Bringing manufacturing equipment back online after a shutdown is stressful, with potential costs piled on top of all the safety concerns. You need everything to go according to plan, predictably and without any issues. A well-planned startup can reduce your costs by as much as half.

Follow these seven steps to resume operations at your plant safely and efficiently.

Seven steps to bringing manufacturing equipment back online

1. Complete all scheduled preventive maintenance tasks

Every shutdown should have a clearly defined objective. For instance, your focus may be to repair lingering issues that could result in equipment failure. It could be to comply with safety regulations or reduce your preventive maintenance backlog.

While it may be tempting to squeeze in additional maintenance tasks, these last-minute jobs can introduce more errors.

Before bringing your manufacturing equipment back online, make sure you’ve completed all preventive maintenance activities. Ideally, your team should have these tasks saved in a digital format everyone can access using their mobile devices connected to preventive maintenance software.

2. Check for hidden health and safety hazards

Many manufacturers have extended annual scheduled shutdowns over the summer. More recently, many have been shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When a shutdown lasts for more than a few weeks, you need to consider additional safety measures before reopening. This is because there may be microbial hazards, such as mold or unsafe water due to pipe corrosion or chemical by-products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for avoiding these hidden safety hazards, including:

  • Maintaining low indoor humidity, not exceeding 50%, to prevent mold
  • Operating your building HVAC system for at least 48-72 hours as a flush-out period before returning to service
  • Continuing to check your HVAC system, including air filters, after reopening to ensure it’s operating efficiently

It’s important to consider other environmental conditions, such as ambient temperature, before restarting manufacturing equipment. 

Look at your assets and inventory to other possible problems. For example, check for unsafe scaffolds, ladder placements, and any unattended debris. If your plant deals with hazardous chemicals, make sure there is no toxic exposure. Use your safety data sheets as a guide. 

3. Take additional steps to protect against COVID-19

A survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found 53% of the manufacturing sector expect COVID-19 to impact their operations. A recent PwC report provides some practical guidelines on additional safety measures to follow when bringing your plant back online. This includes:

  1. Implementing additional sanitation measures, including deep cleaning with EPA-approved disinfectants
  2. Reconfiguring workspaces for physical distancing or returning employees to the workplace in staggered shifts to reduce the number of people in close proximity
  3. Educating employees on how to protect themselves and providing appropriate supplies, including masks and hand sanitizer
  4. Identifying weak links in your supply chain that can impact production
  5. Exploring automated solutions that can help you maintain operations with reduced staff, such as industrial robotics and sensors

4. Define roles and responsibilities during your return to work

Because you may have fewer people returning to your workplace, it’s critical to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for everyone. Keep in mind that workplace dynamics could be very different during this time, so you may need to make adjustments. For instance, the shutdown task force may decide to use maintenance supervisors to perform ground-level critical activities. In-house technicians and supervisors may have to collaborate with contractors and OEM technicians on maintenance activities. Similarly, operations and maintenance teams may need to come together to ensure equipment readiness.

This shift in traditional roles requires clear communication, training, and expectation setting.

5. Keep your ‘return to service’ inspection checklist handy

When bringing your manufacturing equipment online again, you need to be clear on the sequence of steps to follow. Some systems may have tight dependencies and prerequisites. For instance, the raw material production has to kick off first before upstream production can begin. And some systems require fixed environmental parameters. For instance, you need to verify the electrical and plumbing configurations meet all specifications.

Failing to follow the prescribed sequence for bringing manufacturing equipment back online can lead to a series of failures that can be hard to recover from quickly, delaying your return to service. This is why having an inspection checklist is crucial.

Sometimes re-opening and servicing your equipment can inadvertently lead to misalignments or other issues. Your inspection list should be as detailed as possible, reviewing each asset to ensure equipment readiness. To create a practical and relevant inspection list, consider integrating the knowledge from the equipment manufacturer’s manual with your technicians’ hands-on knowledge.

Ideally, your inspection checklist should be in a digital format technicians can access from anywhere. They should use it to check factors that could indicate a potential failure, such as noise, leaks, and unexpected changes in temperature.

6. Create formal communication channels

During a shutdown, multiple stakeholders, including facility managers, engineers, operation managers, maintenance supervisors, technicians, and vendors all come together. While this provides many opportunities for knowledge-sharing, it can also make communication more difficult.

Consider hosting regular shutdown task force meetings to prepare to bring your plant back online. You will also want to make tasks and scheduling as transparent as possible.

7. Document lessons learned

Once your manufacturing equipment is back online, it’s a good idea to evaluate what went well and what could have gone better.

For instance:

  • Was the objective and scope of the shutdown clearly defined?
  • Were there deviations in your schedule or budget? If so, why?
  • Did you optimize your shutdown time? Were there other maintenance tasks you could have accomplished?
  • Did the shutdown team communicate well with its members and others involved in the process?
  • Were there any issues that occurred while bringing your equipment back online?

Asking these questions can help you be better prepared for future shutdowns.

How Enterprise Asset Management Software Can Help

Scheduling an effective shutdown and bringing manufacturing equipment back online requires careful planning, communication, and documentation.

In each of these areas, enterprise asset management (EAM) software plays an important role in supporting your team.

EAM software is a centralized platform that allows manufacturing leaders to track all information related to physical assets. Using EAM software, you can:

Additionally, you can tag safety and inspection checklists to each work order so each team member knows their responsibilities. Tracking work orders through Work order software also provides you with the critical data you need to properly assess what went right and wrong, ensuring next time goes even more smoothly. 

ManagerPlus offers powerful, lightning-fast, cloud-based enterprise asset management software. Its mobile capabilities make it easy to use from anywhere, even in the largest manufacturing plants.

To see how it can support your next manufacturing shutdown, schedule a demo.

About the author


ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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