Plant Shutdown Management: Tips for Planned and Unplanned Facility Outages

Plant shutdowns can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re planned, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re strategic, sometimes they are unexpected hurdles that your facility has to overcome. Sometimes they are major, and other times they are an inconvenience that’s handled with relative ease.

Despite all this, one thing is certain. Plant shutdowns will happen. And how they are handled will have an impact on the success of your facility during the shutdown, and in the aftermath.

So what’s the key to successfully managing a facility shutdown? We have a few tips to help you keep things going as smoothly as possible despite a planned or unplanned pause in facility operations.

How to Successfully Manage a Plant Shutdown

As a facility manager, you’ll likely be responsible for managing or facilitating a shutdown at some point during your career. Here are a few ways to prepare yourself – and your facility – for that situation.

Plan Ahead

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s still worth mentioning. Whenever possible, do what you can to plan ahead for a plant shutdown. (Being proactive about plant maintenance can help you to stay ahead of shutdowns. You can learn more about proactive plant maintenance strategies here.)

If the shutdown is scheduled, put the work in ahead of time to make sure the maintenance and repairs being handled during the planned shutdown can be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. That means collecting job quotes, hiring contractors, ordering the necessary materials and parts, etc. so that the project can go off without a hitch. You’ll want to avoid any potential delays or setbacks so your plant can get back up and running as scheduled.

Obviously, if the facility shutdown is not scheduled you’ll have less of an opportunity to plan for it in the months and weeks leading up to it. Though things may come grinding to a halt without much forewarning, there are some steps you can take to prepare for the unexpected well in advance.

One of the most important steps you can take to keep unexpected plant downtime to a minimum is to implement a spare parts management program. This will help increase the chances that you have a part on hand to handle the repair causing the shutdown, which will help to get the problem solved more efficiently. Another important step you can take is to actively participate in an ongoing industrial heating equipment maintenance program. Routine maintenance will help you to keep your equipment consistently in good working order, and to identify any issues that may cause a shutdown in the future

Go With The Flow

Things don’t always go as planned during plant shutdowns, which means some – or perhaps a lot – of flexibility will be necessary.

If you’re at the helm during the shutdown, do what you can to take things as they come and adjust the plan of action accordingly. This may mean delegating tasks, adjusting project timelines, and making critical decisions that might impact your clients and customers.

You’ll likely also have a hand in determining what the priorities need to be during the shutdown. Priorities will likely shift and change, so be prepared to adjust.

Fix Things The Right Way

Especially in cases of unexpected plant shutdowns, you may be tempted to implement quick fix solutions that will get your facility back up and running as quickly as possible. While these solutions are sometimes the best option, in most cases it’s better in the long run to fix the problem the right way – even if that solution takes longer and results in a longer shutdown in the short term.

In some cases, this may mean choosing between repairing existing equipment and investing in new equipment. Take time to do the necessary research to make sure you are well equipped with the knowledge to make the right choice for your facility.

Keep An Eye Out For Future Issues

Though you may be preoccupied with the issue at hand when a shutdown occurs, it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for potential issues that may cause problems in the future. While it’s great to do this on a regular basis alongside a maintenance program, a plant shutdown is a great opportunity to do this as well.

It’s worth noting that there are a number of advantages to replacing equipment, including industrial hot oil heaters, before they fail or become obsolete. You can learn more about key reasons why it’s a good idea to upgrade your heater before it truly fails here.

Without equipment running, you may be able to take a closer look at things or perform a more thorough analysis. Use the shutdown as an opportunity to take stock of what’s going on in your facility, plan for future repairs, and prepare to make the most of upcoming planned shutdowns.

It’s also a good idea to closely document any major facility shutdowns. Learn from experience. A well documented shutdown that runs smoothly can be a valuable resource for the future.

Managing a Facility Shutdown Successfully

Planning for the possibility of a plant shutdown can certainly be a challenge, but keeping these tips in mind can be immensely helpful when and if things come grinding to a halt.

Getting ready to press pause at your plant in order to install new equipment? Check out our tips for prepping your facility for an equipment installation.

Preparing for a shutdown and need a quote for new industrial heating equipment? Request a quote online here, or give us a call at (715) 748-5888.

Editor’s note: This content was originally published in February 2018 but has been updated as of October 2020.