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Outage Management 101: Identify, Plan, Execute, Review

Issue 11 and Volume 119.

By Rob Broglio and Henry Scheck

A combustion turbine lift. Major tasks like turbine overhaul need to be locked down six months prior to the outage start to ensure all parts are delivered and extra labor is available. Otherwise, you’ll face a flood of add-ons that result in reactive response, excessive costs and schedule overruns. Photo courtesy: NAES Corp.

The moment a plant or unit comes out of service for an outage, it stops generating revenue for its owner and starts racking up expense. The economic impact of poorly planned and executed outages can be severe.

The loss of availability or capacity due to outage extensions or later reworks cuts into your annual return swiftly and dramatically. To effectively prepare for and execute your outage – and rein in on unexpected costs and schedule slippage – you need a clearly defined outage management process built on four pillars: Identify, Plan, Execute, Review.

Identify

To properly manage your upcoming outage – and lay the groundwork for improving the next one – you need to identify activities that require attention and the metrics for assessing (after the outage) how effectively you addressed them. Successful maintenance organizations identify their outage work list from various sources, all of which should be in alignment with the outage objectives:

  • Work requests resulting from the post-outage critique meetings that capture tasks identified during the previous outage.
  • Regulatory issues, which generate additional and in some cases drive the frequency of outages.
  • Outage and equipment history, which should be used as another major source for identifying outage work items.
  • Preventive maintenance activities, backlog or carryover work from previous outages.

As you identify each outage task, it’s important to define the task’s scope. Otherwise, workers are left to guess at the scope, which leads to inefficiencies, delays and cost overruns. Answering a few key questions will clarify the scope:

  • Does the work request adequately define the expected results?
  • Does it clearly specify the start and end points of the task?
  • Does it require testing or meeting of acceptance criteria?
  • Will the task impact health, safety or environment?
  • Who will have the final say on priority of the work?

Plan

Successful outage planning requires that important events occur far in advance. Your list of identified work should be locked down six months prior to the outage start date. Otherwise, you’ll face a flood of add-on work items that will result in reactive response, excessive costs and schedule overruns. Last-minute attempts to get parts delivered or find available labor are not likely to brighten your day.

If you find that add-on work is unavoidable, make sure you put a process in place that requires the requestor to justify the need and also identify existing work items that can be sacrificed to compensate for it. Urge your management to enforce the lockdown and gain agreement from all parties that it will be respected. It’s wasteful to cancel a job that is already planned (with parts on order or already delivered) in order to do unplanned work.

Make sure that adequate personnel are dedicated full time to the planning process. Otherwise, planners will get pulled away and end up doing stand-in work as supervisor, craftsperson or parts-chaser. This will not enhance their efficiency. While it would be convenient to plan the whole outage from your desk, you’ll need to visit the site to accurately assess the basics of the job:

  • Labor requirements – how many personnel, with which skills, for how long?
  • The specific asset(s) to be overhauled and their physical location(s)
  • Scheduling sequence – which work needs to happen first, which second?
  • Materials, tools and equipment required
  • Information, specifications, safety precautions and permit requirements

During the site visit, make sure to identify safety hazards and obstacles that could impact the work progress:

  • The complexity of the lockout/tagout process
  • Permits for line breaks, confined space, excavation, building, air and water discharges
  • Barricade requirements – will the barricaded work area interfere with normal traffic patterns?
  • Equipment weight and height limitations in the work area

Note that the site visit is not optional. You can’t address these considerations adequately from the comfort of your desk.

As the start date comes into view, you should be finalizing the work packages and waiting for parts and materials to arrive. To feel confident that you’ve actually completed the planning, it’s best to manage everything through a work order process. With that in place, you can evaluate each order with a series of questions:

  • Is the scope of work clear, 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, does it include special instructions, specifications and testing/quality checks?
  • Have all material, parts, tools and equipment been ordered and action taken to deliver them within the prescribed ‘need by’ dates?
  • Have the specific work groups been identified and the coordination of task steps been addressed to minimize non-value effort?
  • Have realistic labor estimates and labor resource requirements been established using the best methods available, including task duration and total labor hours?
  • Do all work packages include supporting documentation, prints, schematics and pictures?

If you can answer all questions affirmatively, you’ll get higher-quality work using fewer people in less time at lower overall cost. On average, a repair work order that would take eight hours will take less than two hours to execute using this combination of clear instructions, timely access to tools and better coordination of labor resources.

Here are some tricks of the trade used by experienced planners to manage outages more efficiently:

  • Sort work lists by work crews; this will make them easier to manage than working from the entire backlog.
  • Develop spreadsheets of piping systems to keep track of when blinds (block-offs) are installed and removed; this will save you major headaches during startup.
  • Have scaffolding installed prior to the outage start date to avoid delays waiting for installation.
  • Alert schedulers to jobs that are situated in crane lift areas; this will avoid delays by allowing them to address safety concerns in advance.

The earlier your contractor gets involved, the better. A project contractor must work closely with the plant manager and engineer from the start to ensure successful collaboration. Once the project is approved and the subcontractors selected, the contractor should assist with reviewing the overall scope, preliminary drawings and specifications. The more informed the contractor is, the more successful the execution will be.

Subcontractors – whether they report to the contractor or the client – should not be viewed as minor players in an outage. Excluding them from the planning phase can result in serious frustration later on. Typically, it’s during the critical first week of an outage that this will have the most impact.

To avoid pitfalls with subcontractors, set realistic expectations for them during the outage planning meeting. Get commitments on their work scopes and durations. This will eliminate major bottlenecks, such as having 500 people sitting on their thumbs because you didn’t properly integrate the subcontractors’ schedules and scopes of work into the master outage plan.

Execute

So far, we’ve focused on planning rather than scheduling. Scheduling involves knowing how much work is available, how long each task will take, how many labor resources are required per task and how tasks need to be prioritized. A successful schedule also has to be conversant with day-to-day execution. It’s critical that you communicate work expectations to supervisors and workers – and also that you monitor their progress. Daily schedule updates are essential: without them, you jeopardize on-time completion of the outage.

In these fiscally cautious times, plant operators can find it challenging to secure sufficient budget and adequate technical resources to properly oversee an outage. Staff reductions may have left you with fewer people to send to the repair shop floor to oversee component repair services. You may not have sufficient time to make sure your field services provider lives up to expectations.

One strategy is to hire an owner’s engineer (OE) who has the technical expertise to represent the plant’s best interests with the field services organization and OEMs. The point is not to create animosity between the owner and vendors but to work for the success of the outage. It’s a good idea to bring in the OE early in the planning process so he/she can fully understand the outage’s scale and scope of work.

Hiring an OE will add an expense to your O&M budget, but you’ll likely recover it by avoiding problems that cost a great deal more. You need to be selective in hiring this individual: choose one who has serious contract and outage experience, who understands how to deal with contractors and who can present strong references.

Review

Measuring the right things the right way at the right time – and communicating them appropriately – allows control of activities while work is being executed. Poor documentation is usually at the root of cost and time overruns, but if problems continue in the future, it’s often because you didn’t have the right systems in place to identify the problems or measure how well you addressed them.

Putting the processes and metrics in place to conduct an in-depth review of your completed outage – while it may seem like adding a needless extra layer of complexity and expense – will allow you to identify major work well in advance of your next outage and plan it for maximal ease of execution. That next outage will cost you less and require less downtime, because you’ll encounter fewer disruptions from late add-on work. More to the point, you’ll set the stage for continually refining your outage model, progressively reducing costs and making the next outage a better experience for all who are involved.


Authors

Rob Broglio is former senior business development manager for NAES Corp. Henry Scheck is director of Engineering Services for NAES Corp.