Plan for the 5 phases of a plant maintenance shutdown

Be prepared for plant maintenance turnarounds and shutdowns.

By David Neikirk, ABB

A turnaround (TA) by definition is a planned, periodic event during which one or more processing/production units are removed from service temporarily. In the manufacturing sector, different industries use different terminologies to connote this concept. Some use the term “turnaround,” some use “shutdown,” while still others use the term “outage.” In some industries, the duration and scope of the event determines the particular vernacular used.

Regardless of the terminology your industry uses, this event might occur individually or in conjunction with an entire plant shutdown. The purpose of the event typically is to perform maintenance such as equipment inspection and repair. It’s also an opportunity to replace worn out or broken process materials and equipment that have reached their useful life. Both these activities restore the asset base’s life cycle and ensure the safe and efficient operations between TA events. Often this work can be performed only when the processing/production units aren’t in service.

Phases of a turnaround

There are five distinct phases associated with a turnaround. Each consists of key elements that must be executed to perfection in sequential order. It’s crucial to develop formal processes for each element of each phase. If formal processes aren’t in place, shortcuts tend to happen, best practices and lessons learned get lost, and, more importantly, key steps or procedures can get skipped completely.

Phase 1: Definition/scoping

The definition/scoping phase is the foundation for a turnaround. It’s in this phase that the initial planning, scoping and organization occur. Remember, TAs aren’t stand-alone events, but are high-cost, high-impact events, which represent the execution of the company strategy over a period of many years.

It’s important to build a strategy during this stage addressing how and when TAs are to be executed. Each turnaround should have a business case to justify the event. It should include the key drivers, such as cost reduction or overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), that make it a necessity and link it to overall company goals.

Senior management must view turnarounds as an important element in its strategy and should form a steering committee consisting of upper level managers who take responsibility for executing the long-term strategy for turnarounds. Give a TA manager full control of the TA thru every phase so as to develop and manage the organization and resources associated with the turnaround. The TA manager also works with the steering committee to develop the key performance indicators (KPIs), or a set of measures focusing on those aspects of performance that are most critical for success. Typical KPIs for a TA focus on safety, cost, schedule, labor hours, overtime and task completion.

During this phase you should develop the work list, a repository of every conceivable item that should be considered for execution and populated from every level in the organization. Some work list items are mandatory, as dictated by corporate and regulatory entities. Others are improvement-based, as part of an overall strategy to improve cost or market position. Still others come from inspections conducted to improve mean time between failure (MTBF) and equipment life cycle. Use data analysis to find items “below the surface” that degrade processes.

The CMMS is the final destination or repository for items generated from the elements on the work list. Any item submitted for the work list must go through due diligence. The fundamental criterion for items on the work list is work that can be performed only when the unit/process is down.Finally, develop a preparation plan to identify the cost estimate, schedule, work list, constraints and resources needed to execute the TA. The TA manager and the team prepares the preparation plan and submits it to the steering committee for approval and distribution throughout the organization.

Phase 2: Preparation

Phase 2 preparation begins immediately after the preparation plan is approved. This phase develops plan details before TA execution. Develop environmental, health and safety plans to promote workforce health and welfare. Develop logistics plans for reception, storage, protection, issue and demobilization of every item of material, equipment, services, accommodations facilities and utilities the TA requires. Write plans for quality assurance and quality control. Quality assurance is a program for systematically monitoring and evaluating the various aspects of a TA task, service or equipment/material to ensure standards of quality are being met. Quality control measures inspection, testing and engineering, which are used to oversee and improve the quality of work executed.

The work list developed in Phase 1 must be validated and narrowed. Develop detailed work packages for the finalized work list. The work package includes the job scope, number of craftsman, labor hours to execute the tasks and task scheduling. It also includes a standard job plan, detailing the operational steps needed to execute the tasks with precision. Safety steps, permitting, drawings and photos are part of a detailed work package.

Some use the term “turnaround,” some use “shutdown,” while still others use the term “outage.”

After completing the detailed work packages, decide which work is to be executed with internal resources and which are to be done with external resources. Tasks to be executed with external resources must be scoped properly and sent out for bids. Develop plans as to how these external contractors will be managed.

Tasks on the final work list must be thoroughly vetted for risk and contingency plans prepared for worst case scenarios. Pre-shutdown work such as prefab, specialty and piping, must be identified and executed. Capital project work to be executed concurrently with the TA must be fully integrated into the plan at this time. Once Phase 2 items are completed, you should have a final work list, a revised schedule and a cost estimate accurate to within 10% of the allocated budget. Once again, Phase 2 packages should be approved by the steering committee and communicated to the organization upon their approval.

Phase 3: Execution

Execution in Phase 3 begins immediately upon equipment shutdown. You prepared diligently in Phase 2 for the known items to be executed. While you prepared diligently for known items to be executed, address the unknown items that will become apparent as the TA begins. For example, scope changes or a request to change the agreed scope and objectives that weren’t originally defined to be part of the TA will arise as work begins. When developing a TA work list, it’s virtually impossible to predict the things that need to be done. No matter how good the history, or inspection process, or data analysis that can be done early, there’s no substitute for inspecting the asset base when the equipment is down. However scope change and add–on work can be costly and affect the TA critical path. Each should be carefully scrutinized before proceeding, and there must be a process in place to stay on schedule and at budget.

A good deal of resources also will be dedicated to inspecting the equipment while it’s down. Items will be found during these inspections and decisions need to be made whether to execute corrective actions. As in scope changes, a process must be in place to stay on schedule and at budget. It’s a tremendous task to manage the internal and external resources associated with a TA. The detailed schedule prepared in Phase 2 is one of the best ways to manage resources.

Update the schedule daily so resources assigned to items that finish early can be shifted to items that are behind. Highlight items that can delay the overall schedule (critical path items) and give them special attention. The TA schedule indicates the status of each task to be executed. It’s equally important to track the cumulative affect of the TA tasks. Use the KPIs developed in Phase 1 to do this. Items such as TA cost (actual vs. budget), planned vs. actual labor hours, overtime labor hours, overtime percentage are examples of metrics to track TA progress. These can be represented graphically as well. KPI information is critical and useful as the TA comes to an end. As the majority of the TA tasks are completed, the same number of resources is no longer required. The KPIs are an excellent tool to determine when to downsize the workforce for maximum cost and efficiency.

After completing each task on the schedule, testing must validate readiness to return to operation. Testing equipment after it has been touched in some way by turnaround activities is a critical process before startup can begin. Testing activities might be performed by maintenance electricians or instrumentation technicians, process control technicians, vendors or even operations personnel. Finally, after the tasks are completed, the asset base must be returned to as good or better state as it was before the TA.

Phase 4: Startup/turnover

Startup/turnover, the last step of the execution phase, begins after testing is completed. A final inspection occurs when operations personnel, maintenance and specified third parties evaluate assets for readiness for service. A hand-off to the operations group should occur when the agreed-upon TA work has been completed, punch-list items have been reconciled and no outstanding factors affecting startup remain.

Hand-off is a process that ensures that outstanding matters affecting the startup have been addressed. Startup is essentially an operational function. However, it should be coordinated closely with the TA team to ensure proper support resources are available.

After equipment is operational, ramp-up can begin. Ramp-up is the interval between startup and normal operating run rates and capacities. It’s an opportunity for adjustments and to observe equipment that has been installed or touched in some way during the TA. Ramp-up is a critical phase and the one most apt for a failure to occur after TA work is complete. Develop the final TA punch list when ramp-up is complete and the operation has stabilized.

The punch list is a forum for all parties associated with the TA (contractors, maintenance, operations) to walk down the equipment one last time and mutually agree on the items that need to be corrected. It would be ideal if all the items on the punch list could be completed. The reality is that TA budgetary constraints might prevent completing all items on the list, but it’s a good start for the next TA.

Phase 5: Evaluation

Phase 5 begins when the tasks associated with the TA are complete. Demobilization begins immediately following this completion and includes activities and costs for transporting personnel, equipment and supplies not required or included in the turnaround. This includes the disassembly, removal and site clean up of offices, buildings and other facilities assembled on the site specifically for this TA. Review Any TA activity that varies significantly in cost, schedule or technical performance using formal root cause analysis (RCA) methodology.

Conduct a post-mortem meeting to review the turnaround in its entirety. The agenda should include EHS review, KPIs/metrics, cost, schedule, punch lists, contractor management, shutdown/startup/ramp-up, critical path and major tasks review and best practices/lessons learned. A best practice is a technique, method, process or activity regarded as more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method or process. The idea is that with proper systems, processes, checks and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered consistently with fewer problems and unforeseen complications.

At the end of Phase 5, reconcile the outage costs. Close or cancel purchase orders, work orders and service contracts. Apply any vendor/supplier/storeroom credits for returned materials and equipment. Log returned quantities in CMMS for future planning purposes. Apply the credited amount to the overall outage cost in the respective area. Write a financial report that details costs associated with the outage, broken down by category — labor, materials, parts — so actual numbers can be compared to plan. This provides the opportunity to analyze cost horizontally and vertically across the system.

Conduct a final audit to assess the performance of each element in each phase of the TA process. Once completed, prepare a final report summarizing every phase of the turnaround. This document should be the basis for updating the turnaround strategy and the developing a business case for the next TA. In addition, review major equipment availability and performance before the next outage as a measure of the effectiveness of the previous outage. Typical general topics covered in the turnaround report include safety, quality, logistics, work scope, financial, TA metrics, contractor performance, organization and TA schedule.

A turnaround can be an overwhelming undertaking if managed as a single, stand-alone event. However, if the event is broken down into various phases with detailed, formal processes in each phase, it can be managed successfully each and every time. Consistency and repeatability are key in managing a long-term TA strategy. Resources are constantly on the move. It’s not reasonable to assume that the same TA team that managed last year’s event successfully will be available for next year’s TA. However, with good detailed processes in place, the effect of turnover can be minimized substantially.

David Neikirk is senior project manager at ABB. Contact him at