February 26, 2021

COVID-19 has compelled global manufacturers to either hold production or operate at a slow pace with reduced output. As a result, assets are under-utilized. In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, such crises are likely to occur more frequently. During these unprecedented times, adopting neural manufacturing principles enable organizations to become resilient, adaptable, and purpose driven. Strategies such as asset-as-a-service, predictive and prescriptive diagnosis of assets for strategic cost management and shifting focus from production to other areas like competency building and new product shift, can turn the crisis into an opportunity. One such strategy should be to advance plant shutdown activities to the period when production is halted, and resources are under-utilized. This will help manufacturers make better use of the slowdown and ready the plant for optimized output when normalcy resumes.

Running plant shutdown maintenance activities is both necessary and advantageous during such crises as the prolonged pandemic lockdown and ensuing slowdown. Plant management teams face several questions such as-

  • How to manage and optimize the blue-collar workforce?

  • How to keep critical equipment and tools in good condition?

  • How to ensure that critical equipment does not fail once operations are restored?

  • How to perform plant turnaround or plant shutdown with limited resources and in the shortest possible time?

Large manufacturing enterprises in Europe run 24x7 and plan all shutdown maintenance activities spanning two to four weeks, twice a year in July-August and in December. Needless to say, comprehensive planning strategies and teamwork are essential to execute these turnaround maintenance activities well. Teams that devise the end-to-end planning comprise experienced maintenance planners who are supported by maintenance supervisors and expert technicians. While the planning process alone starts three to four months in advance, it is prepared and tracked manually, either on spreadsheets or on planning tools.

Typically, shutdown maintenance management has eight stages, as depicted in Figure 1:

To start with, the scope of the maintenance activity is defined and the necessary equipment, machines, and buildings to be considered for the turnaround activity, are identified. The scoping and identification depend on historical data, including:

  • Equipment failure incidences and root cause analysis

  • Condition monitoring data

  • Production loss associated with failure

  • Environmental and safety implications associated with failure

  • Spare parts consumed and stock availability

  • Critical equipment performance data/downtime

  • Other expenses

Smart technologies for efficient shutdown maintenance

Traditionally, scoping and equipment selection is done manually, which is time-consuming and laborious. However, in a crisis like the pandemic, the time to plan the shutdown maintenance is limited. This is where smart digital tools built on extensive historical maintenance planning data, condition monitoring data, and various maintenance log data offer dependable and well-analyzed alternatives to expedite the maintenance planning process. These tools can help factories reduce the time and effort required to plan a turnaround activity at a short notice. What’s more, the tools also enable greater accuracy and can be leveraged organization-wide to make the manufacturing process more responsive and resilient.

Such a tool should help with:

  • Analyzing historical data to guide the maintenance planner to prioritize critical equipment that must be considered for maintenance and/or overhauls first under resource constraints.

  • Accessing historical data of planned shutdowns from the archives, including details about the teams that manage the planned shutdowns, key performance indicators (KPIs), along with benchmarks and factors that impact the KPIs.

  • Suggesting a contingency plan for equipment and operations. For example, identifying processes or operations that can be shifted to other shortlisted equipment or outsourced to external contractors.

  • Providing planning details and estimates regarding the number of days, spares required, stock availability, technical skill requirement, and more.

  • Performing risk assessments and suggesting mitigation plan. This will help the maintenance planner to perform informed what-if analysis with sufficient insights for accurate decisions.

  • Creating an automatic work order with additional information such as project management procedures, safety sheets, manuals, etc. This can expedite the planning process.

  • Running predictive and prescriptive diagnosis of assets to select equipment.

  • Interfacing with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems used in the plant and acting as a repository of all data related to the planned shutdown.

Managing shutdown activities for the long-term

Manufacturers that develop and use such tools to manage shutdown activities will be more agile and prepared during a crisis. These tools will also help resume operations seamlessly. The flexibility provided by these tools will have a cascading effect in the long run, resulting in improved availability of equipment, enabling plant maintenance teams to focus on planning, plant improvements, or skill-building rather than day-to-day maintenance tasks and firefighting.

Subodh Joshi is a Senior Consultant with the Manufacturing Operations Management group of TCS’ Manufacturing business unit. He leads a manufacturing excellence consulting group, part of the Europe manufacturing business group. Over 30 years, he has helped digitally transform the plant operations of discrete and process industry customers globally. In his previous role, has was the manufacturing plant operations lead for 16 years. Subodh is a six-sigma black belt and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Product Engineering from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj University, Kolhapur, India.