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6 Pitfalls (& How to Avoid Them) During Plant Shut Down

Current disruptive conditions have many of our manufacturing clients asking: How do we minimize damage to the production process during an extended shut down? How do we position our plant and the business for faster, stronger recovery?

While often overlooked, good communication, energy upgrades, and proactive maintenance can prepare your facility for a seamless turnaround following an extended shut down.

Shut downs, scheduled or not, present opportunities for plant operators to perform critical maintenance or consider capital energy improvement projects. While these may be difficult to prioritize under normal business conditions, strategic management during downtime can yield future benefits during start up and when your plants return to normal operation.

To best manage and prepare for recovery, consider these 6 pitfalls to avoid when managing an extended shut down at your facilities:

1. Relying on generic procedures

If not managed carefully, shut downs create potential risks for damage to key production equipment. Even experienced operators can be hesitant to make equipment changes during a shut down due to fear of failure and subsequent production impacts. To remove ambiguity and help operators avoid missteps, plant managers should keep detailed shut down and start up procedures specific for each equipment type, including written checklists and diagrams. With regular training on the procedures, operators will be better prepared—and more confident—to execute the plan in high pressure situations.

2. Ignoring secondary impacts when production dips

Production is inextricably linked to energy conversion equipment such as chillers, boilers and compressed air systems. As such, anytime production changes, operators should consider how the adjusted load impacts these key systems, as well as any other loads served. Ignoring the effect of reduced load will result in substantial unnecessary energy costs, additional run time and, in the worst case, failure of the equipment. Equipment placed in “standby mode” should be monitored for changes to critical parameters, such as pressures and temperatures. Ensure operating procedures specify the conditions under which “standby” equipment should be shut down.

3. Passively managing energy inputs

Just like labor or raw materials, energy inputs should be proactively addressed during a shut down. Today’s technologies make this easier than ever, with energy data, automation and variable energy systems such as variable speed drives (VSDs) providing manufacturing facilities with visibility and enhanced control over energy usage down to the individual piece of equipment. Improving equipment turn down or automating shut down of energy loads, both large and small, can amount to significant cost saving during times of reduced or idled production. As with any other controllable input, energy data provides personnel with the information needed to understand base load reduction opportunities and to confirm idle equipment.

You might also like this recent podcast with our energy efficiency experts, Planning for Disruption: Best Practices for Corporate Facility Leaders. Click play below to listen now.

4. Underestimating the power of communication

Clear lines of communication and feedback help establish mutual understanding among operators on how shut down processes should be completed. Disruptive circumstances can increase the risk of miscommunication, so emergency shut down procedures must determine clear points of responsibility and consider interdependencies of equipment. Each stakeholder in the shut down process should be trained to understand what others are doing during the shut down and be aware of critical communication points. Effective communication is just as essential during start up to assure systems are brought back online in a sequential manner.

5. Not taking advantage of idle supporting equipment

Equipment directly involved in production will typically receive routine maintenance, but supporting equipment, which typically serves multiple production lines, can be more difficult to maintain. Because this maintenance is often deferred, operators also have limited opportunities to implement energy conservation measures, such as adding VSDs. During either a scheduled or emergency shut down period, operators should take advantage of the rare opportunity to address their deferred maintenance backlog or consider capital improvement projects.

6. Not planning for recovery and start up

Proper shut down processes must also include procedures for start up. In addition to start up order and designated equipment responsibilities, the procedures should highlight settings, measurements and feedback checks to ensure the plant is started properly and ready for production. Gauges, probes and other metering equipment should be checked for accuracy or repeatability, as the shut down period is a good time to calibrate or replace them if needed.

During this time of unprecedented disruption, Schneider Electric stands ready to assist you with questions you may have regarding energy management.

We invite you to watch the recording of our recent webinar, where we provide in-depth guidance on maintaining plant flexibility in times of volatility.