One of the biggest mistakes companies make is thinking commissioning is an add-on — rather than an essential — step in building or renovating any plant or facility.
However, the reality is that greater the degree of complexity and risk, the more important access to experienced commissioning resources becomes.
It is vital that the Cx agency gets involved in the project early. However, in spite of this, our experience shows that the value achieved by bringing in experienced Cx expertise early in the project is often overlooked.
Commissioning is not a single activity, but a complex set of functions, processes and tasks.
Project commissioning is the process of assuring that all systems and components of a building or industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements of the owner or final client.
This can apply to both new projects and also existing units and systems that are being expanded, renovated or revamped.
Some of the benefits to engaging Cx experts early in the process include:
Early engagement of the maintenance staff to ensure the level of training required is captured centrally by contractors and vendors. This is often overlooked and adds significant cost on the end of project, where vendors are requested to return to site for training post start-up;
Development of contractor’s pre-functional checklists, to ensure they capture all pertinent checks to allow a successful start-up and functional testing readiness;
Early review and identification of discrepancies in control strategies, dependencies and inter-system relationships saves potentially thousands of dollars if not discovered until functional acceptance testing stage;
Early identification of scope gaps – especially in the integration of vendor equipment to the buildings control system. I&C integration and network handshakes are too often overlooked and the idea that these systems are ‘plug and play’ is not realistic.
In the vast majority of large-scale design build projects, scope gaps and design misses are inevitable. Finer details can be overlooked as design teams try to meet client requirements while ensuring build regulation, standards and codes are enforced.
Engaging experienced commissioning experts with strong technical, engineering and sector expertise, at the mid-design phase, can overcome this. It ensures the gap between what designers believe will work in theory seamlessly translates it into what will actually work in practice.
Once the delivery phase is underway, contractors are obliged to build what is on the plan and do not have to consider any design errors or omissions. In some cases, these design misses and scope gaps are ‘purposely’ not brought to light until they are uncovered by the Commissioning team during start-up and functional testing phase.
This leads to schedule delays, RFIs, more design reviews, bulletins and increased cost. Cost creep can often happen when the designer and contractor are employed by the same company.
The solution is to ensure that contractual responsibilities and penalties for design misses and specification failures are clear-cut. An experienced Cx team, involved early in the project, should ensure that the contracts state that any misses are the responsibly of the contractors.
While the value commissioning expertise brings in the delivery phase is well understood, too little consideration is given to wider aspects of the programme.
The commissioning team’s experience across many different, diverse projects means they are ideally suited to provide advice on how to achieve greater efficiency and competitive advantage.
They also have a great sense of what clients and end users look for in operating plants and systems. An experienced Cx group will regularly engage with the owners, facility and design teams to discuss items such as:
What extra capacity capability should you consider for future expansion?
What are the redundancy plans on systems?
How are we going to start-up this system? Where are the bypasses that are required for start-up? (systems are often designed as running and the start-up process is overlooked)
How can we perform False load testing with low to no load conditions?
Testing and Balancing – where are TAB going to take readings from? Has the design team included test ports in ductwork?
What operational, environmental, climatic and legislative changes have been missed by (both current and future) the designers and contractors? These are just some of the questions that commissioning experts are continuously asking. If commissioning expertise is not engaged until late in the design phase, or once the delivery phase is well underway, many of these questions are not being asked. And then it is difficult for it to do more than oversee the retrospective changes that design misses or scope gaps require.