EDF Energy has revealed how it uses Oracle's Primavera project planning tool to deliver thousands of maintenance tasks in the shortest time possible during a planned outage.

The electricity company operates eight nuclear power stations in the UK. Each station has strict and statutory maintenance regimes that can result in downtime - or outage - that is more costly for the business, the longer the outage duration.

A typical, planned outage can last for around 55 days. This can cost EDF "a significant" amount of money - hundreds and thousands of pounds - each day depending on the energy prices, EDF consultancy partner at LSC Group told the UK Oracle User Group's (UKOUG) UK & EMEA Primavera conference in London today.

However, although the ultimate goal is to reduce the outage duration, LSC Group said that EDF's top priority is safety - which cannot be compromised by cost concerns.

EDF's outage life cycle is 24 months long, which includes a preparation phase - for example, resource planning and spares monitoring - through to execution. This is followed by a process review to identify areas of improvement for future outages, to complete the two-year cycle.

Clear and robust planning is needed to ensure the maintenance project is delivered successfully, as the amount of resources can be substantial, and of a complex nature.

During an outage, the number of people working on-site can go from around 500 to 1,500. The workers will also go from being on-site mainly during the day to both days and nights. There is also a large number of tasks to be delivered during an outage - around 15,000 individual activities over 55 days - although not all of these will be complex and require a great deal of planning.

Murray Lister, consultant from LSC Group, believes that one of the most important things to ensure project success is to get full backing from the technical support teams.

"Technical support is one of the main inputs into the project team. If you do not get technical support buy-in up-front, it will lead to project failure," he said.

The project planning system also needs to be as simple as possible, to enable EDF to respond flexibly and quickly to changes.

The energy company has been using Primavera, currently the P6 version, for about six years. It has a number of databases, which includes live and sandbox areas. While it does not have much contractor information to pull into the system, a separate database is useful for the information it brings in from previous outages.

EDF requires the 15,000 tasks to be delivered as individual work order cards. However, it does not use Primavera's in-built WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) for this purpose. It has a separate tool, Activity Code Breakdown Structure, for this, and uses the WBS for reporting.

"This gives us the flexibility we need," said Sebastian Stuart, consultant at LSC Group.

He added that the execution phase was particularly "intense" due to the high frequency of reporting - the reporting period is scheduled for every 24 hours to give constant monitoring of maintenance performance - during the period.

The energy firm controls equipment and work through an asset management interface called 'Passport'. It also uses an Oracle Forms interface. But while Primavera is an important tool, EDF only uses a small subset of the system's capabilities, complemented by the use of tailored, industry-specific functions.

It now also documents more of its work so that best practices can be standardised and shared across the different sites.

LSC Group has been working with EDF Energy for three and a half years.