Improving shutdown management

Dec. 7, 2009
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says it's a matter of timing, scale and using the CMMS for a plant shutdown

One of the most resource-intensive activities a company can undertake is planning and executing a scheduled process outage, better known as a plant shutdown. Managing such a shutdown is referred to as a plant turnaround. Many people use the terms outage, shutdown and turnaround interchangeably to mean the period of time during which major assets or an entire facility are taken off-line to complete maintenance work that’s difficult or impossible to perform while plant equipment is operational.

Shutdowns can be large-scale, complex, costly and disruptive to the daily pulse of plant operations. That’s precisely why there’s usually significant potential for improvement, especially in an environment where the maintenance department is constantly putting out fires. This column highlights some of the key improvement opportunities.


Historically, many companies plan shutdowns during the summer months when office staff and operations personnel take their vacations. One of the easiest improvement opportunities might be to perform a cost/benefit analysis on the shutdown timing and move it to the most cost-effective time slot.


Some companies have saved millions of dollars simply by moving the shutdown away from summer or other heavy vacation periods. This is especially advantageous if you can move your shutdown to a low point in your business cycle when product demand is slow. Some companies struggle to recover from a summer shutdown, spending needless dollars on overtime and inventory stockpiling before and after the shutdown to deal with peak demand.

Furthermore, precious technical resources, internal and external, are more readily available outside of summer months. In parts of North America, it can be difficult, to say the least, to encourage your maintenance staff to stick around during an intensive shutdown, while everyone else in the company is taking advantage of the few nice summer days available. Hiring contractors during peak vacation periods also is problematic, and many companies are forced to hire less experienced resources or pay premium rates. Similarly, availability and premium pricing also can be an issue with other needed resources such as special equipment, spare parts and utilities.

Size matters

Another possible savings opportunity lies with shutdown scale, frequency and quantity. Many companies benefit by shifting from a large-scale, big-bang approach, to a higher quantity of mini-shutdowns performed more frequently. The latter can lessen the disruption to operations and maintenance, reduce the cost of overtime and external contractors, and cut production losses and start-up costs that arise after prolonged downtime.

A good CMMS is helpful if it can gather and analyze different job plans and schedules with associated cost data, to better understand the cost/benefit of different options. For example, if you currently have a single, two-week plant shutdown each year, explore the possibility of shutting down different areas, lines or equipment in sequence such that the entire plant is covered during the course of a year. This might result in small periods of downtime and some stockpiling of work-in-process inventory, but perhaps not to the extent necessary for a full plant shutdown. You also might be able to establish redundant processes to limit outages, outsource certain production requirements during mini-shutdowns, use condition-based monitoring to reduce the frequency of shutdowns and re-engineer equipment to allow maintenance work to be performed safely while equipment continues to operate.

This is similar to the breakthrough thinking of 20-plus years ago, when production and spare parts inventory counts were done annually by shutting down the plant for days, hiring people to count, check, record and analyze data. As ERP systems and CMMS packages improved, cycle counts were made possible to spread inventory counts throughout the year on a rotational basis with little disruption and cost.

Planning and scheduling

The key to an efficient and effective shutdown is detailed planning and scheduling. Modern CMMS packages and specialized turnaround software tools are essential for ensuring plans are optimized and schedules are executed accurately. The software has a number of features and functions that facilitate mobilizing the right resources at the right time, with the right materials and job plan. Features include ability to input:

  • Planned and actual work orders, including standard process task lists, estimated labor hours/dollars, contract labor hours/dollars, skills required for each task, spare parts required, tools required, quality standards, any relevant inspection measures and triggers, precedent relationship with other tasks/work orders, relevant safety procedures and technical documentation such as diagrams or layouts
  • Work breakdown structure from project level to master work order level to task level
  • Schedule with filters and sorts by crew, date range, location, equipment, etc.
  • Budgets with links to work breakdown structure and timeline
  • Contingency plan in anticipation of delays and other issues; what-if analysis or simulation mode to generate best/realistic/worst-case scenarios

The software tool also should assist with key processes:

  • Procurement, to plan the timing of purchased materials and services, expedite them and report on variances of cost and vendor performance
  • Inventory management, to ensure stock levels are optimized and that parts are inspected, kitted and released on a timely manner
  • Technical analysis and reporting, to expose and solve problems through Pareto analysis, root cause analysis, etc.
  • Warranty analysis and reporting, to ensure recovery of costs covered under warranty
  • Project management tracking, to determine if the plant shutdown is on time, on budget and maintaining the expected quality level

In general, the greater the level of detail, the easier it is to manage the plan execution. Given that a multi-week plant shutdown can cost as much as the maintenance budget for the balance of the year, it’s well worth the time and money to do it right.

Stakeholder involvement

Keeping key stakeholders involved from the early planning stages to the post-implementation review improves the quality and buy-in of the detailed plan. The role of senior management is to develop the shutdown philosophy and strategy in light of the corporate vision and strategy. The core shutdown team is responsible for development and implementation of the detailed plan. The shutdown team should include senior representation from maintenance, operations, engineering and finance (including capital planning and purchasing). Marketing might be involved to ensure customers are serviced adequately during the shutdown period.

It’s also critical to communicate often and effectively with shop-floor personnel such as technicians, operators, stockkeepers and so on. Specialized training might be required to ensure front-line staff and contractors are adequately prepared for executing shutdown procedures safely and efficiently.

Performance measurement

The shutdown team needs to define success for the program by establishing performance targets for various drivers and tracking them using the CMMS. Example drivers and performance targets include:

  • Project management (lower shutdown costs compared to previous years)
  • Customer satisfaction (higher quality of output after related problems are identified and eliminated)
  • Operational capability (increased equipment reliability through failure analysis)
  • Risk management (decreased lost-time injuries)

After the shutdown, conduct a post-mortem to determine what to improve for future shutdowns. Continue tracking the performance measures on the CMMS to ensure that you achieved your targets. If not, determine what can be done differently in the short term or for the next plant shutdown.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

(Editor’s note: The Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, at, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

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