Inspectioneering Journal

How Logistics Impacts Shutdowns, Outages, and Turnarounds

By Stephen Thomas, Change Management Subject Matter Expert at PK Companies. This article appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Much of the process industry operates on a seven day per week, twenty-four hour per day schedule, and has one thing in common. The common element being key pieces of equipment cannot be worked on or internally inspected unless they are taken out of service in order to perform the required work. As a result, plants often execute what are referred to as shutdowns, outages, or turnarounds.  For the sake of this article, let’s simply use the word “outages” to identify these significant events.

The reason I say these events are significant is due to the fact that the production process are taken off-line to facilitate the work, which can add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, especially if executed in conjunction with a capital project. This requires a large investment of company funds and the application of a large number of resources, often working seven days per week on a twenty-four hour per day basis.  Additionally, there is usually a planned interruption of the plant’s material input and output.  This interruption is planned well in advance, but the expectation of both suppliers and customers is that the plant will come back on line when scheduled. Any delays in the schedule can cause serious problems on both ends of the supply chain.

Creating the work scope and developing and executing an effective work plan are the major elements required for a successful outcome. However, behind the scenes exists the glue that pulls the entire effort together: outage logistics. Often when people hear the term “logistics” they immediately think about materials being delivered to the job site to facilitate work execution. Logistics is far more than that simple, single concept. Logistics can be defined in broader terms as “the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving large groups of people, equipment, materials, facilities, and supplies.”  This necessary level of coordination is extremely important and focuses on bringing the right scope, plan, and the correct resources (i.e., labor, equipment, and material) together in a highly effective and efficient fashion.

At this point you may be asking yourselves, “Isn’t this overall coordination the responsibility of the outage manager?” In a global sense the answer to this question is “yes”, but the outage manager does not have the time to deal with the multitude of subtasks required during the preparation, execution & follow-up phases of the outage.  The logistics team is the eyes and ears of the outage manager and is responsible for monitoring, facilitating, and coordinating all of these subtasks.

To truly understand the importance of logistics and how it fits within the outage framework, consider a one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. When you open the box, you lay all the pieces out on the table face up, so you can begin the process of fitting them all together into a completed puzzle.  Working with one piece at a time, with a great deal of trial and error, the puzzle is ultimately assembled.

Now, consider if you were given this puzzle and told that you had a limited amount of time to prepare and even less time to have the puzzle totally completed. To fulfill these requirements, what would you do?  You would lay the pieces out in a very organized manner so that when you begin the puzzle assembly process, the effort would proceed in a smooth and well-coordinated fashion, enabling you to meet the tight time requirement. That is what logistics brings to a plant outage.  Logistics closely coordinates the efforts of all of the groups involved (the pieces of the puzzle) so that when the outage begins, everyone functions in a well-orchestrated fashion thereby enabling the plant to achieve the established schedule, on budget and with a quality outcome.

Critical Considerations for Outages

Earlier I stated that the logistics effort is more than simply supplying material to the job site. The question that is often asked is what comprises the scope of a logistics effort for a major outage.  There are many aspects that must be considered, including:

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Fabian Campbell on May 20, 2019
Great article. The author touched most if not all... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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