Commissioning risks…

I have heard it said that commissioning of a new plant is the most dangerous period in that plants life, whilst I agree its way up there on the list, I do not personally believe it’s the most risky period, however we must address the risks associated with our commissioning activities, so how would we do that?

For me, commissioning risk should be initially considered whilst drafting a philosophy or commissioning strategy document. Here any early know risks to the commissioning effort should be documented with initial mitigation also mentioned. Following on from this a very early risk assessment could be made of those considerations that might affect the planning effort for commissioning, topics may include, logistics, scheduling, manpower, location etc.

Our procedures, for me, should reflect the risks being undertaken for every step in our procedures and hence mitigation built into the way we plan to commission our plants, environmental as well as well-being risk should be considered and incorporated.

The project will usually always have a risk register program running and the commissioning group should actively be involved with the creation of a commissioning section. So how often should we consider the risk register? I would suggest monthly until the commissioning teams work is done.

There may also be a place for the evaluation of risk associated with the testing of trip systems and hard wired shut down systems, be it again a human well-being concern or damage to equipment, so consider your trip systems and risk assess the impact of the testing of such systems.

Finally, one cannot get a permit to work these days rightly until a risk assessment for the tasks being undertaken is conducted, so we as a commissioning team evaluate our risk here also.

Therefore the commissioning team should consider the risk we put our personnel and environment through at many stages in our projects, a serious business and one that should be given careful consideration.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Constant check…

What is your view, how are you working when it comes to checking the construction build is satisfactory for the commissioning team and on-going operations? Are you a team that just wait for construction to say it’s finished and then check, or are you a team that is engaged and out in the field observing the building of your plant and making suggestions to correct defects as they occur?

It is entirely your call, but the latter is a much more effective method of tracking progress and making suggestions to correct and change as installation progresses.

Punch listing early can cause confrontation as construction will be wanting some licence to install, so commissioning must fully support that. So if you see long bolts and or temporary gaskets as installed to aid efficient and cost effective hydro testing, for sure back off and let construction do their job. The focus here must be on valves installed in the wrong direction for flow, equipment that is damaged or in jeopardy of being damaged due to neglect, items installed in the wrong location, ill supported permanent pipework and then the loose or long bolts after the hydro test.

The emphasis here is getting our commissioning teams in the field checking, being involved and engaging with our construction colleagues. All project teams should hold as their goal a safe and effective plant start-up, reducing time = cost and schedule success and early identification and remediation of faults or defects in inherent to a successful commissioning and start-up phase.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Are you doing what you said you would do?…

As we setup commissioning we draft many policy documents, how we will punch list, how we will manage change, what our policy is going to be to manage those instances during commissioning where we need to temporarily defeat systems, all set the scene for our management systems, but what then?

Has your commissioning team setup a robust audit or checking scheme that during commissioning execution, revisit the procedures we setup during the preparation phase to manage our activities? It is certainly worthy of consideration. In highly regulated industries, would it not be better to self-assess than wait an inspection and have a third party find the types of things you may be embarrassed they could find?

So great job, you have setup your management systems, but now consider putting a checking scheme in place that confirms you are doing what you said you would do…

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Vessel cleanliness

Most of the vessels we have in our commissioning systems appear on site after their fabrication having been inspected. The question is do we accept that internally they will be clean, dry and oil free with all internal components installed or do we as a commissioning group check?

It may be your project has decided that all vessels will be subject to a Factory Acceptance Test, (FAT) and it may be commissioning went along, this is the ideal, for then, if commissioning can inspect internal vessel readiness prior to shipment, they will have some confidence that the equipment is clean. But what if they did not go to FAT, rest assured if there are problems in commissioning due to the damage debris may cause, the commissioning team will get the blame, so what should we do?

For me it’s simple, insist the vessel is opened, preferably at the man-way and make a visual inspection. This will not make us popular with our construction colleagues, but I believe commissioning has a duty of care to put equipment in service that is fit for purpose and that must include visual inspections for cleanliness.

Stand your ground commissioning, open up them vessels and inspect, I hope you never find anything and we can always have the difficult debates on who pays for a gasket, but better that than putting vessels with debris, weld slag, vessel off-cuts, gloves, cardboard, whatever, into our processes…

Safe and successful commissioning always…

To insulate or not to insulate, that is the question…

As our commissioning system, which are composed of piping,  reach the point of being hydro tested (proof of pipe and weld integrity), we must consider when we need the insulation (if called for on the P&ID), can be installed.

It is normal for the commissioning team to ask construction NOT to insulate all flanges as there is a risk that should that joint leak during the leak-test, we would damage the insulation, hence, typically insulation of joints will become a “reservation to handover” on the transition document capturing the transfer of care, custody and control from construction to commissioning. The insulation should then be applied as soon as it is practical after the commissioning leak test has been passed.

So are there instances where insulation may be applied even at the risk of damage?

These instances can be evaluated on a case by case basis, however good examples where perhaps safety implications are relevant (commissioning of steam systems), other examples may be heating and ventilation system pipework perhaps in a ceiling void, but in this instance consideration may be given to insulating the pipe but leaving the actual tile out beneath the actual flange?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but considerations we should make in insulating our pipework.

Safe and successful commissioning always…


To all my readers, apologies from me, my work commitments are very demanding at present and I am not able to find some time to draft a regular communication, please forgive me.

I am reminded that in times of pressure and stress that we should look for any opportunity to try and relax and take stock of life in general and importantly seek support during trying times.

Take care out there one and all and especially those who are going through some demands in your work.

I hope some normal service from me returns soon.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Blowing lines clear…

A method we can utilise to clean gaseous systems is via blowing, my blog today looks at this process.

Prior to me describing the main stages here, please let me stress that an engineering professional should always evaluate the stored energy scenario for the blows that are about to take place, so safety margins for the piping or vessel system are not compromised, if in doubt please seek professional guidance and advise.

Blowing by its nature has elements of risk, hence any blow to clean construction and or other potential debris from piping systems must have safety implications given to it first and foremost. I do not profess to know answers to all scenarios and you must in your blowing activities, access each blow on its own merit, however key safety considerations should be:

  • The depression point from pipe system must be secure and clamped/fastened down
  • None essential personnel must be removed from the area
  • Adequate PPE must be worn, consider a duel line of ear protection, and face visors
  • The blowing activity should be well demarcated and signed posted
  • Adequate stand-by men and area access supervisors must be in position
  • Communicate well to local other work parties and departments the pending blow.
  • Indicate by the sounding of a horn the imminent blow procedure

… there are other considerations, the above is a typical guide.

When blowing a line clear of debris there are some other general factors to consider…

  • Can I use the process medium or do we use a temporary source of clean energy, if an air                 make sure the air is clean, dry and oil free!)?
  • Are we going to utilise the “piston blow” method for of cleaning, e.g. the line to be cleaned is pressurised and then rapidly depressurised to blow out dirt and debris or…
  • … do we us a reservoir type blow where a vessel is pressurised and then the pressure rapidly released into and out of a pipe system to remove the debris?
  • I would recommend using either method to blow as a minimum three separate times, monitoring the outlet for signs of debris. If dirt is still coming out, keep the blows going until it is clean.
  • Always inform the source provider for the energy, so when you are pressurising your line, their overall system pressure is maintained, you may have to pressurise over a short period of time?
  • A good practice is never to blow into a plant item or vessel, always blow away
  • Blow down to encourage debris out, avoid blows which require the debris to go up as an exit route.
  • Blow from as many extremity and low points as possible

So how do I know a line is really clean, especially on a delicate duty such as Instrument Air? Well there are two methods we could consider, 1. Blow to a target plate, we can monitor the impressions on a soft metal faced bar, such as brass and blow until we see limited or no impressions, or 2. A much less complicated process is to blow onto a white rag and blow a line until no more dirty marks appear on the rag.

So something as simple as a blowing activity has a number of implications which must be consider, plan for and incorporate, just another aspect to our important work.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Punch listing…

One of our most critical activities during the life of a project, is that of creating the punch list, my topic today is based on this important task.

The typical punch list is a record of all incomplete work at the point where construction believe they are complete and wish to transfer care, custody and control to the commissioning team, hence the importance of the punch list as it’s the commissioning team chance to fully check-out the system before handover.

Punch listing therefore can take additional forms, pre-hydro test, pre-loop test, independent project discipline, (mechanical, electrical, instrumentation etc.) punch lists, but the one we as a commissioning team usually really get involved with, is the final punch list prior to handover, being involved in the others mentioned here is good for learning, but the commissioning team is usually only involved in a witness capacity.

It is again worthy of mention here that the punch list is the final check prior to handover, so please consider a scheme on your project where issues found early during construction, for example a control or non-return valve installed in the wrong direction of flow, are identified and more importantly rectified well before the punch list is formally undertaken.

As advocated in the punch list section of my book, the punch list should be undertaken by at least two commissioning team members, one to draft findings and one to inspect the installation. The punch list should be compiled again the latest issue of the relevant P&ID’s, but other supporting documents such as the isometric drawings can also be used. I have also found that once the punch list is compiled, returning to the office and having a check list of what should have been checked, generically, is always a good idea for when actually out punch listing on complicate large systems, items can be missed.

So a large topic, but the highlights are here today to remind us that compiling a detailed and accurate punch is one of our most important activities.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Are we aligned..?

As we commence commissioning preparations, especially for those of you who are delivering your commissioning from the perspective of a contract engineering company, ensuring we are fully aligned with protocols and procedures is a must.

My advice would be before your preparations start that you are compliant with initially regulatory compliance, what do you need to do to be consistent with HSE or other regulation?

Second what codes of commissioning practice do you need to align with, there may be governance on procedure development, handover plans, scheduling and training that need to be considered and complied with? It would be most frustrating if you started developing your plans only to find out later that these are not in agreement with your client of acceptance department?

It is always worthy of consideration that a meeting is held early in the commissioning developments to align on matters such as scope and definition, guidance can be found in the “Commissioning Scope and Contracts” section of my book, however further topics to agree on could be…

  • Safety measures
  • Environmental considerations
  • Site rules and procedures
  • Terms to be used on the project
  • Team values
  • Team composition
  • Aims of the commissioning team and project
  • Priorities for commissioning
  • Paperwork systems
  • How to handover
  • Schedule development

Having a common alignment is critical to success and worth the effort to develop.

Safe and successful commissioning always…

Develop and review of the schedule

It has been my experience than on most larger projects the development of an integrated schedule incorporating all project groups can be difficult to create. This may be because initially non-availability of scope, or it may be down to project groups becoming organised and detail being made available, however we as commissioning should pay our part in the development process.

To assist the development of the master schedule, we should feed key information to the process; this information should be based at system level and may include:

–          The activities we want to undertake

–          An estimation of how long the activity will take

–          Who may undertake an activity if there is a cross connection to construction?

–          What I need (other systems) to undertake an activity within a system and …

–          … what activity upon completion is allowed to then be undertaken.

If an initial appraisal of the commissioning work scope is undertaken as above, many links to the schedule of activities will be provided for the planning team.

Armed with this information from commissioning, project controls can then develop an accurate schedule of the project, based on our systems. As the schedule is developed, commissioning should upon its completion, per plant area and or indeed system, do a “deep dive” to ensure all links and dependencies are correct, identify areas that are late and develop plans to move an activity forward.

Commissioning should be proactive in the development of a meaningful but achievable schedule, having something we can buy into with go a long way to providing a realistic vision for the team to aim at delivering.

Safe and successful commissioning always…