Tag Archives: planner

Outages 101, Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish

This week we are going to start a new format for our discussion, please let me know what you think.  The intent of this blog is to share the knowledge I have accumulated over the past 200 plus outages in short easily understood points, that in total, make up our Zone Outage Control process. Each week I  will share a personal vignette that I hope illustrates the need and value for that point. I can be a tad ….shall we say long winded, and although I’m often in love with my own prose, I do appreciate getting to the point as quickly as possible, so without further ado here we go


Outages are a different than day to day running of a plant. For a visual image of this imagine the plant as NASCAR, racecar speeding around the track and an outage as the PIT stop. Each operational environment has vastly different behaviors required for success.  If you try and run your outage like day to day operations it will cost more, take longer and be less effective

I joined a plant, in desperate need of a turn around, about a month before their outages. This plant had an outage expense budget of $5.3 million dollars and they had traditionally overrun their outage budgets by 20% ($6.36 million). They averaged 11.5 days per boiler outage (3 boilers) with each boiler down day worth about $60,000 loss of revenue.

The Zone Outage Control™ process saved the plant millions of dollars and was the cornerstone of a great turnaround from worst to first in just one year. Our outages came in for a total of $4 million; we saved $1.3 million against budget and $2.3million against historical spending. We did all of this with no capital, just a change in behavior/process during outages

We also shortened the outage duration to an average of 8 days (really 7.65 but really what is .35 of a day). Which had a net effect of, an extra 3.5 days per boiler  @ $60,000/day per boiler. All in, an extra revenue of $630,000 for the year

The plant went on to a banner year; it broke every production record while at the same time breaking every safety record. The overall effect of our efforts increased the plants EBITA from 30 million to 35 million in one year


 The plant had a great many problems, Operations and Maintenance hated each other. The employee turnover rate for the past year was 52%. They missed there budgeted performance by the worst margin in company history. In short it was bad, bad, bad. About 5 weeks before the first outage, I actually got a quote from a contractor that read “because working at this plant is so difficult please add $15,000” on a $45,000 job. This is where we started

 I laid out the plan, I wanted everything we would need for the outage, tools and material, right next to every door that they would be used in; to say that it was met with a tremendous amount of resistance would be putting it in the kindest of all possible lights. I however can be very…… determined when I have to be, saying it this way is also putting it in the kindest of all possible lights

We rented welding machines; people screamed “the contractors do that”. I said “but then we pay for it at their rates plus mark up” plus this way we can set them all up on straight time instead of during the outage on overtime in the heat of battle

We bought 5000 feet of welding lead, one of my Forman said “we might as well give each contractor some as a gift when they are leaving; they are going to take it anyway”. I said “I will save us more money than it’s worth ($5000)” he scoffed and said “well it’s your ass that’s going to get fired; we will never see any of that lead again”

We staged all the material for the outage in the field next to each door that it was going to be used in. The Purchasing Manager said “I’m going to charge everything that you take out of the warehouse to the outage the minute it leaves my shelves”. I said “do what you have to do, but do not reorder anything until I say so”. He wouldn’t do it; he went to the Director of Purchasing to stop me and my madness. Just think of it material all around the boiler who would control it? What if someone wanted to steal the feed chute hopper wear plate, who would be there to stop them? I got a call from the director and I tried to explain my point but failed. Soon after that call I got a call from the President, he wanted to know if I planned on pissing everybody in the company off at once or just one by one. I said, I tried being diplomatic but I guess I need more practice. When it was all said and done all the material was laid out next to the boiler.   

I rigged all the superheat panels that we needed for the outage to the roof. Engineering said the roof couldn’t hold the weight. I had the roof trusses evaluated and brought steel beams up to engaged 4 roof trusses to support the tubes and I cut a hole in the side of the building and built a mono rail to move the panels in the boiler. We built carts to transport the panels

I rented port-o-johns for the roof of the powerhouse. Safety said I couldn’t move port-o-johns through the building because of sanitary concerns. I rigged them up with the tube crane and built an outhouse for them and a smoking hut on the roof as well.

It went on and on and on. By the time the outage came along everyone was just waiting for the mess that I created to come crumbling down around me.

The outage started and low and behold, things seemed to run fairly smooth. The contractors were amazed, all of them hated to work at this plant and now it even seemed fun. We played music in the morning and had coffee and doughnuts a few times. People thought I was CRAZY!!!!. The president flew up and took a tour of the outage because he had heard so much about it. When he was done walking around he said “It all looks fine, but what are the dollars and cents”. I said that everything was well within budget; he looked skeptical but let me continue.

As we got a few days into the outage, Tuesday to be exact, everything was going very well. I laid out every job on my “Magic Whiteboard” (a story for a different time) and realized that we were going to finish the outage in about 7 days. Pretty good I thought to myself. I sat back and mentally went through all the jobs again in my head to see if maybe I had missed something. Zone #1…. no, Zone #2….I’m good, Zone #3….they will get it, Zone #4….that’s going really well, they will be ready for the rails tonight….wait a minute, where are the rails, I haven’t seen them yet (neither had my “Magic Finger”). Off I went to go touch the rails with my “Magic Finger” I went by the job…no rails, I went in the ally…no rails, I went by the warehouse…no rails, I went to the lay down area…NO RAILS !!!!!.  I went to my office and paged my planner, “hey come up and see me please”

In he strode, eating a half a sandwich. I said “where are the sifting conveyor rails”. He said “there coming in Friday”.

Here I need to take a minute again to describe me for those of you who have yet the pleasure of meeting me. Body: Shrek meets Luca Brasi meets and average sized bear, Face: wise, warm, insightful, angelic some have said. However when mad ….well you know the cartoons when steam comes pouring out of the guys ears, That plus my eyes bulging out of my head like Roger Rabbit and to top it off a loud booming voice that can put Pavarotti to shame

Now back to our story. When my planner said “Friday” well I was not happy. I proceeded to explain to him in a high decibel mono directional way that I wanted the rails NOW!!!!. He went back to his office and started making calls.

He returned and said that Friday was the best they could do. I said get someone else to make them by tomorrow it’s just angle iron bent and hardened flat bar. My planner was confused, he said “but we paid for them already why don’t we just wait. My eyes widened as I looked up and he immediately backed up and started talking faster. “We would waste $25,000 dollars”. I got up and told him to sit down. I then explained very curtly that he was to rent a flatbed with a driver, buy all the angle iron and wear bar, get the yellow pages and a cell phone and bring everything to me by Thursday morning. I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream but I believe he was more afraid of me now than he ever might have been, he got up and said yes sir and left.

Every four hours he called in and let me know his status, we got most of the rails Thursday morning and all of them by Thursday night. My planner had done an amazing job he didn’t sleep for two long days. He got it done. He thought I was crazy but he did what I asked.

Friday morning came, the 7th day of the outage and like in genesis, I was looking for a rest it had been quite a journey but we did it. As I was winding down from the fight, so to speak, my planner came up with a grin on his face, I asked him “what’s up” he said he just got a call from the people making the first set of rails, they had some problems and wouldn’t have them till Wednesday now. We both laughed

My planner went on to engineering and then came back to this plant as my successor and had a longer run than myself.

When You See A Snake, Kill It

Once upon a time, I was a planner during a particularly large outage. Some of the major jobs included an air preheater basket change out, nose tube replacement, burner corner replacement (a CE tangentially fired unit with 64 burners) including brining gas lines to each of the corners, and a re-insulation of the entire boiler after an abatement. During this especially hectic time, management decided to perform a wrench time analysis.

The results of the analysis came back with impressive results. Our job site had almost double the wrench time (68%) vs. the other job sites (in the 30% range). This large percentage differential raised questions and suspicion from the “Suits.”

Naturally, the first thing the Suites focused on was that these numbers were fake. We were soon accused of tricking the auditors. After much conversation and investigation it was determined that our 68% was in fact real. Imagine that.

After it was agreed on by all that my job site had a superior wrench time then the others, we started to delve into the reasons behind it.

As it turned out, the primary reason that we had a much better wrench time than everyone else was because we set the job up differently than everyone else.

Our traditional tool control during an outage was to have one central tool room where all the tools were checked in and out of every day. We changed that. Instead each Forman was given both a set of jobs and the time to lay out a written list of the tools that they needed to perform those jobs. Once the Forman generated their lists, they were given job boxes with the tools they listed. The tools were then signed out to the Forman and he or she was responsible for their own tools from there on end.

When upper management found out what we were doing they were incensed. They felt that there would be a free for all with the tools. They declared that any tool lost would be taken directly out of any bonuses or raises of the project manager (my direct boss) or me.

When it was all over (upwards of 170,000 man hours) my team was well under our tool budget, much to the surprise of upper management.

Not only did the team have a significantly higher wrench time than other jobs, we also had better tool control. More importantly, we came in under budget and under time for the entire outage. This feat had not happened in my division for many, many years.

Moral of the Story

A dear friend of mind once related to me a speech he heard by Bruno Bic (the pen guy) to his company. His opening line was “When you see a snake kill it, don’t write a memo, don’t send an email, don’t make a policy, just kill it”. The way we did tool control, prior to this, was horrible. It took too long and controlled too little. So in the fashion of Bruno Bic, we tried something different and that yielded huge results.

Rule of Thumb

If you have a management process that looks cumbersome and time consuming, guess what? It is. Find a better way and there are huge performance gains in store for you.