Five Keys to a Successful Production Shutdown

by: Andrew L. Shakely, PE, LEED AP BD+C | NuTec Design Associates, Inc., President

Did your company just complete their holiday shutdown? Did it cause you to miss family time and celebrations that people not involved in manufacturing take for granted? Or did it go smoothly and allow you to enjoy some relaxation over the holiday season? Your answer most likely depends on how you prepared for your shutdown.

In today’s manufacturing world of just in time delivery and optimized inventory, there is a constant pressure for uninterrupted production. Shutdowns are continually shortened and occur less frequently, but remain the time to perform critical maintenance tasks and implement process improvements. The success of shutdown projects are not only measured by the performance gains achieved, but also and possibly even more critically, by whether production is back online on schedule. Loss of production is not tolerable to corporations in today’s world.

So what are the keys to making your shutdown projects go as smoothly as possible? From years of experience in planning and executing shutdown work, we have learned that the following items are critical to having a stress-free shutdown:

Don’t Leave People Out of the Planning
It’s important that you involve everyone who has a role in a shutdown project has input into the planning. This includes management, engineers and designers, contractors, production line personnel, safety, quality control, and security. Each person has their own insight into the impact of a project and pooling all their knowledge is the best way to avoid an unexpected “gotcha.”

Don’t Compartmentalize
There are usually many shutdown projects going on at the same time, each with a different person in charge. It’s vital to make sure that you understand how the projects impact each other. Will contractors be fighting over the same work space, will required containment areas impact transportation routes through the facility, will one contractor require an electrical shutdown right when another needs power for a critical part of their project? These are just a few things that if not recognized in advance, can spell disaster to a shutdown. Additionally, you may find potential shared savings by looking at the projects as a group.

Use Team Members You Trust
Shutdown work is not the time for you to try someone new. Using designers and contractors that know your facility and procedures can go a long way to having a smooth shutdown. Bringing in new players during this critical time can be very disruptive even if they are well qualified. There is a lot of value in using a firm that you’ve already worked with successfully.

Know Your Weaknesses
Take the time to understand where each project could go wrong. Know which pitfalls can be easily overcome and which ones have the potential to ruin all your plans. Have contingency plans in place for the items with the biggest risk, so if the worst happens, you won’t lose valuable time searching for a solution while the clock is ticking.

Don’t Over Communicate with Email
Yes, I did say that and no, I am not saying communication isn’t vital to shutdown work. It’s probably the most important part of the coordination needed. But don’t fall into the trap of relying on mass email groups and sending all emails to every person on every team. This approach will result in two things: First, your critical email won’t get read as it’s buried in the mountain of emails everyone gets every day. Second, miscommunication will be inevitable. It’s very difficult to understand the issues someone is raising in the required detail through an email exchange. Face-to-face, or at least verbal interaction on by telephone or video conference, is the best way to uncover the nuances of problems waiting to happen.

This certainly is not a comprehensive list of all the actions that go into making a successful shutdown, but if you ignore one of these, there likely will be a price to pay. It’s important to realize that no shutdown is entirely stress-free or happens without unexpected events. But with the proper planning and organization, you can emerge from your shutdown with a sense of accomplishment and your sanity and job intact.