Best Practices for Dealing with Common Struggles During Plant Shutdowns

Plant turnaround – or plant shutdown – is both an inescapable reality and a common occurrence in many asset-heavy industries. Assets age, processes fail, and you need to periodically shut down, upgrade and repair.

Here, we will explain the best practices and tools you can use during each phase to sidestep or mitigate the most common obstacles that business face during the turnaround process.


Scoping: Start Early and Gather All Relevant Information

To increase your chances for a success during the scoping phase, you should:

Start Early

The earlier you start scoping, the better off you will be. This phase is all about finding available resources for the project and preparation. If you start well ahead of time, you can adjust to your resources and make sure that your time and resources are aligned. That way, you will not have to deal with things like overtime during the preparation phase.

Know Your Equipment

It is crucial that you know your equipment and your facility. Never rely on assumptions – only data. That means surveying your equipment and understanding its exact state. That way, you will avoid unnecessary add-on projects down the line.

Remember to be liberal with your scoping here: it is much easier to find out later that you do not need to work on a particular asset than it is to add on projects down the line.

Determine New Goals and KPIs

What do you want to get out of this turnaround process and how are you going to measure your results? Of course, big-picture goals will include things like plant safety, employee safety and increased uptime, but you also want to focus on more specific goals like efficiency gains, lower overtime and more efficient task completion.

In short, during the scoping phase, it is important that you ensure that everything is documented and that you have an accurate – albeit rough – idea of what you need to do. This can help you avoid scope creep and decreased quality of work, both of which are very common issues during the turnaround process.

Develop a Comprehensive Shutdown Strategy

There is a reason why you need to shut down your plant, and it is important to keep that in mind as your managers help move the process forward. You should know all the details here, including the cost estimate, constrains, and resources needed to execute. To this end, it can be helpful to have a work list, or a comprehensive list of assets and items that could be fixed up during the shutdown.

This list can be housed in your CMMS so it can be accessed across verticals and departments, and each item on the work list should be thoroughly vetted and approved to decrease redundancies or inefficiencies.


Preparation: Synchronize and Update Your Data and Tools

Getting the preparation phase right is all about making sure that your data is present and readily available for the upcoming execution phase. That involves developing comprehensive logistics, health, safety and environmental plans. There are many things that you can do to accomplish this:

Get Your Work Order Information in Line

Make sure that all work orders are properly scheduled and executed. It may sound overly simple, but it is key to effective plant shutdown, and it is easy to miss something if you are not overly thorough.

To this end, you should link work orders to relevant engineering data so all the important data is there for the technician, including floor plans, SOPs and instruction manuals for servicing. If somebody is on-site and missing valuable information, they will either make an assumption about what they need to do, or they will spend time looking for the right information. Both can cause delays and safety risks.

You should also establish project plans for your work orders to avoid scope creep. Make sure that the engineers and the contractors are all ready and on the same page so they can address the work order at the right time. Nothing is worse than when someone attempts to complete a maintenance project only to find out that the asset is in a lockout situation.

This is where the comprehensive work list from the scoping phase can come in handy – if you know details like exactly how many people are going to be addressing a specific work order, what tools they need and how many labor hours are required, then the project is more likely to run smoothly.

Utilize Change Management Tools

Utilize change management tools to handle concurrent engineering. Nearly every turnaround will need to do concurrent engineering, during which multiple changes take place in the same area, in the same facility, or even on the same asset.

To deal with that, you have to make sure that concurrent data can be updated and readily available. If you can only send the data to one contractor at a time in a linear aspect, it simply means that the next person will have to wait before they can update the data – so the whole process will take much longer. There is no collaboration and you lose valuable preparation time.

You want to make sure, then, that you have the tools to avoid this kind of inefficiency. By the same token, make sure that you have logistics plans ready for the reception, storage, protection, issue and demobilization of everything you will be using or interacting with during the plant shutdown. This is also where the quality assurance plans come into play.

Develop Quality Assurance Plans

You will also want to develop plans for quality assurance and quality control. Is your turnaround being executed effectively? Are your quality standards being met? It is important that you can systematically answer these question as you move through the process to ensure the quality of the work being executed.

Get Your Paperwork Together

Make sure all the zoning and permits are in place to do the operation and that your resources are aligned for specific timelines. Again, this will discourage scope creep, overtime or fluctuations in your budget.

Use an EPC/Contractor Management Tool

Many organizations still use tools like SharePoint or email for their exchange with engineering or contractor information, but this does not enforce confidentiality or allow visibility or reporting. How do you know that the information was received and acted upon per your contract? Do you get notified when documents are ready for your team to review? How challenging is it to keep these documents straight, understand the history and determine what needs to happen next with a file that just showed up in your email with no further explanation?

Not having good oversight in the preparation phase may lead to unwelcome surprises during the shut-down. That is why we highly recommend a formal tool to manage contractors, change management and work orders.

Update Your SOPs

If there are SOPs to specific machines, sites or start-up procedures, make sure that all of those are reviewed because they may be impacted by the changes that are being made during the shutdown. The worse thing that can happen is that a new step is not taken into account after the fact.


Execution: Optimize for Concurrent Engineering and Mobile Updates

Execution is the moment of truth for any turnaround process. Big turnarounds can run 24/7 for four to six weeks. Oftentimes, people spend a turnaround sleeping in their offices or in temporary trailers to rescue blown scopes and schedules. During execution, then, it is important to reduce the overhead required to react to changing situations. To this end, you can:

Go Mobile

You will want easy access to engineering data-related to work orders via mobile devices. Digital equipment is taking over, and mobile devices or mobile workstations can allow you to track what is going on, see last-minute changes and synchronize information when your systems come back online.

Centralize Where Data Will Go

Ad-hoc decisions should go back to engineering. Things happen, but changes need to be accessible and quickly updated within the engineering documents to prevent confusion and inefficiency.

Use Electronic Tools for Data Recording

Use electronic tools for data recording and make sure that everything is registered. When a work order is done, make sure that it is tracked in real time. This could allow someone else to start working sooner, thereby optimizing your processes.

Be Ready for Any Add-Ons

We have talked about avoiding scope creep and the possibility of add-on work, but the reality is that some scope change is unavoidable. No matter how thoroughly you plan or prepare, there will always be details that you do not notice or do not know about until the asset is down and inspected. However, it is easy for this to get excessively costly, so make sure that you have processes in place to stay on budget and on schedule.

Also, make sure you update your schedule regularly to identify and windows that open up for add-on projects. If you have done things correctly, you have likely estimated that some projects would take longer than they actually do. That time can be shifted to add-on or behind-schedule items, so you do not veer too far off your original schedule.

Check Your KPIs

During phase one, you developed your plan and KPIs. As you execute, it is a good idea to track your progress and see where you are with those KPIs. If you check this status now, you are also less likely to get to the review stage and realize that you do not have the data you need.


Start-Up: Verify Your Documents and Data with Checklists

Startup is where the majority of major plant incidents occur, so it is important to be especially mindful at this stage. The key to a successful start-up is that you know everything has been done successfully and that all the safety procedures and safety checklists are up-to-date. Key elements to this process include PSSR, SOPs, drawing updates, walkdowns and other surveillance processes across your units. To this end, you must:

Complete Checklists

First, you should complete an inspection checklist: It is key to know everything you planned is done well. This is where a checklist can come into play to ensure that nothing has fallen between the cracks. To this end, you should also complete a safety checklist and make sure that your safety checklist is up-to-date. Everyone that worked on the turnaround – including contractors, maintenance and operations – should walk down the equipment one last time with these lists to make sure that everything is done.

Also, when verifying that everyone has the latest data for those checklists, you want to be able to see they have received and acknowledged any changes. This is where it can be helpful to upload the information into a CMMS or another centralized, real-time tool.

Execute on Updated SOPs

Standard operating procedures provide the structure that you need to create procedures and complete tasks. If there are changes in your SOPs, you need to make sure that all relevant personnel know about those changes and behave accordingly. If they still rely on previous SOPs, it can lead to inefficiency and disjointed action, which could cause confusion down the line.

Review: Complete a Retrospective and Reports

Once you have finished, we recommend a retrospective, or an overview of what went well, what went poorly and how to improve next time. This is the time to review the plan, the actuals, and understand the delta between the two. And this is not a nice-to-have: this retrospective will make up the historical data that will be used during scoping the next time a plant is brought forward for an outage, so the information will be especially useful down the line.

This is where work order execution reports can be critical input: seeing which work orders took more time than expected, which ones could not start on time, which ones had delays, etc. This kind of information can give you important input for your next turnaround.

It is also important, during this time, to execute a comprehensive KPI report and measure KPIs.

Finally, during this stage, an as-maintained engineering update may be performed so you can report on failures and execution changes. Even though changes were made, the reality may still be slightly different than originally planned. Make sure your engineering is up-to-date, because during the next turnaround you need that accurate data to make accurate decisions again.


How Accruent Solutions Can Help

At Accruent, we have several solutions that can help you with this process depending on where you feel, as an organization, that you can make this biggest gain during the turnaround process. Here are some of the tools that can help.

Maintenance Connection

Maintenance Connection is a CMMS and EAM that manages work orders, asset information and important metrics. You can use Maintenance Connection to help you manage your shut-down projects:

  • Organize work orders related to the shut-down
  • Manage the status of those work orders
  • Use the mobile CMMS app to allow those working in the field to track the status of the project in real-time

This tool can also help in the preparation phase as it allows you to link the work orders to the engineering data.


Meridian is Accruent’s engineering data management solution. It creates a single source of truth so all of your engineering data is available easily and transparently. Meridian comes with:

  • A change management tool with formal approvals.
  • CAD integrations to allow you to exchange information with tools like RevIt, Plan3D and get your relevant data into a single source of truth.
  • SOP management allowing you to organize, approve and manage the SOPs.
  • Engineering contractor management, the ability to keep track of engineering data for transmittals and submittals, as well as concurrent engineering support. We talked earlier about how important it is to keep track of the status of data during the preparation phase, and this can make that happen.
  • Concurrent engineering support. Meridian also has support for concurrent engineering, so data is properly merged and aligned.

vx Field

vx Field offers field service management for people in the field executing work orders. With vx Field, those people can report on the status of work orders. Additionally, the tool allows for:

  • Workorders assignments, recourses and status management
  • Auto scheduling of workorders with dependencies
  • Site-lockout where necessary, like when there is a chemical process taking place
  • Contractor management, which is particularly important during the execution phase

If any of these solutions sound interesting to you, we encourage to reach out and schedule a demo so you can give them a try.