This article originally appeared in IMPO's May issue.
As a maintenance planner and master planner over the last 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit a number of manufacturing facilities (most of them producing chemicals) in order to share planning and scheduling ideas and techniques. Almost all the facilities I visited had something in common: they devoted large amounts of resources to planning of one particular sort – shutdown planning. While these facilities paid careful attention to detail when performing maintenance planning for outages (more often than not due to regulatory governmental requirements), for the most part they did a relatively poor job of planning routine corrective jobs, with the notable exception of preventive maintenance activities.
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On the surface, it would seem it would be easy to make the shift from detailed shutdown planning to routine corrective planning. But I have observed two reasons why most companies don’t effectively make that transition:
- The first reason is infrastructure – the low number or low skill level of the planning organization workforce. I have often seen a facility “extract” a craftsperson from the maintenance organization and “poof” they are a planner. The training for embedded planners, if there is any, is brief and poorly done. These planners are not equipped to deal with the detailed planning that is required to have a positive effect on the maintenance organization. They are often viewed as little more than a clerk to serve at the beck and call of the maintenance management structure. Their contribution will therefore deteriorate to the point that it’s hard for them to develop the needed skills. The solution to this situation is a proactive approach to their training and development that enables them to reach their full potential and become a true asset to the maintenance organization.
- The second reason is the widespread practice of bringing in contract labor to perform shutdown coordination, shutdown planning, and shutdown scheduling. While plants will most certainly require outside labor to complete the outage, having a staff dedicated to shutdown planning, scheduling, and coordination will pay dividends in the long run because it builds staff ownership of the process. While there are talented contractor and engineering companies that can provide the aforementioned services with attention to detail, that labor comes at a very high hourly cost and doesn’t create ownership of the process by permanent staff. The permanent staff can perceive this use of outside labor as “the boss lacks confidence in us” or “these folks swoop in, complete the outage and are gone.” Management’s typical reason for the outside help is that they believe that the current staff is already fully allocated. I understand this perspective. However, in the long run, investing in building and training a permanent staff to handle at least most of the shutdown work would not be more expensive than paying contractors and would have the added benefit of sharing best practices with routine scheduling staff.
By focusing resources on shutdowns and using external contractors to do the work, organizations are missing out two opportunities: 1) to train and develop their employees who work with assets and processes every day; and 2) to earn a significant return on investment.
While outage planning is extremely important in order for large projects to reach completion on budget and on time, daily routine planning is where companies will see the greatest payback on their investment. A mature (in position), experienced maintenance planner will typically save three to five hours in labor delays for every hour spent on detailed planning. Investing in the planning function will build employee engagement and profits.
Roger Corley is a Materials Management Subject Matter Expert with Life Cycle Engineering. He has over 30 years’ experience in Maintenance Planning and Scheduling and Materials Management. Roger is a certified facilitator for Maintenance Planning and Scheduling with the Life Cycle Institute. You can reach Roger at [email protected].