We have control of a shutdown only during the planning phase

We have control of a shutdown only during the planning phase

The only time we have control of a shutdown is during the planning phase!

Many years ago I learned the hard way that the only time you have control of a shutdown is when you are in the planning phase. During execution, you are at the will of how good the plan was and more importantly, how well the plan has been protected.

Things will always go wrong during a shutdown but generally, these things can be foreseen. It is not too often that a shutdown experiences a problem which has never occurred before. In fact, Bluefield reviewed many shutdowns and developed a list of the problems which usually cause the delays during shutdowns or overruns on time and cost. These key problems were developed into the sections of our shutdown readiness review checklist and good practice document. The intent was to use previous shutdown experience to create a practical checklist of key areas critical for successful shutdown delivery and avoid issues which frequently occur. From this experience, all of the problems identified were categorized into the following areas and a checklist prepared so that action can be taken to prevent them from occurring or identify the associated risks during the planning phase:

  • Key People
  • Project Scope
  • Budget Approval
  • Detailed Planning
  • Protect the plan and Contingency Planning
  • Accommodation
  • Spares Readiness
  • Off Site Overhaul Strategy
  • Inductions and Training
  • Equipment Pass-out
  • Shutdown Site Services
  • Budget Review and Cost Control
  • Critical Path Review
  • Where required - Pad Design / Access Roadways

 So how is it possible to avoid common problems?

It is quite a simple task to avoid these types of problems on shutdowns but action needs to be taken during the planning phase. Once a problem has arisen during a shutdown, if you do not have a plan then you are working in reactive fashion, just like a breakdown situation, and we all know that in these situations you are relying on luck for things to go smoothly.

The solution is as simple as plan the details, plan the details, plan the details and….. protect the plan. Some people may refer to “Protecting the Plan” as performing a risk assessment for each item on the shutdown scope, however, we like to call it protecting the plan as it is not only about identifying the risks but also about developing a practical contingency plan. In fact, sometimes when people use a risk-based approach they get caught up in quantifying the risk rather than making good contingency plans or eliminating the issue with an alternative approach.

Protecting the plan can be as simple as asking yourself or the team “what can conceivably go wrong” with each task on the Gantt chart. There is no need to invent things that can go wrong, just use experience and identify what normally goes wrong (or use a checklist made from experience similar to the Bluefield document mentioned previously). Then put in place a workable solution or change the plan so the issue cannot go wrong.

For example, a common situation which often occurs is when offsite repairs run into problems or during the overhaul of the component, additional defects are identified, which will extend the overhaul time. There are two ways to manage this risk:

  • Develop a contingency plan or
  • Eliminate the need for offsite repair of the component.

A contingency plan could be; to identify an alternative component, use warehouse stock or utilise OEM stock, should the overhaul be delayed. Alternatively, you can choose to use the stock item and eliminate the risk associated with an offsite overhaul. However, this may have a cost impact.

Bluefield has previously managed and reviewed many shutdowns for our clients. On one review of a coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) shutdown we found a number of key problems as those listed above.

When the shutdown review started, which was already during the late stages of the planning phase, we found:

  • The shutdown scope had not been frozen months out from shutdown commencement, which is the best practice
  • A very late (within days of commencement) flood of corrective work orders hit the scope adding an additional $1M of cost and risk to delivery
  • A project team was not settled until the week before the shutdown with many people in temporary roles
  • The electrical and mechanical schedules ran on separate Gantt charts yet were reliant on each other for the final critical path
  • A critical path task to re-line and fabricate a sump bin cover and handrails was not fully scoped or planned in detail. The access method to the top of the open bin was not settled until a third of the way through the shutdown. Once the access method was agreed, it was realised the materials to do the job were not on site and were in fact, 300km away. A delay of 3 days was experienced as a result.
  • Critical Parts for the handrail replacement of the bin were not to specification and had to be modified heavily to fit. It is essential to check all parts are on site and correct well before the start of the shutdown

It was too late for this shutdown and these risks were managed by reactive planning. These and most of the key problems experienced throughout this shutdown could have been easily averted had the Bluefield list or similar been utilised, challenged, and the risks addressed within the planning phase.

Our learning over the years is to keep things simple, plan the details, plan the details, plan the details and then...... protect the plan.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the Bluefield shutdown readiness review checklist please send your name and email address to admin@bluefield.com.au. (Just put "shutdown readiness review checklist" in the subject of the email)

CHPP Shutdown