Effective task planning can optimize your outage

Outages can only be successful when the outage work is planned effectively before the work is scheduled and/or started.


By Tim Kister, Life Cycle Engineering.

We are all aware of the impact outages have on business. In many cases as much as one third to one half of the maintenance budget is consumed during this timeframe. Factor in the cost of lost production during this time and the costs are tremendous. To offset the cost of lost production and the cost of maintenance we have to maximize the amount of work accomplished in the shortest amount of time, yet at the same time be effective in what work is performed and how it is managed.
Outages can only be successful when the outage work is planned effectively before the work is scheduled and/or started. There are four areas of planning that are often overlooked or ineffectively addressed: determining outage tasks, defining task scope, identifying task hazards and/or obstacles, and completing task planning completion.
The objective of an outage should be to accomplish the identified tasks with a high level of precision, so that equipment and or processes restart with minimal problems or scrap losses, and operations will have the confidence that equipment and processes will operate at desired rate and quality until the next scheduled outage. Outage planning's objective is to minimize the impact of delays, waiting, obstacles and bottlenecks during work execution to allow on-time completion of work and on-time equipment/process startup while managing outage planned costs within the outage budget.
When a facility decides to identify major outage work far in advance, and the work is carefully planned to maximize ease of execution, the result will be lower costs. It is vitally important that the outage work list be kept as short as possible. Keeping the list short is both the means to reduce costs and the primary method of focusing on work that can only be performed during a major outage.

Here is a suggested planning timeline:
3 to 10 years out Rough work list developed
18 to 24 months out Work list reaches the budget,
planning begins
12 months out Monthly outage meetings begin
6 months out Work list is locked down. Planning
is 90% complete
0 month Outage occurs; all work is planned
and scheduled
1 month post outage Post-outage critique meetings occur
Successful maintenance organizations identify their outage work list from various sources, all of which should be in alignment with the outage objectives. These sources include:

  • Work requests generated as a result of the post-outage critique meetings
  • Regulatory issues
  • Outage and equipment history
  • PM/PdM activities, backlog or carryover work from previous outages.
    • The planning process can commence once the outage work list has been established and approved. Successful outage planning and scheduling depends on important events, including identifying work tasks, occurring far in advance.
      Lock down the list
      Locking down the work list six months prior to the outage is essential to effectively managing and planning outage work. Without a lockdown there will be a never-ending flood of last-minute unplanned work items, resulting in excessive costs, reactive response and increased probability of outage schedule overrun. Part delivery issues and labor availability become a problem when work is added after the lock down date. Some individuals may find a lockdown process difficult to accept.
      A process to address add-on outage work must be developed and in place that requires the requestor to justify the need and identify what existing work items will be sacrificed. Management must enforce the lockdown time frame and gain agreement from all parties that it will be followed. Remember that planning work is expensive. It is extremely wasteful to cancel a job that is already planned (with parts on order or onsite), in order to do unplanned work.
      As outage tasks are identified, the task scope has to be defined. Without a defined scope, workers are left to determine the scope based on their knowledge, which may not be the intended scope at all. This often results in inefficiencies, delays and costly overruns. If the following questions are answered, a clear work scope will result:

      • Does the work request adequately define what the task expects to accomplish?
      • Does the task have a specific starting and ending point?
      • Will this require meeting testing or acceptance criteria?
      • Will the task impact health, safety or environmental aspects?
      • Who will have the final say on the priority of the work?
        • As a part of defining the scope of work, the planner will be required to conduct site visits at the location of the requested work to determine the five basic elements of work planning:

          • The labor requirements (how many, skills, how long) for the task
          • The specific location of the work (asset and physical location)
          • When the work needs to happen (sequence in the scheduling process)
          • The materials, tools and equipment to perform the work
          • The information, specifications, safety, permits required.
            • To accomplish this level of planning it is very important that adequate personnel be dedicated full time to the planning of outage work packages.
              Value of site visits
              Site visits are essential to effective outage planning. The identification of job hazards, safety issues and obstacles that impact job progress is often overlooked. All can be avoided or taken into account if addressed during the planning process. Some of the most common items include the complexity of the lockout/tag out, permit requirements (line breaks, confined space, excavation and building permits), air and water discharges, barricade requirements (will the barricaded work area interfere with normal traffic patterns) and whether the work site will support equipment weight and height requirements.
              As the planning process approaches the six month cutoff date, work packages should be fully planned and usually waiting on identified parts and materials to arrive. These questions can help determine if the planning process is complete:

              • Is the scope of work concise and easily understood?
              • Have all aspects of the task have been evaluated and addressed?
              • Have the job hazards, safety, permit requirements and potential obstacles been identified, addressed and communicated?
              • Does the task sequence make sense, is the methodology defined, and does it include special instructions, specifications and testing/quality checks?
              • Have all determinable material, parts, tools and equipment requirements been addressed and actions taken to provide the necessary items with delivery within the prescribed "need by" dates?
              • Have the specific work groups been identified and task steps been coordinated to minimize non-value effort?
              • Have realistic labor estimates and labor resource requirements been established?
              • Do all work packages include all supporting documentation, prints, schematics and pictures?
                • Outage management is an effective tool for reducing costs and increasing plant productivity. When the decision is made to identify major outage work far in advance and then carefully plan the work for maximum ease of execution, the result will be lower costs.
                  If, at the same time, disruptions to the process (such as late add-on work) are kept under control, there will be sufficient resources available to continually refine and improve the outage model for even greater savings.

                  Tim Kister is a Planning and Scheduling Subject Matter Expert at Life Cycle Engineering. A dedicated educator, Tim has facilitated more than 100 workshops and seminars focused on maintenance management and planning & scheduling, and has co-authored the book "Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook; Streamlining Your Organization for a Lean Environment." You can reach Tim at tkister@LCE.com.

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