Maintenance or Plant Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages are Different, but not Much Different

Maintenance or Plant Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages are Different, but not Much Different

Each describes and implies a stoppage to do maintenance.

In industry you’ll get the words shutdown, turnaround and outage used interchangeably. Though not strictly the same, you still understand, since the context of their use clarifies the meaning of the word uttered in conversation



Dear Mike,

I am a student and want to do some research work on maintenance and plant turnaround, but I am a little confused.

What is the main difference between plant turnaround and the maintenance (you mentioned in you website articles), and how can both be compared?

How can we measure the performance of a plant turnaround?

Looking forward for your kind words.




Hello Jalal,

It is not only what is different between plant turnaround and plant maintenance you will want to know; it is also the difference between shutdowns, turnarounds and outages.

You’ll hear the terms, plant outage, maintenance outage, plant shutdown, maintenance shutdown, plant turnaround and maintenance turnaround used throughout industry. The context of their use is typically enough to understand what is being discussed. But there are subtle differences between each term and its worth knowing what is different between the use of the words ‘plant’ or ‘maintenance’ in front of the words shutdown, turnaround or outage.

The terms Plant Turnaround, Plant Shutdown, Plant Outage imply a lengthy stoppage of a whole operation to do maintenance. In Australia we call them maintenance shutdowns. In USA they call them maintenance turnarounds. In these cases the whole plant is stopped for an extended period of time, usually measured in numbers of shifts and even numbers of days, to do equipment preventive maintenance and care; corrective repair; strip-down and overhaul; or component replacement work. Sometimes shutdowns of large sites can even go on for weeks.

The terms Maintenance Turnaround, Maintenance Shutdown, Maintenance Outage implies a lengthy stoppage to do maintenance on a major equipment item in the plant.

You can see that all terms are very close in meaning, with the difference being related to the scale or extent of the work to be done. When the word ‘plant’ is used it tends to mean an entire operation is affected. When ‘maintenance’ is used it implies an item of equipment. However, when you are in the organisation doing the turnaround, shutdown or outage, and people discuss the work to be done, everyone understands the context in which the words apply to and, even though the terms are not quite identical, they can still be used interchangeably because those people present know which outage, turnaround or shutdown is being discussed.

In particular, Maintenance Turnaround, Maintenance Shutdown, Plant Turnaround and Plant Shutdown are specific to doing planned and scheduled work. These situations are prepared and organised over many weeks and months prior to the work being done. For shutdowns of large industrial operations or for complex, difficult situations, the planning, scheduling and organising of work and resources can even take years to do.

The terms Plant Outage and Maintenance Outage can also carry another connotation. There can be occasions where you have a forced plant outage, or a forced maintenance outage. These are stoppages which are unplanned events causing the operation or equipment to stop. They may be equipment breakdowns. They can also be disruption of services, like utility power supply loss or unavailability of raw materials.

Measuring the performance of Plant Turnarounds

It is usual to have goals for a shutdown and the success of the shutdown is gauged against the achievement of its goals. Common goals are zero harm, on budget, on time, hand-overs to schedule, proportion of planned work verses unplanned, equipment commissioned to procedure, speed that the plants returns to full rate in-spec production, and whatever other KPIs that are considered to be useful.

Also take a close look at Project Management

During your research on maintenance and plant turnaround you should also look at project management practices and methodology, as a plant turnaround or maintenance shutdown is actually a project and all that applies to project management also applies to shutdown and turnaround management.


All the best to you,

Mike Sondalini
Managing Director
Lifetime Reliability Solutions HQ


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