Subject Matter Experts for Maintenance Technicians, Managers and Engineers

Summary: Getting Ready for Plant Maintenance Shutdown Planning

  • Set aside uninterrupted time every day
  • Create a planning notebook
  • Write down contact info for anybody involved in the shutdown
  • Write down everything you’re afraid could go wrong
  • Gather your notes and any outstanding requests for maintenance upgrades
  • Think about who you want on your shutdown planning team

How hard can it be to plan a shutdown?

I’ve played key roles, including in the planning and running of maintenance projects, including plant shutdowns in various industries, including the pharmaceutical and medical device industries for over 30 years. Having been involved in dozens of plant maintenance shutdowns, I have to say that I have rarely seen a plant shutdown or major maintenance project run as a true project with measurable expectations or results. But, believe me, that is where the maintenance manager’s role is going in terms of major projects and plant shutdowns. If you don’t want to fall behind the management curve and want to remain a key player in your maintenance program, you’ll want to pay attention.

One of the scariest statements you’ll ever hear

One of the scariest statements you’ll ever hear from your Engineering/Maintenance Manager is, “You are running the next plant shutdown. I need to know what this shutdown is going to cost this organization and I need some kind of measurement of how we performed.”

Scared managerThe first time you hear that, your brain goes into paralysis. Panic sets in. And the panic grows as the scheduled shutdown date gets closer. You have little precedence or specific industry data on this, and you are wondering, “how do I get there from here?”. Everybody involved in the nuts and bolts of a maintenance shutdown is affected by this kind of pressure. Some people react in strange ways to the stress. I’ll tell you some of those stories from my career, although I’m sure you have plenty of your own.

The most successful shutdowns I have been involved with followed some fairly standard project management methods. But, instead of you learning a big, formal process, I’m assuming that you need to get moving on a plan, and that you are a hands-on maintenance manager or supervisor, who has “learned on the job.” Maybe you started out as a technician or a maintenance engineer and you’ve worked your way up into a supervisory role. Or maybe you have educational credentials in the field but limited experience in running a plant shutdown. Either way, I think you’ll get something out of this “on the ground,” mano-a-mano approach.

If nothing else, my aim is to help you sleep a little better at night. If you’ve been tasked with planning, running and quantifying a maintenance shutdown, I can almost guarantee that you are losing sleep already.

Shutdown defined

As you know, in regulated industries, shutdowns are mandatory and required for government approval. The most well-known regulated industries include the pharmaceutical, nutrition, medical device, and food industries. The energy, chemical, and defense industries are also heavily regulated. Much of what I’ll discuss here will apply to those industries as well, though I can’t speak to specifics in those industries like I can with the pharma and medical devices field.

Plant or facility shutdowns can be defined as “a scheduled down period for a plant for scheduled maintenance for an extended period of time.” Plant shutdowns are one of the most complex, costly, and important events for a manufacturing company. Typically, shutdowns are carried out once a year. Plant shutdowns can take days, weeks to months, and in some cases, even years, depending on:

  • how much work is being done
  • the resources available
  • the reason for the shutdown

Some companies in regulated industries have multiple shutdowns during the year.

Important note: If you run your regular, scheduled maintenance through a CMMS software platform, some of the information in this post might not totally apply, but you may want to consider including those activities in this process, regardless. What I’m really talking about here is the full-blown annual maintenance shutdown that includes a big list of engineering requests, equipment modifications, new equipment installation, re-validations and special testing, as well as requests from other departments. We are not just talking about the scheduled preventative maintenance that you perform on this machine or that machine.

The basic steps to initiating shutdown planning

Initiating shutdown planning isn’t nearly as stressful as actually running the shutdown, but there are a lot of pieces of information and people you need to gather before you can proceed to the actual work.

Set aside time to gather your wits

Consider setting aside at least two hours a day for the next week, free from interruptions, so you can get organized. Block out the time in your daily calendar. If your company uses Microsoft Outlook or a similar email client, you can easily create a recurring appointment that will indicate to the outside world that you are busy during that time. Create a notebook for yourself—a planning notebook, where you can keep notes about everything that’s on your mind. Write down everything that keeps you awake at night. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel just by putting your worries down on paper.

Write down all your planning ideasWrite down everything you can think of

Write down everything you can think of related to the upcoming shutdown. This will probably never be a complete list because a) the shutdown is a few months away, b) shutdowns are complex, and c) you won’t know some requirements until you figure out other ones first.

Make a list of everybody involved

Write down the names of anybody you will need to contact, along with their office location, their phone and email. Where are they in the chain of command? Who do they work for and who works for them? Write all their names and contact info down too. Draw a chart to help you remember who works for whom, and who is in which department.

Gather the notes about proposed tasks

Next, spend some time gathering all of the notes and work orders and snippets of conversation you recall about which projects and tasks you’ve been saving up for the shutdown. Write a big list, then re-prioritize based on your best guess. Don’t worry, you’ll be revising this list several times.

Write down everything you’re afraid could go wrong

Make a list in your notebook of all the things you think you’ll need to consider—not during the shutdown—but during the planning phase:

  • What could go wrong? What could delay the shutdown?
  • Who will you need to talk to?
  • What departments need to be involved?
  • Who will need to sign off on the projects you end up planning for shutdown?
  • Which pieces of equipment will you need to inventory?
  • Which equipment is likely to need you to order parts from a supplier?
  • Who is taking vacation before or after shutdown?

Just by writing down the things that keep you up at night, you’ll get some level of control over your anxiety. When you assemble people for your shutdown planning team, you can share the items on this list. You may be surprised at how many solutions your team will come up with.

Next steps

Once you have spent a few hours each day working on your list, you’ll have started to develop a routine around planning. Then you can move on to the actual planning steps. You might do things in a different order, but the following few steps are the main ones you need to worry about:

  • Recruiting your shutdown planning team
  • Gathering stakeholder requirements
  • Organizing requirements into sub-projects as necessary
  • Defining the master project for all the sub-projects
  • Making ballpark time estimates for sub-projects
  • Writing the Project Overview Statement
  • Scheduling a planning meeting to get approval

Check out my next post for more about this topic. Sign up for our mailing list to get notified as soon as the next installment is ready.

Reprinted with permission of the author.