Industrial plants Shutdown-Turnaround-Outage’s (STO’s)

How are industrial plants in the Nordics succeeding with their Shutdown-Turnaround-Outage’s (STO’s)?

AFRY has made a deep dive into industrial shutdown, turnaround, and outage (STO) practices in the Nordic Countries and found out that practically all industrial facilities are struggling with their STOs. The main challenges in STOs are schedule adherence as well as work and budget overruns. The issues are almost always caused by deficiencies in the planning.

A Shutdown, Turnaround, or Outage (STO)—three terms that mean the same depending on the industrial sector we are acting in—is an event in which an industrial plant or some process units are decommissioned for a planned period to perform maintenance, inspection, regeneration, or revamp. In this article, we use the term shutdown for all STO events to make it simpler. Shutdowns are a crucial element of industrial plant asset management, and failure in a shutdown can have a significant negative impact on productivity and profits in case the shutdown does not fulfil its objectives or results in a delayed start-up. As the cost of a shutdown can be substantial, industrial plants should pay more attention to shutdown planning and scheduling.

An annual shutdown is the most important event of an industrial plant during the year. Completing a shutdown successfully sets the baseline for plant performance for the following year, and thus meeting the objectives of the shutdown in its execution is of utmost importance. At manufacturing plants, the length of the shutdown can also have a significant impact on the profitability of the plant, and this is where good planning, scheduling, and schedule adherence has a direct impact on revenue.


Lack of holistic understanding of the shutdown process management

AFRY studied the shutdown success of approximately 10 industrial facilities in Finland and Sweden, including major pulp & paper mills, steel and metal works, mineral processing plants as well as independent energy plants. From a business and product perspective, these facilities came in a wide variety, which made it interesting to find so many commonalities in their shutdown processes.

Based on our study, it is obvious that the shutdown is generally understood to be the single most important event during the year, but it is not managed according to that importance. A shutdown typically consists of a combination of maintenance work that cannot be executed during the regular operations or during the implementation of investment projects. This complexity and “one of a kind -nature” pose challenges to the industrial plants during the year when there is no formal process or dedicated organisation to manage the entire shutdown, from initial target setting through planning to execution and start-up.

We observed that most of the companies manage the annual shutdown through independent shutdown subprojects, where individual project managers lead their subproject planning and departments are responsible for coordination between these subprojects. Overall, it was found that responsibility is either lacking, falling in the gaps between people and departments, or only achieved on a total duration level. Although most of the industrial plants had a critical path included in their shutdown execution schedule, none of them had a comprehensive process and practice to manage the entire shutdown. Typically, the shutdown is separated into different stages, leaving gaps between planning, control or alignment of scheduling, procurement, execution, supervision, and start-up. The plants struggled with the handover from one stage to another as well as with holistic understanding of the entire shutdown.


The most obvious deficiencies were related to

  • missing or poorly defined requirements,
  • deferred planning,
  • rough schedules,
  • missing instructions,
  • sloppy supervision,
  • inefficient contractor management,
  • and progress visibility.

However, the elements listed above are all core components of a successful shutdown and as such, ones that a structured shutdown process captures.

Three aspects to ensure a successful shutdown-turnaround-outage (STO)

In conclusion, it is obvious that given the complexity and extraordinary nature of the shutdown, it is something in which it is challenging for the industrial plants to excel. While there are differences between plants, it is obvious that they should all make changes in the way they are managing the most important event of the year.

Based on our study, we gathered three aspects to ensure a successful industrial plant shutdown:

  1. Take a holistic view of the shutdown, starting with early target setting and ending with post-mortem analysis.
  2. Prepare and commit to a plan that captures the entire shutdown cycle, ensuring that all activities are performed at the right time, including elaboration of the worklists and corrective quality actions that secure asset availability for the coming period.
  3. Increase attention to procurement, including requirement definition, supplier screening, and expediting, which can also be used to support supervision during the execution.

In addition, remember to pay attention to the completeness of the planning process as well as what can be learned from the post-mortem analysis of earlier attempts and use that to improve the overall shutdown process.


Shutdown Assessment clarifies the completeness and quality of the shutdown process and execution

At AFRY, we have over half a century of experience in managing complex, multi-disciplinary projects, which an industrial plant shutdown effectively is. Recently we have developed our capabilities towards people management and site operations, which we have now brought together into a shutdown assessment service that enables our clients to obtain a thorough look at the completeness and quality of their shutdown processes as well as its execution, including a clear elaboration of deficiencies and critical improvement areas.

We have decades of experience in supporting companies in their shutdown operations, from early phase planning all the way to engineering and implementation. Our services include, for example, planning support, prioritisation, condition monitoring and analysis, procurement, expediting, site management, quality assurance and control, safety audits, contractor management, project control, development of supporting tools and digital applications, as well as PMO.

In our shutdown assessment, we pay attention to the clients’ own capabilities, and our recommendations are always aligned with the client’s willingness to embed new methods of working into their existing processes.


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Juhana Litja - Vice President and Head of Sales, Process Industries Finland

Juhana Litja

Vice President and Head of Sales, Process Industries Finland

Juhana is an expert in Digital Transformation, Juhana shares his knowledge and provides guidance for the chemical industry's path towards increased digitalisation for a sustainable future. His speciality is digital transformation and implementation of digital tools. He has wide expertise in operational transformation and management process development as well as deep knowledge in operating practice changes etc.

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