Shutdowns are one of the most impactful events in the routine operation of your plant. While a shutdown may sound like a simple process, there are many factors that are often forgotten. A shutdown that goes badly, lasts too long or exceeds budget strongly impacts your bottom line. However, a properly executed shutdown that sticks to a budget and structured plan will significantly impact the efficiency and safety of your plant, while also setting your company up for long-term prosperity.

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Shutdowns, Simplified.

Now that we’ve established the impact of a shutdown, you may be curious what exactly a shutdown is. Simply put, a shutdown is exactly what it sounds like – a period of time where production is halted within the plant. The day-to-day operations are paused, and instead, the focus is shifted to maintenance related activities – cleaning, inspection, and repair. Some shutdowns also incorporate process improvement activities that improve overall plant efficiency.

There are different types of shutdowns that your plant may undergo:

  • Planned vs. Emergency Shutdowns – Planned shutdowns are scheduled well in advance to allow for proper shutdown planning. Emergency shutdowns occur when equipment fails. Although unplanned and frustrating, emergency plans should be established to allow for shutdowns to happen quickly and in a controlled way, reducing the risk of accidents.
  • Partial vs. Full Shutdowns – Partial shutdowns allow part of a plant to remain operational in some capacity. These often accompany emergency shutdowns and can be present additional challenges for startup and product quality. A full shutdown means an absolute halt to day-to-day operations.

During a shutdown, the plant’s employees and outside contractors work quickly to get the plant ready to return to its regular operations. Preparation is of the essence when it comes to shutdowns because shutdowns can become expensive in terms of production loss, increased labor, and equipment expenses. A planned shutdown can reduce operating expenses budgets through the processes of planning, executing, and analyzing.


This is the phase in which an overview of the operation is determined. The intricate details of the operation are discussed, equipment replacements, upgrades, or repairs are evaluated, and contractors are selected. The facility’s internal team, along with the head contractor for the project, and any other key stakeholders determine the scope of work and the schedule will be negotiated. This is also the time to evaluate safety concerns for the work being performed to prevent dangerous and unplanned stop work situations. Tasks are compiled and assigned to everyone involved in the shutdown.

Vetting resources, defining the scope, and compiling tasks take time, so the planning phase should be expected to take anywhere from one to three months. To help expedite the process, follow these tips:

  • Review lessons learned from previous shutdowns to establish best-practices and avoid repeating mistakes.
  • Designate an ultimate decision-maker to mitigate the risk of the budget and schedule overrun due to scope creep.
  • Establish a contingency and create a contract that explains how savings will be shared between the owner and the contractor.
  • Be diligent about communication, including detailed instruction and oversight for novices and notice of restricted areas that will be open only to certain levels of personnel.


This involves putting your plans into action and completing the shutdown as safely, quickly, and efficiently as possible.

  • To ensure key stakeholders know what is going on, start each day with a “plan, do, review, and adjust” meeting. Review what is and is not on track, what additional resources may be needed, and any risks that need to be managed.
  • Provide day-to-day oversight and supervision of contractors based on the criticality of what they are doing. This also includes verification of completion.
  • Make sure cleaning accompanies every major activity so contamination doesn’t occur and waste isn’t allowed to build up.


This final stage involves analyzing the processes that took place during the shutdown. Good practice includes creating a report of your findings and lessons learned. This should include:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • A summary of risks and how they were managed or contained.
  • What improvements can be made next time?
  • A completed checklist covering all executed activities.

Why Shutdown?

There are a number of often overlooked advantages a shutdown can have for your plant. For example, this process provides a prime opportunity to resolve various maintenance issues that have been pushed off or forgotten. This is a vital opportunity to have the components of your mechanical equipment inspected by professionals, as it would be impossible to do while your plant is in operation. This process of preventative maintenance serves your plant with an increase in efficiency, while also saving you money on costly reaction repairs.

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In addition, shutdowns offer a perfect time for major system renovations or overhauls to occur. A plant shutdown should result in the plant returning to peak performance and function at optimal efficiency until the next shutdown. Many times, equipment or system improvements can be easily and affordably implemented with work already planned that will actually increase plant performance after the shutdown. However, if you do plan to piggyback scheduled maintenance with the shutdown, make sure these are communicated during planning so as not to compromise shutdown schedule and budget.

We’re All In This Together.

While shutting down your plant for any period of time may sound like a frightening and costly venture, there’s no need to worry. Shutdowns typically utilize various thirdparty maintenance service providers. The value added by their involvement is tenfold because contractors reduce shutdown length while maximizing plant efficiency. Furthermore, a good contractor is a specialist in equipment and can provide valuable insight and recommendations to improve the reliability and efficiency of your plant.

To get the most out of your contractors, work together in the planning stage. For starters, ensure contractors have a clearly defined scope of work and are prepared with equipment and materials for any contingencies that may arise. Lay out the safety requirements for your shutdown early to avoid confusion, delays, and tension during the shutdown. Know who is providing lifts, air monitors, hole watches, and other safety equipment and services throughout the shutdown. You will want to know about any systems the contractor intends to lock out and any areas the contractor intends to barricade for hot work or critical lifts.

Everyone involved in the shutdown should represent a key aspect of at least one necessary role or responsibility. It is crucial that each person involved is well-trained in their role and safety procedures and has a clearly defined role in the shutdown process and any emergency response procedures.

Key Takeaway.

The important thing to remember is that while shutdowns appear expensive and disruptive on the surface, they are vital to the long-term efficiency and success of your plant. They provide a crucial opportunity to complete needed maintenance tasks that would otherwise create a decrease in efficiency. Shutdowns also provide the opportunity to install upgrades to make your plant run more reliably and efficiently. When done right, shutdowns prove to be an essential component of your plant’s longevity and can increase profit margins going forward.

Contact us today to discuss the many ways we can partner with you in the execution of a safe and productive plant shutdown.

Updated on April 19, 2019. 

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