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Commissioning and Startup: Increase Certainty Through Advanced Planning

By Anna Farokhi and Charlie Lyda, Fluor Corp. |

Taking commissioning and startup into consideration during the early design phase can result in more predictable project schedules and more robust equipment designs

Historically, new capital projects and facility upgrades in the chemical process industries (CPI) were designed with a primary focus on operations. As the CPI have worked to reduce the total installed cost (TIC) of projects, many engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms have begun to incorporate modular design and fabrication methodologies into their project-execution strategy. The design teams spend considerable time finalizing the site plot plans. The objectives here are to compress the overall plot footprint and reduce piping and electrical system quantities, while still considering the construction execution sequence (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1. Many large capital projects in the CPI put great focus on decreasing overall costs and compressing plot footprints, but they must do so while still considering the proper construction execution sequence

FIGURE 1. Many large capital projects in the CPI put great focus on decreasing overall costs and compressing plot footprints, but they must do so while still considering the proper construction execution sequence

As module-design techniques continue to mature, piping-system lengths are reduced, the density of the operating equipment is often compressed, electrical system quantities are minimized and the total cost of construction is reduced. Recent data suggest that with modular designs, piping and electrical systems quantities can be reduced by 25 to 30% when compared to traditionally designed facilities.

While the cost of design, materials, construction labor and logistics can be easily developed and compared against historical data to illustrate the TIC benefit of new techniques, the potential benefits to the commissioning and startup of the facility are not easily understood or quantified.

In addition to modular designs, projects continue to transition from the typical execution model — consisting of mechanical completion, commissioning and startup — to a parallel-activity model where power, utility and process systems are commissioned and placed into service while construction continues in other facility areas and systems.

Especially in this type of project-execution environment, early involvement of the commissioning and startup team members is critical. Involvement of the team during module design reviews and the development of equipment preservation plans, module-yard execution plans, site commissioning and startup execution plans and performance testing plans leads to safer execution, a reduced project TIC and optimized project schedule durations. This article describes several areas where early involvement and advanced planning from the commissioning and startup team can improve a project’s certainty with regard to costs and scheduling.


Design phase

Information from the system piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) and electrical system one-line drawings are marked on the issued-for-design (IFD) drawings to define startup system boundaries and serve as the basis for the construction and commissioning teams’ planning efforts. The design databases — including equipment lists, instrument lists, piping isometric lists, cable databases and so on — are populated with the startup system identifiers attached to each component and help to drive system- and commissioning-test completion. The component tags in these databases, along with agreed-upon attributes (including the startup system identifier), are uploaded into the completions software and updated as the design progresses. These data sets are very useful in the early construction planning phase and are required during the final phases of a project.

Early involvement of the commissioning and turnover team during the development of the inspection and test plans (ITPs) included in the site quality manual reduces the cost of tracking and locating the documentation required for systems completion and commissioning. Specific system-critical documents should be loaded and connected, as required, against the applicable components in the completions software. Early agreement on these documents by several parties — the quality, commissioning and turnover teams, as well as the startup team and client — facilitate this work during the project’s systems completion, turnover and handover phases.

The modular design techniques that drive down construction costs are reviewed from the commissioning and startup perspective to ensure that pre-commissioning, commissioning and startup activities are supported and included in the modular design considerations.

To guide this process, mark up a series of plot plans illustrating the sequence in which the systems or units will become energized or operational. Each drawing (one per project month is recommended) reflects all energized systems and areas from the previous month, with the addition of systems coming online in the current month. Additional plot-plan drawings are marked up until the entire facility is shown as operational. To read more on plot plan drawings, please see Plot Plan Design: Process Requirements, Chem. Eng., Jan. 2015, pp. 52–57.

These marked-up plot-plan drawings provide the project team with a high-level overview of the path from construction to final operation. Through these marked-up drawings, engineering teams can visualize better layout options; construction teams can validate construction sequences and execution plans; health, safety and environmental (HSE) teams can better prepare the required safety programs as areas become operational; and commissioning teams can better prepare for the detailed system-isolation design reviews.

Utility systems, such as power, instrument air, service water, cooling water, steam and so on, are typically the first systems to be made operational and often span across multiple modules and process-unit boundaries (Figure 2). A detailed review of these systems and the construction sequence may lead to the identification of additional isolation points. Incorporating additional components into the base design that are not required for normal operations but support commissioning and startup minimizes cost and schedule impacts later in the project lifecycle.

FIGURE 2. Utility systems are typically the first to become operational during a large facility startup

FIGURE 2. Utility systems are typically the first to become operational during a large facility startup

A similar review of the process systems is conducted to ensure that provided isolations support the construction execution sequence as the systems are commissioned and placed into initial operational service.

A detailed review of piping-system cleaning needs is conducted in parallel with the isolation review noted above. This review identifies additional components that may be required to support the piping-system cleaning that will be required prior to initial operation. These cleaning activities typically include air blows, water flushing, hydrolazing (ultra high-pressure hydroblasting), steam blows and pipeline and system dry-out activities.

This review focuses on access points for cleaning services, availability of rollout spools, bypass provisions to flush around critical components and the entry and exhaust points of the activities. During this review, identify all permanent plant equipment that may require removal prior to the cleaning activities, such as valves, valve trims, orifice plates or flow nozzles. As this review progresses, identify all materials that may be required for reinstatement and develop the material requisition information required. This review forms the basis for the detailed cleaning plans that are developed during the site commissioning and startup planning phase prior to field mobilization.


Equipment preservation plans

The need to develop detailed equipment-preservation plans early in the project cannot be overstated. These plans ensure that equipment is properly stored and maintained prior to its delivery and final installation on site. The comprehensive equipment-preservation plan is often a combination of EPC and client quality program requirements, coupled with the equipment suppliers’ recommendations. As supplier information is received, the documents should be reviewed with a focus on preservation and any requirements recorded in the completions software. It is advisable to include any required forms in the vendor purchase orders that outline and record preservation activities. This requirement saves countless hours and potential omissions when reviewing and searching the vendor manuals for requirements. If modular execution strategies are employed, the equipment preservation program should be in place to support the equipment arrival at the module yard facility and continue through shipment to the site (Figure 3). Execution plans are developed to ensure a comprehensive program is conducted through initial operation with validity of data recording maintained throughout the program.

FIGURE 3. Equipment preservation programs should be in place to support equipment arrival at the module-yard facility through shipment to site Photo of Shell Quest carbon capture and storage project

FIGURE 3. Equipment preservation programs should be in place to support equipment arrival at the module-yard facility through shipment to site
Photo of Shell Quest carbon capture and storage project


Module-yard execution plans

The pre-commissioning and commissioning activities conducted at the module yard are clearly defined to ensure alignment with all parties and validate that expected results (and cost reductions) are realized. To minimize site rework, documentation requirements must be clearly identified in advance and incorporated appropriately into the project completions software.

Consideration for the electrical and control-system components to be distributed on process modules should be evaluated. Many pre-commissioning and commissioning activities, such as loop checks, motor run-ins, power system energization and so on, can be conducted in the module yards if supported in the process module design.

The team develops a detailed pipe-system cleaning strategy for the module yard and incorporates that strategy into the project’s overall system-cleaning specialty requirements (Figure 4). Items to consider during plan development include module size, shipping durations and cleanliness preservation during shipment, as well as cleaning activities that will be required onsite prior to equipment going online, including component removal and reinstallation to support the required cleaning processes.

FIGURE 4. A detailed pipe-system cleaning strategy must be developed for the module yard Photo of Shell Quest carbon capture and storage project

FIGURE 4. A detailed pipe-system cleaning strategy must be developed for the module yard
Photo of Shell Quest carbon capture and storage project

Evaluate the module yard infrastructure prior to finalizing commissioning plans. Consider power availability (voltage, capacity and frequency), cleaning media capacity, pumping capacities, water retention facilities, waste management and other applicable areas. The final plan includes any requirements for maintaining cleanliness during transit, such as purges, end caps, routine monitoring and so on.

Site-specific execution plans

The site-specific commissioning and startup execution plans are an extension of the planning efforts performed to date. The system isolation requirements have been identified, the flush connection points have been validated, the equipment removal list to support flushing has been developed, module yard pre-commissioning and commissioning plans and documentation are developed and the equipment-preservation management plan is fully functional. Building on the previous efforts, the team develops system-specific procedures defining the activities required to bring the plant up to its ready-for-startup (RFSU) status.

Each process piping system of the facility has specific procedures outlining many areas, including the following:

  • The cleaning required to be performed at the site
  • Cleanliness acceptance criteria
  • Component removal checklists
  • Parts required listing
  • Component restoration checklist
  • Equipment isolation checklists
  • Any post-cleaning drying and preservation requirements

A set of “cleaning” P&IDs are developed for inclusion into this system cleaning package.

During piping-system flushing and steam-blow activities, tremendous amounts of water are required. A temporary water-management plan is developed as part of the commissioning and startup planning process. This plan includes several important items, including the following:

  • Limitations on makeup water availability
  • Limitations on wastewater discharge
  • System designs that consume water as part of the operational process
  • Limitations in onsite storage

The plan provides the system drawings required for temporary piping systems and equipment, a strategy document summarizing water movement around the site and a final waste-disposal plan. The team considers the use of permanent plant sumps and retention basins in the temporary water-management strategy.

As steam-blow plans are developed, carefully consider the routing of any temporary pipe, the location of the exhaust points and the source of the steam generation. Should the steam source be provided by the existing operating facility, a steam-flow demand plan is extremely helpful in coordinating the operating facility interfaces. Because multi-unit facilities rely on the process units to generate the steam required for facility operation and power generation, the startup source (for instance, an auxiliary boiler or heat-recovery steam generator) may not have the capacity required to meet the downstream requirements for cleanliness criteria. As cleaning plans are finalized, the teams consider temporary sources for the steam supply, the required fuel-supply connections, steam system connections and temporary exhaust points.

Building on the activities performed in the module yards, detailed procedures are developed to finalize the pre-commissioning activities for the electrical systems, instrumentation and controls systems and equipment lube-oil flushing activities.

System- and unit-specific startup procedures are developed based on the manufacturer or licensor’s instructions, process system descriptions and major-equipment supplier manuals. Assembling this information prior to mobilization ensures that a comprehensive startup program is in place and that the appropriate reviews are performed. The procedures include sections outlining the interface requirements to other units within the facility, special drying and refractory-curing processes, temporary feedstock requirements (if any), initial valve alignment tables, initial operating setpoints and a summary of equipment operating alarms.

Similar to the process-system commissioning procedures, electrical-system energization plans are developed to ensure the proper pre-energization testing is performed, all safety precautions are in place and the correct energization sequence is followed.

The electrical and process system startup procedures are developed to align with the project-specific lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures, electrical arc-flash safety procedures, system boundary tagging and blinding procedures and established HSE practices and procedures.

All of these individual pieces come together to provide great benefits in terms of more-effective plans and designs. The opportunity to influence a project’s safety, productivity, cost and schedule is at its greatest during the design phase. The commissioning and startup teams’ early involvement enables the development of a comprehensive set of testing activities that span the project lifecycle, commencing at the module yards and completing at the site in support of a successful facility startup. Conducting early design reviews with a commissioning and startup focus reduces total costs significantly and yields a more predictable outcome in the field. ■

Edited by Mary Page Bailey



Anna FarokhiAfsaneh (Anna) Farokhi is a commissioning manager with Fluor Corp. (1 Fluor Daniel Dr. Sugarland, TX 77478;, currently supporting a government project in Virginia. She also supports the functional organization, overseeing global commissioning operations and execution. With 12 years of industry experience, she has held a diverse range of office and field assignments, both domestic and international. Farokhi was named to Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) first national Top 20 Under 40 in 2017, a list that recognizes the construction industry’s top young professionals.


Charlie LydaCharlie Lyda currently serves as vice president of commissioning and turnover at Fluor Corp. (100 Fluor Daniel Dr., Greenville, S.C. 29607; In this role, he is responsible for pre-commissioning, commissioning, startup and turnover for Fluor’s projects across all business lines. Lyda has more than 30 years of experience in commissioning, startup, operations and maintenance of electric power-generation, petrochemical and chemical manufacturing facilities.

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