How a Commissioning Plan for Process Instrumentation Is Executed

Credit: Endress+Hauser

Credit: Endress+Hauser

In any industry that uses process instrumentation for monitoring and control, the testing or commissioning to verify that the product meets the required specifications is universally acknowledged as a critical function. Engineers and project managers know that a well-thought-out plan creates a successful installation and test results in a defined time, which results in customer satisfaction and reduced supplier costs.

Whether it is factory acceptance testing of systems or subsystems, on-site system integration, or interfacing to an existing system, a comprehensive plan is required to ensure that the new equipment meets the designated goals. The use of a commissioning plan template provides a framework as well as an outline of the specific language used for creating a project-specific commissioning plan.

Plan Development

A written commissioning plan is crucial to all commissioned projects and allows all project contributors to anticipate and plan for milestones and requirements. The plan is first developed in the pre-design phase and then updated at or near design completion and released. During the pre-design phase, the commissioning plan needs to focus on assuring customers that the performance requirements are incorporated and properly integrated in the prepared and accepted documents. Details of systems procedures and tests, assembly-specific checklists, and documentation and testing responsibilities are incorporated at or near design completion.

The plan should verify and document that equipment is started and installed according to manufacturer's recommendations and the technical specification requirements. Equipment and systems should receive a complete operational checkout by the installation contractors. The equipment and system performance should be verified and documented, and all operation and maintenance documents should be complete.

Once a draft plan is in place, a team should be assembled that can carry out each phase. Often, if it is a large project, a customer's representative will be assigned to liaise with the contractor to ensure that the project is meeting the schedule. A single point of contact between the contractor and the customer is often implemented to ensure that all information is disseminated to the correct team member and nothing is lost by too many people communicating with each other. This can result in essential information being lost.

Plan Execution

Execution is where it all comes together. As the project progresses, the commissioning plan needs to be reviewed, revised, refined, and updated, as the design and production of the working documents move forward. Each time it is revised, the revision number and date should be revised, of course. The revised commissioning plan should be submitted to the contractor and the customer for review and approval.

At this stage it is very important to adhere to the schedule. Equipment may be able to be placed in position, but, for example, the electrical service is not available, which results in the contractor having to wait for service. Good project managers understand the need to do as many tasks as possible in parallel. There will come a time in any project where there will be serial tasks (i.e., the electrical service delay just mentioned), but these tasks must be minimized as much as possible. Another critical part is the pre-testing of equipment where possible, as this minimizes the possibility of failures during installation.

Regular meetings should occur with all team members. Communication, again, is essential because situations are dynamic during this phase and a missing piece of information could stop the project. For example, a late delivery that is not conveyed to the teams members could result in several parts of the project not progressing as planned.

Plan Completion and Training

Once (and possibly before) the project installation is completed, inspection and testing can be carried out. Inspection includes such tasks as equipment location, visible flaws, and overall physical installation characteristics. Usually included in the commissioning plan are pre-startup checklists for each piece of equipment.

The installation is checked against drawings, and any changes are noted. Once agreed to, these "redlines," as they are called, are added to the drawings with a new document revision and considered the "as-built" or final drawings. Electrical and functional testing is now carried out against test procedures to verify correct functioning as standalone components or as part of a system.

The next phase involves training of the customer's staff. The training plan would have part of the commissioning plan identifying the course syllabus and dates with times for each part of the course, its location, and any method of testing. This may involve both classroom and practical work.

Deliverables and Hand-Over

When a facility or project has been fully completed, all of the materials and documentation required to complete the installation (commonly called the deliverables) are reviewed by the customer and contractor. A list of deliverables is always part of the commissioning plan, and while this varies from project to project, there is also a basic requirement.

As mentioned before, the final "as-built" drawings will be delivered and should reflect the final facility layout. Operation and maintenance manuals for individual sub-systems and the results of all testing are usually required.

Once the customer is satisfied that all of the requirement are met, the facility is officially handed over. Will all requirements be met? Not normally, but compromises are usually made when it does not involve municipal, state, or federal codes. An example might be a test that did not meet the initial specification but was still operationally acceptable.

There are many variations on the commissioning plan theme, but this outline should present a solid understanding of the process. A good commissioning plan will reliably bring a project on time and within budget.

Ben Keizers is product business manager for service at Endress+Hauser, a Swiss-based multinational instrumentation and process automation company. Endress+Hauser operates in the instrumentation market with offices around the world, producing instruments measuring level, flow, pressure, and temperature. The company's products include sensors, transducers, transmitters, probes, channel flow meters, and videographic and paper recorders. Its U.S. headquarters is in Greenwood, Ind.

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