How to Go Through a Plant Shutdown on Time and Within Budget

Heavy costs can be incurred when shutdowns are delayed. The final total for any delays can reach up into the millions in lost production as well as the increase in the cost for labor, tools, and heavy equipment. This is why effective planning with accurate execution and a safety-oriented culture are key to achieving success in any shutdown.

Shutdowns in Action

On average, refineries and other process plants are shut down approximately every five years. The practice forces plants to perform five years’ worth of maintenance, equipment replacement, repairs, and other related tasks within each shutdown’s span. In order to accomplish all the work of a shutdown in a reasonable timeframe, plants bring in outside contractors. While this enables the plant to minimize the time for the shutdown, it multiplies the amount of onsite workers, adding to the complexity of the tasks as well as safety concerns.

Common Issues Associated With Shutdowns

The type of operation being shutdown may vary, but the issues that plague them often do not. Many problems can arise, but some of the most common include but are not limited to:

  • An under-developed or incomplete integration of management strategy
  • Work responsibilities that are not clearly communicated to all parties involved in the shutdown
  • Incomplete work scope definition
  • Ineffectual planning
  • Incorrect procurement of shutdown materials
  • Unskilled individuals on contractor teams
  • Poor communication between contractors and plant personnel

Any of the above can contribute to a failure in shutdown objectives in both time and budget.

Best Shutdown Practices

Those who are most likely to go through a plant shutdown on time and within budget do so because they understand that strong safety practices are essential. They also implement the following five key factors:

  1. They provide workers with adequate time and reasonable tasks
  2. They avoid potentially dangerous shortcuts that can lead to disasters
  3. They provide workers with adequate training beforehand that anticipates scenarios in order to make quick decisions within their given authority
  4. They give authority to individuals who can stop operations if they are becoming a safety risk
  5. They develop a safety conscious culture, which leads to fewer incidents and better adherence to the shutdown’s timeline

How To Achieve Shutdown Milestones

Milestones must be set as a part of the shutdown process with others established by individual teams and contractors. The two most critical are the shutdown date and the target completion date. In the early planning phases, it is okay to have a general date for the start of the shutdown. Once key items fall into place, a set date must be decided upon. Four to six months prior to the shutdown start, a work identification date must be set. The exact interval varies depending on the complexity of the facility, but it is usually never less than four months. A final budget may be set when the scope of the work is decided. The start of the shutdown will be scheduled when all items, contractors, inspections, etc. can be procured.

It is crucial that a formal mechanism is in place to evaluate all proposed shutdown work for approval for completion. Each proposed task should have an owner assigned who understands the full scope of the proposed work. This work should be submitted in written form with an initial risk assessment, a justification, and references where appropriate.

Key Before Any Shutdown

One of the most important steps to a successful shutdown is the final review meeting in which a cross section of the plant personnel and contractors’ representatives get together. The purpose of the meeting is to identify what has gone well and which areas could use improvement. The goal of the meeting is to produce a series of clear tasks with assigned responsibilities and set completion dates. Outcomes will forecast the long and short range plans and serves as the start of the process for the shutdown.

The AMACS team has been an integral contractor and partner in hundreds of successful shutdowns . We manufacture process tower internal equipment, and replace in kind or design custom equipment to meet our customers’ performance goals. Feel free to call or e-mail us with your requirements to get a quick response, 24/7!