Mission Critical Commissioning: Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Every project is different; all of the variables at play make for unique situations and dynamic experiences. The same can be said about specific pieces and parts of the project, including commissioning services. In commissioning, there are different players, different issues and different challenges. To help deal with dynamic projects and diverse scenarios, lessons learned can serve as powerful tools for helping to make the next project a success. With over 20 years of commissioning services, we put together a list of common pitfalls to successful commissioning, the cause of these pitfalls and ways to avoid them in the future.

  1. Get it on the table – Expectations versus Reality
    • Assumption can wreak havoc, assumptions can create gaps in what was expected to be done and what was actually done. These gaps can lead to systems that are not fully tested and can also lead to completely missed issues that put your load at risk. Ambiguous expectations can also lead to missed opportunities in terms of how your systems are going to be turned over; which could lead to confusion and delay in ramping up for facility operation.
    • Communication is the key to clearing these assumptions and getting all parties on the same page. Your commissioning agent should be initiating this dialogue, not only to better serve you as an advocate but to also ensure that there are no gaps in scope that will likely prove to be problematic for your facility.
  2. Coordination is more than just a study
    • A thorough and effective commissioning program includes taking a deeper dive. Assessing not only each piece of equipment, but also how that equipment operation (or failure) interacts within the system and facility. While commissioning a piece of equipment, it is a given that all operating ranges will be verified. What is often overlooked is how those operating ranges interact with other equipment. Thus, equipment can undergo thorough component level testing, but the relationship between components in the system can be missed. A perfect example of this is the operating ranges of a typical distribution system where the operating ranges (the limits of acceptable power) are not aligned between generators, transfer switches and UPS modules. If a situation occurs where incoming power is no longer deemed acceptable by the UPS module but the ATS does not start generators and transfer, the system would not operate as designed.
    • Your commissioning agent should be your defense against these scenarios where instances of mis-coordination can put your load at risk. To prevent this issue, the commissioning agent should be specifically looking for these interactions and areas for potential risk, then helping the project team resolve them.
  3. There’s no I in Project Team
    • A mission critical project, regardless of it being a greenfield or live facility upgrade, is not made or broken by a single person; it takes a team for a project to be successful. This can be especially challenging for the commissioning agent; not only are we usually brought in at a later phase of the project, but we are also often the bearers of bad news. Some individuals can lose sight of the fact that, regardless of being a third-party, the commissioning agent is an integral part of the project team and needs to be a team player in order to add value to the project.
    • Approaching the project with a team-focused mentality is the only fix to this issue. It is the commissioning agent’s job to identify issues, but where significant value can be added is when the commissioning agent applies their industry and system knowledge to help resolve that issue and help to driving the commissioning process to maintain project schedules. Ultimately, the commissioning agent should not be looking to point the fingers, rather, they should be identifying issues and making sure they are communicated to the team while working as a part of the team to help resolve or minimize the impact of the issue in the future.

Written by: John Lutz, Director of Mission Critical Services

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