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By Corne Thirion


The creation of a new business can be oversimplified by saying that an entrepreneur has a dream: a business objective is then defined, followed by a project that develops the objective into a fully operational business.  Project objectives are agreed between the business and a project team which will design, construct and commission the new facility.  The dream is finally realised when, amongst other things, products are produced and received by delighted customers.

Depending on the size and complexity of a project, the project team will typically complete the project in about five years from initiation.  Operations, however, will operate the plant for the next 30 to 50 years.  The question is now: What must the project team focus on to ensure that the plant they deliver is operable, maintainable and will ensure lifelong customers, and why?

Definitions and Abbreviations

Availability (A) is the ability of a part to be in a state to perform a required function at a given instant of time or at any instant of time within a given time interval.

A = TBF/ (TBF + TTR)


TBF = Time between Failures

TTR = Time to Repair after failure; total outage time of manufacturing plant

Operability is the ability to keep equipment, a system or a whole industrial installation in a safe and reliable functioning condition, according to pre-defined operational requirements.

Operability Failure refers to significant production problems during second year after start-up.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a metric that identifies the percentage of planned production time that is truly productive.  OEE is calculated from three underlying factors: Availability, Performance, and Quality, each representing a different perspective of how close your manufacturing process is to perfect production.

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality

Quality, in manufacturing, is a state of being free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations. It is brought about by strict and consistent commitment to standards that achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customers or users.   According to Juran and Godfrey (1998, p2.1), quality also means those features of products which meet customer needs and thereby provide customer satisfaction.

Maintainability is about the duration of repair outages; it is a measure of the ease and rapidity with which a system or equipment can be restored/repaired to operational status following failure. The higher the time required to repair (TTR), the lower the maintainability of a facility.

Different perspectives as the business is developed and implemented

The development of a business from initial idea to maturity is typically done in stages, with specific decision making points, or gates, in between.  The primary focus of most stage-gate models is on the development of the concept, the engineering thereof, the construction of the production facility and finally startup.  OTC has developed the OTC Stage-Gate Model covering the life-cycle of a project from the initial idea through to eventual closure of the facility (see Figure 1).  This enables a cost-effective approach to project implementation, including project optimisation, and describes the activities to be executed and outputs to be delivered at the end of each stage.

 Stage-Gate Model Simplified

Figure 1:   The OTC Stage-Gate Model

An entrepreneur with a new idea or the existing business needs will kick-start the process.  The initial idea will be further evaluated and tested during the Initiation phase.  This is followed by front-end loading (FEL).  During the FEL phase the project team will develop the business idea further until the final investment decision is made.  With the project capital approved, the Implementation phase, comprising delivery of the facility and commissioning, is completed.  The end of the Implementation phase also marks the end of the involvement of the project team.

After successful commissioning and plant performance test runs, responsibility is now handed over to the operations team.  The business enters the Operations phase and eventually, when the facility is no longer viable, the Closure phase.  The Operations phase is the longest phase and can be anything from 10 to 50 years.  During this time, the operating and maintenance personnel have to live with the decisions made and shortcuts taken during the Implementation phase.  This single factor justifies the involvement of competent operations personnel in the project team.

Measuring the performance of a business from an operations perspective

OEE (Availability x Performance x Quality) is probably one of the best ways to describe the performance of the production facility during the operations phase of a business.  By decreasing the TTR of equipment, maintainability is increased and availability improved.  OEE is dependent upon availability and thus upon maintainability.

Increasing operability (the ability to keep equipment at a specified maximum capacity, of a defined quality) will increase performance (100% means at the theoretical maximum speed; each part at the Ideal Cycle Time) and quality (100% means only parts meeting the quality specification are produced).  OEE is dependent upon performance and quality and thus upon operability.

Project teams should thus focus on maintainability and operability during project development and implementation.

Project focus to improve operability and maintainability

Project focus throughout the project

The purpose of this discussion is to identify which deliverables are important to improve operability and maintainability during project implementation.  This by no means a complete list and how it is done will differ from business to business.  The type of project (greenfield- or brownfield site; big new business, off the shelf, renovation or expansion) will influence the approach of the team.  This article will not differentiate to that detail.

Project failure happens when the threshold value of any of the five dimensions of project effectiveness i.e., cost overrun, cost effectiveness, schedule competitiveness, slip in execution schedules, and production versus plan (operability performance) is exceeded.  Trade-offs are thus made between cost, schedule and quality (also measured as operational performance/operability)(Merrow, 2011 p37, 43).  It is therefore important that the project team does not deviate from the cost/schedule/quality mandate that was given by business.

Business must ensure that project team members from business (production and maintenance) are competent (in the part of the business they represent, as well as in the role that they fulfil during the project), empowered to take decisions, and dedicated (always available if not full time assigned) and that all positions are filled when required. Continuity of allocated people should be ensured.

Members should only take decisions on issues that they are accountable for.  If this is not done, it does not only impact negatively on the team effectiveness and coherence, but often leads to non-optimal decisions.  This negative impact of ‘overriding’ a functionality on maintainability and operability matters during the FEL- and Implementation phases, may only be visible during Operations, and even Closure, phases.

Project focus during Front-end Loading phase

The importance of FEL is emphasised by Ed Merrow in saying “Front-end loading is still the world’s best capital investment.” (Merrow, 2011, p338). The impact of FEL quality and completeness on operability is well illustrated in Figure 2.

FEL Reduced Operability Problems

Figure 2:  FEL reduces Operability Problems

If I could have only one request to a project team about what they should do during FEL to ensure the operability and maintainability of the production facility, it would be to develop the project to a FEL index of Best, or at the very least, Good.

Operations personnel will become part of the project team during the feasibility stage of the project. Operations should participate in the development work and sign off on relevant deliverables.  Attention should be given to the following:

  • Process design basis (basic data);
  • Operating and shutdown philosophy;
  • Maintenance and commissioning philosophy;
  • Process reliability modelling;
  • Design specifications and standards;
  • Design for process operability;
  • Design for maintainability;
  • Value improving practice selection and implementation;
  • Hazard and operability studies (HAZOPs);
  • Process flow diagrams (PFDs), and;
  • Piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs).

Project focus during Implementation phase

During the Implementation phase of the project, detail design, procurement, construction and commissioning are done.  It is impossible to review and monitor all activities during each stage; the project team should focus on the critical few.

The following deliverables, completed during this phase, are of importance to operability and maintainability of the final production facility:

  • Design and model reviews;
  • Design for maintainability;
  • Project quality plan;
  • List of approved concessions;
  • Design, procurement and construction in accordance with specifications;
  • Approved operating-, maintenance- and emergency procedures are adequate and implemented;
  • Training of operations personnel completed;
  • Legal and permit requirements are met;
  • Commissioning plan and commissioning of the plant;
  • Production ramp-up plan;
  • End of Job documentation delivered;
  • Information Management system, and;
  • Approved spares strategy.

Closing remarks

The most basic business value chain can be viewed as buy, make, sell.  Operability and maintainability are the main enablers for the make process.

Project officials make trade-offs between cost, schedule and quality.  Sacrificing quality for cost or schedule will impact negatively on operability (quality).  It is important that the project team does not deviate from the cost/schedule/quality mandate that was given by business.

This article listed some deliverables that will, if completed successfully, enable the plant to be operable and maintainable, with due regard to safety.


Vorne Industries, 2008, The Fast Guide to OEE™.  Pdf file downloaded from  on 24 March 2016.

Juran, J.M. & Godfrey, A.B., 1998, Juran’s quality handbook, 5th edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

Wikipedia, 2015, Operability, Search done on the free encyclopaedia at  Accessed on 24 March 2016.

Merrow, E.W., 2011, Industrial Megaprojects, John Wiley & Sons. Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

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