How to defend against shutdown management headaches

Maintenance shutdowns are a necessary evil for plants that run 24-hours a day. But all too often shutdowns run days – and sometimes weeks – over schedule, to the tune of millions of dollars. Matt Stephens discusses how Beca’s clients are preventing blowouts by using new systems and resourcing strategies that tackle the scale of the planning task involved.

Despite the high calibre of onsite teams, planned plant shutdowns are synonymous with budget and time overruns. The reason is the complexity of scheduling and planning for hundreds of inter-related maintenance activities and myriad logistics issues that arise when mobilising a shutdown workforce and equipment.

What executives often fail to realise is that planning and preparing for a shutdown is a bigger task than the maintenance itself. The number of planning decisions required to optimise shutdown efficiency can literally run into the hundreds of thousands. It can take six months or longer to methodically go through, risk-assess, plan and procure the materials for each task that must take place – with military precision – in a three-week shutdown.

Then, for the shutdown to run smoothly, all that detail must be easily accessible to managers and shutdown personnel. So, when issues arise – as they inevitably do – teams know the quickest path to resolution. But, as plant managers are all too aware, it’s almost impossible to quickly get a grip on the information involved using spreadsheets and clunky business systems.

New shutdown planning system

For three years, Beca has been working with mining and industrial companies around the world, developing a solution to better plan, prepare for and manage shutdowns. The Beca Shutdown Management System, which was piloted in and has been used by Vale New Caledonia since 2015, has ushered in a new era of shutdown discipline. Since its introduction, no shutdown has exceeded its deadline, and the process has been considerably streamlined. Planning is now more accurate and reliable.

The cloud-based system supports shutdown planners to methodically plan out each individual job, not just capturing the data but driving and project managing the planning process itself. Tailored to the situation on site – e.g. delivery takes longer for remote locations – the system sets milestones for planning and preparation activities with a dashboard for managers to track progress.

Likely timing

Example milestone

6 months out

Job list confirmed

4 months out

All long-lead item materials procured

3 months out

Tasks defined for all jobs

2 months out

All materials for all jobs identified and ordered

7 weeks out

Draft workpacks given to plant managers to review

4 weeks out

Workpacks complete and approved

Like every system, it’s only as good as the data that goes into it. Planners need to appreciate a site’s issues and challenges and build in realistic timelines. Then, primed with quality content, the system:

  • Tracks planning progress – the system tracks the planning S-curve, keeping shutdown managers updated on how progress is going and where planning is falling behind. At a glance, managers know how planning is tracking in terms of maintenance tasks, resources, materials and documentation. Planners log the completion percentage for each activity, giving progress snapshots.
  • Makes it easy to drill down – clicking on the dashboard allows managers to drill down into the details of each job, giving them confidence around planning quality. Drawing functionality from the Quick Base platform, the system allows users to search any text in the system – quickly pulling up all related jobs – and ‘delve’ into graphs to see the data sitting behind them.
  • Supports data-driven decisions – the data gathered throughout the process makes it easy for managers to establish best practice and improve planning for the next shutdown. When shutdown managers can prove planning must be 80% complete four months out – and how long that takes – they know exactly when to mobilise their shutdown resources.
  • Provides a clear history of decisions – more often than not, the wish list of jobs for a shutdown exceeds the available budget or perhaps certain jobs fail to have a justifiable business case. The system provides a live single source of truth for the complete wish list of jobs with customisable in-built risk assessment and decision-making tools. The decision history for each individual job is recorded. So, if someone ever asks why a job was removed from the confirmed list, the history will provide the evidence.

Flexible resourcing strategies

By its nature, shutdown planning needs ‘turn on/turn off’ resources. Most of our clients only need one or two planners permanently onsite year round and scale up to ten planners for the six or seven months prior to shutdown.

Some outsource the entire process to Beca. But most find a ‘salt and pepper’ approach works best, integrating our planning engineers, shutdown managers, schedulers, cost controllers, safety advisors and asset strategy advisers as needed. We often leave a couple of planners permanently onsite to ensure continuity and make the incoming team aware of what’s changed since they last went through the process. 

Significant savings

Plants that can confidently and repeatedly keep shutdown times to a minimum will save mining and industrial companies millions of dollars. For each day a shutdown runs over schedule, the opportunity cost of lost production plus the additional labour and materials costs add up astronomically.

By using smarter systems, primed with quality information – and flexible resources – shutdown cost blowouts could be a thing of the past. One less thing to keep plant managers awake at night.


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