10 Tips To Succeed In Commissioning

April 1, 2016
Take advantage of this expert advice to make a project go smoothly.

I had four days to commission my first million-dollar project. The undertaking included two-dozen new instruments, programming a new distributed control system and then migrating to it, and new equipment. The project encompassed numerous new ideas requiring testing. The company I worked for had been taken over and I knew my job ended with this project, but I didn’t want a failure to be my epitaph. Four days later, I was out of a job, but everything was running smoothly.


What was the secret to my success? As I’ve said so many times in this column: planning. Teamwork also helped; my mixed team of contractors and mechanics knew each other and pitched in.

Here are ten ideas to make your commissioning go smoothly:

  1. perform effective inspection;
  2. ensure adequate lighting and power for tools;
  3. plan for contingencies;
  4. use simplified procedures;
  5. accommodate differences between old and new procedures;
  6. resolve all labor disputes;
  7. have ready extra parts and equipment, and accessible labor;
  8. know the project’s history;
  9. conduct an operations/maintenance review early; and
  10. realistically estimate downtime required.

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An effective inspection starts in the detail design. Find a vendor you can trust! Establish milestones for delivery and plans should they be missed. Inspect the equipment yourself before delivery or insist on a delivery date that gives you a week plus the necessary shipping time back to the manufacturer if there’s a problem. I discourage mix-and-match, e.g., motors from one place and pumps from another. The documentation chain starts with purchasing: build on and update this until handover to maintenance.

Keep construction labor happy. Provide for lights, power, break rooms, parking, etc. Maintain a good relationship with unions or backup labor you can trust.

Plan for what to do when common disruptions arise. I can’t say this enough. Plan for foul weather, changes in production schedule and, especially, what to do with labor when construction is on hold.

By procedures, I mean those for pressure tests, instrument validation, loop checks and tuning, operator training, etc. Ensure drains and vents for pressure tests are part of spool construction from the beginning; show them on isometrics. Arrange for drainage. Plan for the next step. Identify classes of cleaning and create a spreadsheet — learn from past cleaning mistakes. Keep procedures simple! Some things need a magnifying glass, others a glance; use resources wisely.

For one thing, don’t dwell too much on tuning until the process is making something. Use the simple minimum-error method developed by F.G. Shinskey: bump the variable and adjust to minimize the area above and below the curve. Don’t shoot for perfection until the unit is running something you can measure — like water. Then, tune again until the loop behavior is robust, not jittery. Tuning never is finished, so ignore the heat the production staff might give you; focus on completing your project.

When a team from Shell goes into the Nigerian jungle for oil, they pack three generators. With spares, think like that.

Bring operations and maintenance in early in the design but don’t stop there. Find experienced operators and technicians and let them review every aspect of the construction. Use 3D models to show them construction plans early. Walk-down construction and make their changes. Have senior people help train their juniors. Go through every change in operating and maintenance procedures. Yes, create procedures for repairs.

Know the history of the project and comparable ones at your facility. Remember, while history doesn’t repeat, similar situations may occur. Look for common problems in past projects, with vendors, etc. Include what you learn in your plan.

Lastly, maintain an updated, realistic estimate of construction time, labor hours and downtime required. Don’t give in to pressure to tell a plant manager “three days” when it really will take five. Sometimes extra labor can help, so be ready with that assessment when asked. However, don’t count on what you don’t know for certain. Also, consider schedule risk and its impact on downtime.

DIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing contributing editor. He recently won recognition for his Field Notes column from theASBPE. Chemical Processing is proud to have him on board. You can e-mail him at [email protected]

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