All of us in our daily work responsibilities have some exposure to facility outages or shutdowns. In the facility world, it might be a long holiday weekend. In the manufacturing world, it could be a week or two in length and involve extensive repair of equipment installations.
The weekend outage and the weeklong shutdown create the same level of stress. The challenge is to make these outages and shutdowns progress smoothly and finish on time within scope and on budget. To do this, managers must have detailed plans and schedules.
Before I get into preparing for and surviving a shutdown, I need to tell you a story about how not to prepare for a shutdown. Learning from your mistakes is sometimes the best way to learn. The lessons can be painful, but you’re not likely to forget them.
Twenty years ago, I had just been transferred and promoted to the director of engineering and maintenance for the largest carpet manufacturing plant in the world — 34 acres under one roof. I had 150 or so craftsman and 16 salaried engineers and supervisors to lead the team.
My first day was around the first of June, and our annual week long shutdown was scheduled for the Fourth of July week. My management team kept saying, “Don’t worry, boss. We have it covered, we do this every year.” Those of you with a little gray hair probably are starting to smile because you’ve already figured that my team didn’t have it covered.
On Monday morning, everything was buzzing along with 20-30 contractors in the plant and about 300 or so workers doing everything from replacing equipment and pouring concrete to painting the ceiling. You name it, we were doing it.
About 10 a.m., the power went out, and the plant got quiet and dark real fast. My electrical engineer decided Monday morning was the best time to clean and test our main substation gear, so he had the power company pull the main knife switches. Most of you know I’m a mechanical engineer, so I love telling stories about electrical engineers.
After the fear for my job, my anger, and my desire to dismember him subsided, we regrouped and rented or bought every generator within 50 miles. We finished the week pretty well and accomplished 95 percent of our planned work.
It turned out that every crew had a good plan, but no one pulled all of the plans together in one master plan to see if conflicts existed between the crews and contractors. The next year, the electrical engineer, his electricians and his contractors all worked at night. I figured that they have to work in the dark anyway, so it might as well be at night. Let everyone else work during the day when the power was on.
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