MRO Magazine

What makes a successful plant shutdown?


December 14, 2001
By PEM Magazine

A shutdown is a major task that has a significant business impact. Shutdowns are expensive because they are labour and material-intensive and because they take productive capacity off-line. It is imperative that shutdowns are carried out quickly and effectively to minimize negative business impacts.

This handbook focuses primarily on the latter. What defines a successful shutdown? Is it keeping within budget? Is it completing the planned work scope? Is it starting the facility back up on time and without incident? Is any one of these alone an indicator of success?

How can we call a shutdown successful if all the work we had planned to complete was not executed? Or the duration had to be extended to complete the entire work scope? Or the actual expenditures exceeded the budget by more than the allowed contingency? All of these are factors in gauging the success of a shutdown. If the objectives in any one of these areas have not been met, we cannot call the shutdown successful.

It does not matter whether we are looking at a paper machine down-day or a total petrochemical complex turnaround. There are a number of common factors in the success of the shutdown activity.


Problems commonly encountered in shutdown execution are:

  • Lack of an integrated management strategy;
  • Unclear definition of work responsibilities.;
  • Incomplete work scope definition;
  • Ineffective planning effort;
  • Uncoordinated procurement of shutdown materials; and
  • Poor contractor control and communications.

Any one of these and a number of other reasons can contribute to a failure to achieve shutdown objectives.

The discussion that follows will be put forth in the context of a large facility shutdown or turnaround carried out on an annual or bi-annual basis. The basic concepts are as applicable to a six-week schedule of down-days or wash-days as they are to the large, multi-week unit turnarounds. This article will cover the main phases of a management shutdown process and the key activities in each of the process phases. There is no attempt to lay out the individual steps in detailed chronological order; rather we present an overview of the important steps, key decisions and activities necessary to manage the high-profile facility shutdowns.

Organizations that are successful in completing the planned activities on time and on budget share several key traits in their approach to shutdowns. First and foremost they believe in two overriding principles:

1. That there must be clear and continuing communications between all stakeholders in the organization;
2. That shutdown planning is a continuous activity that is essential to success.
These organizations have a long-range strategic plan with specific objectives that are directly linked to overall business goals.

There are shorter-term objectives that establish criteria for all of the key components of shutdown management, from scope-determination to improvement activities.

Successful organizations will have a model that outlines all of the key phases of a shutdown management plan. From the model, they developed a step-by-step process that links all the phases and provides a meticulous guideline for carrying out the individual steps required to complete each phase of the shutdown plan.

There are defined roles with responsibilities that are specific to the management of shutdowns; all are linked to the steps in the process.

The process includes steps that cover all the activities necessary to develop and manage an effective, comprehensive and successful shutdown plan.

The process will include steps that:

  • Provide for the development of long-range facility shutdown maintenance plans that are used to establish shorter-term goals and specific shutdown objectives;
  • Require the creation of a team organized to manage the overall shutdown;
  • Establish a disciplined work identification and work scope development process that encompasses all departments and functions that are involved with the facility and will account for all activities undertaken during the shutdown;
  • Ensure that there is adequate time for the detailed planning of all jobs included in the scope and to allow for the development of a detailed schedule for the shutdown;
  • Include the execution of the shutdown plan as well as all necessary pre- and post-shutdown activities for maintenance, operations and engineering and the continuous monitoring of progress against the schedule to aid in the early identification of potential problems and initiation of control actions;
  • Allow for the gathering of feedback and the use of that feedback for the improvement of all the components of the overall shutdown management process.

The long term strategy provides the overriding philosophy regarding facility outages and encompasses a period of no less than five years and may extend out to 10. It links items such as the organizational growth plan and its marketing plan with its facility improvement and upgrade plan and its overall asset management and maintenance plan. It is used to aid the long-range budgeting cycle and will aid in balancing activities from one year to the next. The strategy will define the overall approach to shutdowns and will provide guidelines regarding issues such as inspection intervals, preference for unit shutdowns vs. complete facility outage, etc. The strategy will also lay out the requirement for resources over the long term and can be used to balance the requirements across various time frames including those for contractor support where needed.

There should be a review team in place that meets semi-annually or quarterly and is composed of: production management, maintenance management, planning and scheduling and engineering. The team’s primary role is to manage the long term planning process at its facility. It will provide a mechanism for the input and review of proposed activities from all departments. It will also evaluate current stationary and mechanical inspections that require a shutdown and the frequency of those inspections.

This will determine a framework from which the long range shutdown plan can be built. The details for specific periods in the long-range shutdown plan will differ in detail depending on your planning horizon and generally doesn’t include specific dates. At this stage we are only determining that there is a need for a shutdown and what major activities are scheduled for that shutdown.

The short-term or annual plans are much more focused and are built on a 12 to 18 month horizon. It is the beginning of the detailed planning cycle for the upcoming shutdown. Shorter term plans are developed and managed by a shutdown management team. That team involves those responsible for production material supply, sales and marketing, MRO materials management and representatives from operations, maintenance and engineering. This is to ensure that there is direct communication between all the groups who are impacted by the facility shutdown and to minimize any conflicts between sales requirements and the facility’s production capacity.

The key ongoing role of the team is to manage the overall shutdown planning process, forming the core of the organization that is put in place to effectively execute all the necessary steps in the shutdown management process. All the members of the team have specific roles with defined responsibilities in the execution of the shutdown planning process and will be accountable to make sure that all milestones are clearly identified, deadlines are met and to monitor the overall shutdown plan development. This shutdown organization is responsible for managing the budget, schedule and allocation of resources throughout the shutdown. The size and complexity of the organization established to execute the shutdown activities will vary with the size and complexity of the facility it is supporting.

The team will begin the creation of a more detailed plan based on the budget forecast and the need to balance the requirements for a shutdown with the real time production requirements as well as long-term market fluctuation. It will establish the specific objectives for the upcoming shutdown. By taking all the activities identified in the long-term strategic plan, plus all other activities that are proposed, including maintenance items like equipment inspections, overhauls and any capitol improvements, the team will begin to identify the activities that are critical to the success of the shutdown and those that will be part of the critical path. It can also identify potential bottlenecks to successful completion by reviewing, in detail, all of the work scheduled for the shutdown. The team will also continuously review all identified work activities to ensure that the shutdown is indeed the most appropriate time to do the work proposed. One point must be continually emphasised — shutdowns accomplish specific goals in as short a time as is possible while maintaining a safe work place. Since it takes the facility out of production, the shutdown cannot be allowed to "grow" to accommodate everything that anyone wants — it must remain focused on the business objective. Only work that requires a shutdown should be included in the work scope. It should not be treated as an opportunity to reduce the backlog or to do all the nice-to-have jobs. The shutdown management team establishes necessary control documents and reporting procedures required to provide information for progress reporting and key performance measurement reporting. This will include the processes and control documents necessary for the management of all "extra" and "added" work activities as they are identified, at any time after the "cut-off" date, either prior to or during the shutdown period.

There are a number of milestones that must be set as a part of the defined shutdown management process and others that will need to be established by the team. Of these milestones, two of the most crucial are the actual shutdown date and the work cut-off date. While it is sufficient to know only the month for the shutdown early in the planning process, the actual dates should be established as early as possible since almost all other milestones are generally "backed up" from this date. The other key date is the work identification "cut-off" date, which is set between four to six months prior to the shutdown start. The actual interval will vary depending on the size and complexity of the facility, but it is seldom less than four months. This is the point where the work scope is "fixed" for the shutdown and the final budget can be developed. The major drivers behind this date are the length of lead-time needed to acquire major shutdown-related materials and the need to notify and confirm contract resources. After this date, any work that is requested will require approval before being added to the work scope. The work justification and approval processes are part of the defined management process and are rigorously applied to all activities identified after the cut-off date. This is the only way the shutdown-planning group can have any chance of putting together a schedule that can be realistically completed.

Shutdown work identification is an ongoing activity and effectively starts the day after the previous shutdown is completed. A large portion of the actual work included in the scope of any shutdown is either repetitive from shutdown to shutdown (e.g.: catalyst bed changes, filter media replacement), mandated by regulatory bodies (e.g.: vessel inspections, relief valve tests), or drawn from the long-range facility plan (e.g.: capitol improvements, major equipment overhauls). There will also be a number of activities identified during condition-based-maintenance, on-the-run inspections or identified by operations or maintenance personnel in the normal course of operation.

In all cases, there must be a formal mechanism in place to collect and evaluate all the proposed shutdown work for it to be approved for completion during the shutdown. Each job that is proposed for the shutdown should have an owner or sponsor that understands the full scope of the proposed work. The proposal for work should be submitted with written justification, an initial risk assessment and reference to approved business plans where appropriate.

The shutdown management team is responsible for reviewing, validating and prioritizing all proposed shutdown work prior to including it in the final scope of the shutdown. Establishing a work list review process is essential to any successful shutdown. The review team defines the scope and final budget for submission to your management team. If these steps are not managed properly, the collection of proposed work items could be seen as an open invitation for all departments to enter not just shutdown items but routine work that should be conducted outside the project’s window. When asking for the proposed work items the need for clear direction is required to make sure that only shutdown work is submitted to the review team. Remember shutdowns are not an overtime equalization opportunity but a strategic piece of business that needs to be monitored and controlled.

Planning of the jobs identified for the shutdown should follow the same methodology that you use for your routine maintenance. It is, however, a common misconception that shutdown planning is totally different from planning used in routine maintenance planning. There is no difference in the level of planning that should be put into your routine planning or your shutdown planning.

You need to document work plans for all jobs. Those plans include: estimates of time and labour, identification of safety and environmental concerns, identification of parts and material requirements, tool and equipment requirements and key steps in completing the work. If the work that has been identified for your shutdown has been completed in the past, there probably is an existing plan already built for it. If the shutdown job is new then you need to start detailing the job. Planning of jobs has to start as they are identified and approved by the shutdown management team for budget estimates to be available at the cut off date.

As part of the planning process there will need to be a review of all procedures and work practices required for process decontamination and vessel/confined space entry. Procedures will have to be developed to cover all new tasks undertaken and all existing critical task procedures will need be reviewed, updated as required and then signed off during the planning stages of the shutdown. Blind/lock-out sheets need to be reviewed and updated as required. As well, the pre-start-up equipment inspection and checkout procedures should be reviewed.

Once the cut-off date has passed and the complete scope of the shutdown is known, the final work list can be compiled and reconciled against the available budget. At this stage of the shutdown pre-planning process, the shutdown work list review team will start totaling all the submitted work ranked by the priority assigned to the submitted job.

Necessary contingency allowances are added at this time to cover non-discretionary work that could arise as the shutdown work proceeds. In the best-case scenario, the total of the work estimates, with contingencies, are within the budgeted amount and the shutdown can proceed. The more common situation is that the shutdown team does not have the budget to accomplish all of the submitted work. There is then a management decision that is required. Either the lower priority jobs are dropped off the work list and deferred to the next shutdown or you must increase the budget allowance for the activity. From here onwards any additional work that is identified requires management approval and budget before it is included in the shutdown work scope. This may require dropping some other less critical activity or a further increase of the budget to complete the added work. Once the scope and date of the shutdown are fixed, the outstanding planning activities can be completed. Two of most obvious are the staffing plan for the shutdown and the ordering of consumables, tools, rental supplies and any outstanding short delivery items. Determining how much of the work can be completed by internal resources and how much will require contract resources is a critical part of the planning process and will impact the final scheduling of jobs within the overall shutdown schedule.

A number of questions need to be addressed in determining the staffing plan:

  • What resources are available from the unit or site outside the maintenance organization and which shutdown activities could they be used to complete?
  • Can personnel be brought in from other units on the same site or from other sites? What jobs require specialized skills?
  • Which of the jobs on the list must be done by site employees?

These questions need to be answered during the schedule development to determine the actual resource requirements. Once these questions are answered and the schedule put together in a draft form, the contractors can be contacted and provided with numbers of people required by trade. It is up to the shutdown team to question the need for contractors if resources can be obtained from other sites.

Once the numbers of contractors and the work they are being requested to perform is known, the number of supervisors can be determined. Outside shops can also be notified of the time frame that they will be receiving the requested work or when the materials and parts they are preparing will be required.

Other important steps in the shutdown planning process are:

  • Identify materials storage and lay down areas;
  • Designate equipment wash areas;
  • Establishing crew-marshalling areas in the event of an emergency; and
  • Determine what lunch, lavatory and change room facility requirements are required — ensure they are available

The scheduling of shutdown work begins with identifying the activities that will determine the "critical path" for the shutdown. The critical path activity is usually one of the key business drivers for your shutdown. The critical path (or sometimes paths) defines the shortest period of time in which the shutdown can be completed. As such, it is the series of interrelated jobs which add up to the longest period of time required to complete the key activities. Once you have the critical path on the schedule, start adding in the other known shutdown jobs to the schedule. Task dependencies can impact the critical path so you must also look for areas where that occurs as it could cause problems during the shutdown and lead to delays in start up.

Planning and scheduling are concurrent activities for shutdowns. As detailed plans are developed, they are added to the initial shutdown schedule. As more details are defined, the schedule may need to be altered to accommodate the changes.

Once the work cut-off date has passed and the complete scope of the shutdown is approved, the detailed scheduling of the activities within the shutdown interval can begin. Several schedule scenarios can be developed to determine the optimum shift schedule and total resource requirements.

The importance of managing and minimizing changes to the work scope after this point cannot be stressed enough. Each change will have some level of impact on the overall schedule. Crew utilization, task order, job dependencies and equipment requirements will all have to be reviewed and reworked as required.

The schedule should include all the events leading up to the actual shutdown of the facility. Critical parts deliveries, fabrication work and procedure documentation should be detailed on the schedule as they form a critical path of their own in being prepared for the shutdown.

The integration of the operations and management tasks into a shutdown master plan is a major milestone in the process; most shutdowns concentrate solely on the maintenance or project work that is to be done during the shutdown. The shutting down, isolation and decontamination, management tasks, safety inspections and start-up are all part of the entire operation and impact the total length of a shutdown.

The execution of the shutdown should be as simple as following the detailed plan and schedule. It actually starts, however, when work begins on the first make-ready job for the shutdown. This may be the fabrication of replacement components either onsite or in a vendor’s shops. This work starts well in advance of the actual shutdown date and could even be started several months before the schedule is finalized. Just as it is imperative that the shutdown team closely monitor progress during the execution of the shutdown, it is just as important that the team manage these pre-shutdown activities with as much diligence. These pre-shutdown activities can contribute to more significant delays than many of the potential problems that may be encountered during the shutdown itself. The status of these preparation jobs needs to be included as an agenda item on each shutdown throughout the time leading up to the shutdown.

Facility preparation work can and should be treated as a separate critical path. The more that can be accomplished without creating hazards or interrupting normal operation prior to the actual start of the work activities the better. Set up all the scaffolding that is needed throughout the shutdown or have it staged and ready to be set up.

The cost of renting scaffold is minimal compared to having tradespeople waiting for scaffolding to be erected. By completing all pre-work that is possible before the shutdown, the shutdown team is prepared to only manage the shutdown and the unexpected work encountered during its execution. The point at which the shutdown team begins to meet on a once per shift basis will depend on the activities that are underway at the site. Once the facility is down, there is no question about there being status update meetings at least once every shift.

One of the agenda items at these regular meetings will be to review and approve any "added" or "extra" work activities that have arisen. Added work is any variance to the original scope of an approved shutdown worklist item that are identified after the scope lock-down date. Extra work is any new work identified after the shutdown work list cut-off.

Both added and extra work items should be tracked and reported separately as part of the overall shutdown reporting process. The shutdown work completion is only one major step in the process at this point. There are several other key steps that have to be included in the process. Pre-start-up safety and environmental reviews and start-up inspections are crucial to an incident free start-up. Housekeeping and the physical integrity of the facility are critical to a safe start-up.

Start-up can be the most stressful part of any shutdown. We have all heard the saying: "We are great at shutting it down, but starting it up was another story." There is no magic formula for starting up a facility. But, having well defined procedures for the start-up at your facility are one key component. Another is to make sure that you have the right mixture of operations and maintenance personnel coverage during the start-up to address problems that do arise.

The final step in the execution phase is the demobilization after the shutdown. It is as important as doing the pre-work before a shutdown. The post-shutdown demobilization of all the contract and support crews, the return of all rental equipment, tools and surplus materials should be part of your total shutdown schedule and resource plan and it should be managed with the same thoroughness. By having the people available to remove all of the rental equipment and to clean up the facility you allow the operations teams to focus on the operation of the facility and making quality product.

The last phase of the shutdown management process are the steps that detail the activities necessary for follow-up and improvement of the overall process. It is the one phase that is most often not completed or only partially completed, yet it is the phase that has the most potential for providing lasting payback for future shutdowns. It entails the capture of what has been learned from the shutdown just completed for use in improving the management and conduct of the next shutdown.

The steps will include the completion of all documentation relating to all the work completed, the updating of equipment information for any modifications completed as well as the documentation of all repair work performed for equipment history.

The last item on the overall schedule is often the shutdown review meeting where a cross section of the facilities personnel and representatives of the major contractors meet. Their purpose is to identify what went well and what improvements could be implemented in the process. The outcome of this should be a series of action items with assigned responsibilities and specified completion dates. Outcomes from the meeting will be used to upgrade the long range and short term plans as appropriate. This is really the start of the process for the next shutdown.

There is no single factor that will ensure a shutdown is completed successfully, that it is on budget, on time and that the identified work scope gets completed. Clearly, there are any number of items that, if not managed appropriately, could spell disaster in the execution of the shutdown activities. The common keys to success are: communications between all groups, the shutdown affects, having a long-range plan for the maintenance of the facility and having a management process that details the steps and activities necessary for the effective completion of the shutdown.

Alan Johnson is a Principal Consultant with PwC Consulting, Physical Asset Management Group, Edmonton, AB. This article was written with help from the following individuals:
– Members of the PwC Consulting, Physical Asset Management Group making significant contributions to this article.
– Tom Hubbard, Principal Consultant, Physical Asset Management Group, PwC Consulting, Calgary, AB
– Hugh Watson, Principal Consultant, Physical Asset Management Group, PwC Consulting, Portland, OR
– Jim Picknell, Director, Physical Asset Management Group, PwC Consulting, Toronto, ON
– Overall direction provided by John D. Campbell, Global Partner, Physical Asset Management, PwC Consulting, Toronto, ON