Planned shutdowns are essential for ensuring that your operations run smoothly throughout the year. And while shutdowns are complex and, in some cases, stressful, giving extra attention to planning, documentation, and communication throughout the process can help you be successful.

This article lays out six tips to follow before, during, and after your next facility shutdown. 

Start planning early

Shutdown planning should begin weeks or even months before you halt production — the more time you allow yourself and your team to get a handle on shutdown processes, responsibilities, and protocols, the better. 

If you’re not sure how far ahead of time you should start planning, ask yourself some questions about your last shutdown like: 

  • Did you and your team feel prepared going into the process? 
  • What kind of feedback did you receive? 
  • How much time did you end up spending on unplanned and unexpected tasks? Could they have been avoided or accounted for with more time to plan? 
Pro tip: Start planning for your shutdown three to four months in advance. Use this time to gather competitive bids, secure contractors, order parts and supplies, and refresh your workforce on safety and emergency procedures. 

Recommended reading: Consider Non-Routine Safety Risks before Plant Shutdown Maintenance [EHS Today]

Develop a detailed schedule 

A comprehensive, easy-to-follow schedule will be one of your most important resources.

The foundation for your schedule will include standard shutdown tasks, like machine maintenance, cleaning, and repairs, with their associated deadlines. Although these are your top priorities, when you’re laying out the plan for your shutdown, also consider: 

  • Implementing some wiggle room for dealing with unforeseen issues (e.g., equipment repairs that are more complex and time-consuming than you originally planned for) 
  • When your outside contractors — safety oversight professionals, machine repair people, etc. — are available and how long they’ll be on site
  • How long it will take you to familiarize team members and contractors with key processes and safety protocols
Pro tip: Shutdown schedules require flexibility. Give a small leadership team the authority to make some of the tough calls, like choosing whether to repair or replace equipment, flexing the schedule as needed, and approving overtime pay.  

Resource: Turnaround Project Planning Primer [InterPlan Systems]

Create a detailed budget

Facility shutdown costs vary greatly, but it’s always important to secure a budget well ahead of project kickoff. Referencing past shutdowns is a great place to start planning costs associated with core shutdown processes and resources. 

After parts, contractors, and base pay for your team, also take into account: 

  • Catered meals 
  • Hotel stays
  • Overtime pay 
Pro tip: If your budget allows, order a surplus of repair parts and equipment you’re planning to replace. That way, if something goes awry during a repair or replacement, you don’t have to worry about schedule setbacks. 

Recommended reading: Save Time and Money on your Next Plant Shutdown [Rasmussen Mechanical Services Site]

Document everything

Efficient planning, scheduling, and budgeting all require access to records from previous shutdowns, so documenting everything will help ensure the next one goes smoothly, too. Employ project management tools and technologies that are already familiar to you and your team, whether that be a robust system like Microsoft Project, a productivity multi-tool like Trello, a tried-and-true spreadsheet, or a mixture of different solutions. 

Pro tip: Upload all of your records into the cloud so that your files are accessible at any time and everyone is always referencing the most recent version. 

Resource: Manufacturing Project Management Software [Software Connect]

Communicate regularly 

Roles and responsibilities usually shift during a plant shutdown — operators might be cleaning, maintenance managers might be coordinating contractors, and facilities directors might be keeping tabs on the budget and timeline. Any major responsibility shift leaves room for error, so keeping open lines of communication is crucial. 

To ensure that everyone’s on the same page before, during, and after the shutdown, you can employ strategies like: 

  • Educating your employees on safety measures, like lockout/tagout procedures and emergency response, before the shutdown 
  • Performing daily stand-ups and debriefs 
  • Installing signage around the facility with reminders on shutdown policies and procedures
Pro tip: Keep meetings brief. Everyone’s busy during plant shutdowns, so the more efficient daily communication can be, the better. 

Resource: Lockout Safety Signs []

Use data you collect from the shutdown to inform new processes 

Surprises are sure to arise during your plant shutdown, and every twist and turn allows you to learn something that will improve your daily operations and next planned shutdown. Here are some examples: 

  • If you find that one of your machines requires more repairs than you planned for, schedule more preventative maintenance throughout the year. 
  • If you find that your team is unfamiliar with your emergency response or safety procedures, create more time for annual training and refreshers. 
  • If you find compliance gaps, hire an EHS expert to oversee your operations and next shutdown
Pro tip: After your shutdown wraps up, hold a meeting with key stakeholders to review successes and challenges. You’ll likely come out of the meeting with plenty of ideas for keeping your operations running smoothly throughout the year and improving your next shutdown.

Recommended reading: 30+ Key Metrics for Your Plant Shutdown [World Class Planning]