In today's economy, producers are adopting plans that focus on achieving full plant utilization with minimal staff. In many plants, these operating constraints place incredible demands on the maintenance crews.

Trimmed to the bone, just performing the needed scheduled maintenance can tax these employees. It's no wonder that many employees value their long holiday weekends and extended holiday shutdowns as a respite and a chance to reconnect with their families.

Yet as producers search for ways to yield greater efficiencies or to expand capacities, managers are discovering that the need for improvement never takes a holiday. That's why some are redefining how they view their downtime periods.

For example, production employees at several Coreslab Structures plants have returned from their time off to new and/or upgraded facilities. Coreslab Structures, a prestress and precast producer based in Dundas, Ontario, has partnered with a third party design/erect contractor to retrofit plants during planned shutdowns. While perhaps unique to the concrete production industry, weekend retrofits are common in other industries with high volume and tight production schedules.

For the past few years, Coreslab managers have entrusted Plant Architects and Plant Outfitters with several of these holiday makeovers. In fact, many have occurred in some of Coreslab's 19 plants across the U.S. and Canada.

Coreslab managers have used these traditional idle periods to conduct a wide range of needed repairs and upgrades. Crews from the design-erect contractor have upgraded and exchanged mixers, replaced bins, and even added whole production lines during major holiday shutdowns. “Our crews have become accustomed to taking time off during the week, as we have worked over several Memorial and Labor Day weekends, the Fourth of July, Easter week, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas,” says Robert Ober, CEO of Plant Architects and Plant Outfitters.

Reducing lost time

Bringing in a team of plant repair professionals to conduct a holiday make-over has many benefits. Obviously, lost production time is curtailed. Plant employees can focus on what they do best—keeping their operations running safely at full capacity.

Since most holiday makeovers involve onsite pre-erection fabrication, plant engineers and key maintenance supervisors can closely coordinate and monitor the contractors' preliminary work. The communication ensures an efficient start-up on the first day back. During start-up, the contractor's crew can provide a needed hand for any unforeseen adjustments. And when the plant is back to full capacity, the erection crews help the plant's crew focus on their normal tasks by removing any unused items.

Along with avoiding plant overtime and additional staffing, there's also the potential cost savings in delivery freight and unnecessary purchasing costs. Ober's group agrees to supply the material needed for the tasks, including all of the supplies used during installation: nuts and bolts, slings, and any structural steel. “Since this is our only job, we are geared up to be ready for almost all challenges,” says Ober.

“Many producers don't know there are companies that specialize in weekend and holiday business for our industry,” says Ober. He describes his group as a “one-stop specialty contractor,” offering total onsite fabrication of new concrete plants, major retrofitting, and quick turnarounds. His services include design and process engineering, project planning, and construction management and services, including specialized ironworker crews for demolition, installation, millwright, and electrical crews.