The post How to Eliminate Lagging Plant Construction and Upgrade Project Schedules first appeared on the ISA Interchange blog site.
When a company launches a major project—something on the order of a new plant, process unit, or automation system upgrade—a schedule is produced. For far too many companies, the schedule is merely symbolic, as they do not believe it will be strictly adhered to as the project progresses.
Such an attitude is simply wrong, and can end up being a self-fulfilling and expensive prophecy. Schedule delays add costs, because labor resources spend more time than planned. But maybe worse, the company loses income every day its new plant or equipment is not running.
Many articles have been written on project planning, so for this discussion we will assume that planning has been well executed, and concentrate on the second and especially the third factors.
Once a project moves from planning to actual construction, it has to be actively managed to stay on course and on schedule. The key word is actively. Without proper supervision, projects can quickly fall behind. Why do schedules get off track?
Too many companies look at construction as a black box. They understand it begins and ends, but there is little sense of what goes on in the middle, so management is passive. Those charged with project management often simply expect everything to happen on its own. Without people who can dive in and get a grip on each project task, companies feel helpless to drive or even manage the process.
The project management team must work with contractors and monitor the schedule constantly, but must avoid becoming micromanagers. There is a fine balance between being effective and being a nuisance, and each situation is different. It can take some time for novice managers to develop such a sense, but it is critical for effective project management.
A key first step in active management is opening the black box and breaking the construction timeline into subsections, so each can be monitored and tested along the way. Some things do have to happen in sequence. A flowmeter cannot be installed before there is piping, but it should be possible to look ahead while the piping is being fabricated. Are the flowmeter and all its necessary fittings on hand so it can be installed without delay when the piping is done? Does it require any additional support structure to be fabricated along with the piping?
Steps that can run simultaneously should do so, because this makes the schedule collapse on itself, and it reduces overall project time. Those steps are not likely to happen simultaneously without getting into the construction black box.
Testing has to happen at each step as soon as possible to ensure every element is functioning properly before a particular contractor moves on. Few companies realize the benefits of this approach until they see it firsthand. Integrating testing with construction drives the schedule and keeps everyone, employees and contractors, focused. Individual contractors are held accountable for correcting any problems they caused and for fixing items left undone, all while they are still on site.
Maintaining an aggressive project schedule requires testing at each step of the process to verify performance and fulfillment of specifications. Given the criticality of testing, it needs to be divided into three phases or stages, corresponding to the relevant stage of construction (table 1). In a large-scale project, all three phases can often take place simultaneously in different areas.
Prestatic inspection is designed to identify installation issues early in the process. It also helps quantify the percentage of completion of a specific portion of the project. This is critical to keeping parallel activity moving to fulfill the schedule. Without it, the timeline often stretches out, because the desired overlap is eliminated.
Static checks deal with wiring issues during electrical construction. These checks are performed before any of the equipment is energized, primarily checking wiring continuity and correct wire tagging. For motors, thermal protection and correct rotational direction may be verified. Like prestatic inspection, this step is critical to verifying a contractor’s performance and percentage of completion.
Predynamic testing is the first stage when equipment is energized. It confirms functionality of instruments, valves, and motors—and verifies operability from the appropriate controller. Process variables are simulated to verify scaling; valves are given full-stroke tests; motors are bumped; variable frequency drive operation is confirmed, and so forth. This is the last phase of functional testing before full dynamic testing.
Each test is performed as early as possible, corresponding to the stage of construction, and all testing is documented and incorporated into the schedules.
As the final stages of construction are taking place, the project is almost ready for full dynamic testing. Using the heel-to-toe process of testing at each phase of the project means there is no lengthy period at the end when all elements have to be tested at once.
Full dynamic testing is the final stage when equipment is energized and controller logic is exercised. This testing ensures adequate interlock protection is in place for a safe process, and operational logic functions are in accordance with the needs of the specific process. This live logic testing confirms operation as defined by the control narratives.
Now the instrumentation and controls (I&C) team gets to see the culmination of all the efforts, as the last elements are put in place and late-stage design modifications are made. But there is still much to be done as commissioning and startup begin. At this point, ownership transfers from the I&C provider to plant personnel. The I&C team members of the larger startup team support the process experts as they execute their full dynamic test plans.
Considering all the project activities that must take place in a short period, any company trying to carry out such a comprehensive range of tasks has to have huge resource flexibility. Over the weeks and months of a project, there will be times of relative inactivity, and other periods when many things have to happen together, such as when a major phase is nearing completion.
Keeping things moving as quickly as possible while maintaining peak personnel efficiency demands constant adjustment of not only headcount on a site, but also of personnel skill sets. The ability to have the right number and right type of people on the clock, no more and no less, requires a pool of highly qualified engineers and technicians ready to move as needed. Major automation solutions providers have this kind of flexibility, and this capability is critical to realizing all the gains possible from more aggressive scheduling, while still controlling costs.
A major upgrade project can require more than 100 people to be on site simultaneously for the startup and commissioning of just the electrical and automation system portions of the project, typically requiring the plant owner to engage outside assistance to meet the schedule.
Source: ISA News