Operational Readiness and Commissioning Plans: the Key to a Successful Start
2 April, 2019 | Blog
When a project moves from the study phase to the execution phase, the client’s project team often focuses on choosing the engineering firm and planning construction work. At this stage, commissioning seems to be no more than a distant milestone in the project schedule. As a result, the project team does not consider it an urgent matter for discussion, because so many other priorities are jostling for their attention at this time.
During the execution phase, if the client does have an operational readiness team, it is a small one. This makes it difficult to get the client to take an interest in operational readiness activities and commissioning of its project. And yet there are benefits in addressing this subject as soon as project execution begins, and even at the study phase.
A structured approach
A structured approach to operational readiness activities will contribute to faster startup and a sustained increase in production until the planned performance criteria are attained. The green curve in Figure 1 illustrates this optimal start, which makes it possible to immediately obtain the desired return on investment.
The red curve illustrates a difficult, chaotic start plagued by unforeseen situations, such as production stoppages caused by equipment failure, long repair times when spare parts are not available, or premature wear resulting from errors made by inexperienced staff. These situations may lead as far as an unplanned plant shutdown to carry out repairs and major changes to solve the problems that are hampering production.
It is important to plan operational readiness activities as early as possible in the project, discussing the various aspects and determining the client’s role in the pre-commissioning and commissioning phases. It can then be determined whether additional help is needed to carry out the various activities being contemplated. It is also important to establish the preliminary schedule and budgets required to implement the plan, together with the working methods to be put in place to ensure that the project is delivered on time and on budget.
Figure 1: Typical project startup curves¹
BBA proposes a seven-step operational readiness and commissioning plan:
- Operational readiness definition
- Operational readiness controls
- Operational readiness execution
- Preparation of pre-commissioning and commissioning
- Plant operation and production ramp-up
Each of these steps will be presented in this and subsequent blog posts to share our experience and demonstrate the importance of operational readiness and its benefits.
Operational readiness definition
When the execution phase takes over from the study phase, the client’s project team is frequently focused on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), the standard stages in any project.
Figure 2: Standard project stages
Implementing these stages requires considerable effort from the project team, at the risk of neglecting subsequent steps that are just as important. This is because pre-commissioning activities begin after construction and are followed by commissioning and production start-up until nominal production capacity has been attained:
Figure 3: Subsequent project stages
To ensure that these steps are performed optimally and efficiently, it is recommended that preparations for pre-commissioning, commissioning and operational readiness activities be started as early as possible. The definition of operational readiness activities should begin during the study phase so that preparation can begin as soon as possible after the engineering phase has started. The same applies to the preparations for pre-commissioning and commissioning activities.
Figure 4: Preparation steps – Pre-commissioning, commissioning and operational readiness
The vast majority of activities related to operational readiness will be performed by the client’s team, whereas pre-commissioning and commissioning activities are normally prepared by a team of specialists. The same team of specialists will be responsible for performing pre-commissioning activities. To maximize learning and knowledge transfer, the client’s maintenance team should be involved in pre-commissioning activities as early as possible, together with the pre-commissioning team. For the same reasons, the client’s operations team, supported by the pre-commissioning team, should take charge of executing commissioning activities.
Meetings to define operational readiness activities
Defining operational readiness activities entails holding discussions with the client to address the various steps and the activities they involve. At the first meeting, BBA’s typical detailed operational readiness plan, which sets out the generic preparatory activities for a comparable project, will be presented and discussed. During the discussions, the typical plan will be adapted based on the specific needs of the project and the client.
In subsequent meetings, a preliminary schedule must be worked out. This will take into account the main milestones of the project along with operational readiness activities and subsequent steps until nominal production has been attained. Of course, a preliminary organizational structure illustrating the functional links between the project organization and the operational organization must also be established. It is also essential to appoint an operational readiness manager who will liaise between the two organizations to ensure that the schedule for operational readiness, pre-commissioning and commissioning is adhered to.
Requirements for human and material resources must also be discussed. Generally, the reports from earlier study phases will be a valuable source of information. However, if the determination of operational readiness activities takes place while the studies are being conducted, then it will require greater effort to determine the human and material resources needed.
The same goes for the budget needed to carry out the operational readiness plan. An appropriate preliminary budget must be developed, based on the human and material resources needed and on the operational readiness schedule. This budget must cover all activities until full production has been attained at the plant.
In the next blog post, we will look at the importance and benefits of the next step in the proposed plan: operational readiness controls. In the meantime, if you have any question regarding operational readiness, contact our experts now.
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