will be considered first. Following this the location of individual equipment items such as distillation columns, heat exchangers and fired heaters can be made. Requirements for vehicle and personnel traffic, security, emergency evacuation, firefighting and access for maintenance, operation and workovers also need to be considered along with the proper positioning of emergency shutdown and depressuring valves, ventilation inlets and outlets, cranes, engine air intakes and exhausts, vents, fired heaters, control rooms, offices, living quarters and maintenance equipment.

One of the most important layout decisions is to identify those activities and functions that can be moved away from the hazardous area altogether. For example, one refinery purchased a disused school building that was located about 1 km from the facility. They then moved most of their administrative functions into that building. Doing so created some inconvenience and expense. But it did mean that, were there to be an explosion or fire the people in that building would be safe.

The following general comments and guidance apply to the layout of process facilities. (Discussion to do with special issues regarding the layout of offshore platforms is provided elsewhere.)

  • Process flow generally dictates the overall layout of equipment within an operating unit.
  • High hazard and low hazard areas should be separated from one another. High hazard areas are those that contain materials that meet one or more of the following criteria:
    • Flammable liquids at a pressure of 35 bar(g) or greater.
    • Combustible liquids at a temperature above their flash point.
    • LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), butane, hydrogen, ethylene, acetylene at any pressure.
    • Highly reactive or toxic compounds such as hydrogen fluoride or anhydrous ammonia.
  • Spacing is required between the facility’s equipment and the property line so that members of the public or workers at another facility are not impacted by an explosion or release of toxic materials. Greater spacing should be considered if adjoining property contains process plants, large storage tanks, or other potential hazards.
  • Spacing between major process units should 25 meters or more. Spacing greater than 60 meters, except for special­ized operations such as emergency flares, provides little decrease in risk and may actually increase the overall hazard because piping runs will increase in length.
  • The likelihood of future expansion of any major process unit should be considered in the layout decisions. The selected spacing between units should not be viewed as a location for future expansions.
  • The facility or plant site should be level. If this is not possible sloped topography can be used to achieve additional design safety. For example, large storage facilities should be located at a lower elevation than the process areas. Then, if there is a large leak from a tank the liquids or heavy vapors will not flow downhill into the process.
  • It should be possible to build a unit without lifting heavy items over operating equipment and piping.
  • Issues to do with traffic and roads should be considered. These include:
    • Suitable barricades between process equipment and adjacent roadways
    • Vehicular traffic restricted where pedestrians are present
    • Overhead pipe racks protected from crane impacts
    • Adequate access for emergency vehicles
    • Blockage of access roads by trains, congestion or construction equipment
    • Sharp curves in access roads
  • The drainage system should remove spilled liquids to a safe location with minimal exposure to piping and equipment. The potential for vapor accumulation in the drainage system should also be considered.
  • Good access should be provided for normal operations, emergency response and escape and evacuation. In particular, there should be direct, unobstructed access ways that are continuous from one end of the unit to the other and that are connected to roads surrounding the unit.
  • Fire hoses must be able to reach any area that could be affected by a fire or chemical release.
  • The prevailing wind should be considered when locating ignition sources such as fired heaters and flares.
  • Continuous ignition sources should be located away from probable points of release of flammable materials. In particular, pumps and compressors, the most likely source of accidental leaks, should be located at least 15 meters from sources of ignition such as fired heaters and internal combustion engines.
  • Air intakes for equipment and building ventilation should be located away from potential releases of combustible or toxic vapors.
  • When operating conditions necessitate locating adjacent pieces of equipment closer than desirable from a fire protection standpoint, such as is often found on offshore platforms, additional fire protection measures should be considered.

Equipment Spacing

Once safety and environmental issues have been addressed equipment spacing should be organized so as to minimize the expense of the intermediate piping and valving, particularly when expensive alloys are being used.

In general, keeping items well away from one another improves safety for the following reasons:

  • A fire is less likely to spread.
  • There is less likelihood of someone injuring themselves during routine operations or maintenance.
  • There is more access space for the emergency response team and their equipment.

There are many regulations, codes and standards to do with equipment spacing and layout. Examples are:

  • API Recommended Practice 752 — Management of Hazards Associated with Location of Process Plant Buildings;
  • The National Electrical Code 70; and
  • API Recommended Practice 14J — Design and Hazards Analysis for Offshore Production Facilities.

In addition, many companies have their own standards and guidance. The use of standards can be supplemented by vapor dispersion analysis and other types of modeling. Within this framework of regulations and engineering standards it is useful to have general guidance to do with acceptable spacing. Guidance is provided in the following documents:

Further Information

The information for this Article is taken from Chapter 2 of the book Plant Design and Operations and from the ebook Siting and Layout. The Table of Contents for the chapter and ebook is shown below.

Regulations and Standards    
   Layout Risk Analysis  
   Facility Orientation    
   Hazardous Areas  
   Blocks and Roads  
   Drainage Systems  
   Loading/Unloading Facilities  
   Routine Access and Egress  
   Explosion Protection    
   Safe Areas    
   Emergency Escape 
   Manual Alarm Call Points  
   Process Isolation Valves  
   Emergency Showers and Eyewashes  
Equipment Spacing  
   Pressure Vessels    
   Hydrocarbon Storage Tanks    
   Compressors / Compressor Drivers  
   Heat Exchangers    
   Fired Equipment  
   Air Intakes    
   Equipment Stacking  
Piping and Valves  
Flares and Vents    
Stairways and Ladders    
      Load Capacity
      Stair Rails    
      Stair Treads 
      Safety Cages and Gates  
      Rungs and Stringers    
      Guardrails, Handrails and Toeboards  

Copyright © Ian Sutton. 2018. All Rights Reserved.