In construction, last impressions are critical. Project owners expect a seamless turnover, which is vital to efficient facility operations and management. For general contractors, a good turnover process is also an effective way to retain loyal clients and get more work. But while project closeout is essential, planning for a smooth handover happens well before breaking ground. The process begins as early as the planning phase and is carried on throughout the project completion.
The main driving factor behind managing construction projects successfully is improved commissioning—and this is what you’ll learn about below.
What is Construction Commissioning?
Commissioning is the process of planning, scheduling, documenting, testing, verifying, adjusting, and training to provide a reliable facility that operates as a fully functional system according to the project owner’s requirements. The goal of the construction commissioning process is to boost the quality of the delivered project by letting the design and construction team focus on the project owner’s plans for a functional and building.
What are the Steps in Commissioning a Construction Project?
The commissioning process helps the construction team to achieve the project goals. Each project is different and must cater to a unique style in project management for construction to achieve the desired outcome. However, the general process to plan, commission, and hand over a project is similar in each case. Let’s review the step-by-step commissioning you can apply to your next project.
Step 1: Planning
a. Setting of Milestones
During the project’s design phase, the timeline of activities during commissioning is used as a reference to define the construction milestones to plan the project schedule. Then, the construction milestones represent the design milestones required. From this established milestone sequence, the project crew is now aware of what activities need to be completed and on what date to ensure all the components come together as a final system for testing during the closeout.
b. Assembling the Commissioning Team
The commissioning team is selected during the design and construction phase to determine the core members and the support resources needed for the project. They will also be in charge of the construction crew management under them, from start to finish. Groups that are usually part of the commissioning team are the following:
- Project Owner’s Operations Team
- Electrical Engineers
- Mechanical Engineers
- Consultant Subject Matter Experts (SME)
- Automation Key Discipline Leads
- General Contractors
- Vendor Representatives
c. Commissioning Documentation
Commissioning documentation is prepared in advance of the commissioning phase. This contains the test plans and procedures to be executed when commissioning starts, the checklists required, and the technical drawings. Document deliverables are defined in this phase, too, such as training plans and O&M manuals, to be delivered during the commissioning phase.
As overall construction and equipment installation is complete, the commissioning teams will conduct a walkthrough to define any contract deficiencies or deviations and list all items under a deficiency tracking list. Deficiencies are classified as Type-A, Type-B, or Type-B, reflecting when each must be completed:
- Type-A: a showstopper must be completed before continuing to the next activity.
- Type-B: unlike Type-A, this does not need to be addressed urgently and does not affect subsequent activities but must be fixed before handover to the project owner.
- Type-C: these are minor defects and can be rectified after handover, with an agreement with the project owner.
It is beneficial to incorporate construction inventory software to help you store your documents, files, inventory list, and any other pertinent data that you can access anytime. This way, you won’t need to sort through your files during the handover to the owner.
d. Commissioning Testing Procedure
Methods in gathering test results need to be identified, either manually recorded or through a data logging system. Typically, a high volume of information is produced during commissioning, and a method to gather and analyze the test results needs to be known.
Step 2: Factory Acceptance Testing
During the procurement phase of the project, an essential step before equipment delivery on-site is Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT). This type of testing verifies that the equipment is designed in accordance with the specification before leaving the factory when issues discovered are much easier to fix, rather than delaying testing equipment until it is installed on-site, or in a worst-case scenario, damaged. FAT can consist of the following testing:
- Hardware verification like dielectric testing of equipment
- Checking of panel wiring of any fuse box or cabinets
- Integrated testing, where automation is loaded into the hardware and tested for correct design and functionality
If specified in the contract, the above testing must be done before the equipment leaves the factory.
Step 3: Mechanical Completion
Mechanical completion takes place once the equipment is installed. A formal handover process with certifications must be signed to confirm that equipment is installed as per the design.
The construction and commissioning teams will perform a walkthrough to inspect the installation and confirm there are no deficiencies for both parties.
Any deficiencies are listed and added to the deficiency list, with a specific classification. Basic installation is conducted, such as valves installed in the correct location, and point-to-point checks of all wiring and megger tests have been satisfied. Electrical plans are traced on-site to ensure all air, oil, or water auxiliaries are available in actuality. The construction team will check that drawings are marked up to indicate the actual condition and that the commissioning team’s mechanical is delivered in a satisfactory quality.
Step 4: On-Site Commissioning
Once mechanical works for each portion are completed and deficiencies, as agreed to, are classified, pre-commissioning activities can then begin.
For mechanical systems, pre-commissioning activities involved the following:
- Cleaning and flushing of pipes
- Slope-To-Drain Testing
- Pressure testing
- Leak testing
Any rotating equipment like the pump is bump tested, rotating it for the first time to verify pressure, current draw, and flow rates. There may be an initial run-through period for motors and pumps to verify heating/cooling, vibration, and absence of infant mortality issues.
For electrical systems, pre-commissioning activities involve:
- Panel energization
- Loop checks (internal and external)
- Verification of any wiring to the control room
Pre-commissioning checklists are provided for each piece of equipment and maybe witnessed by a consultant SME to verify that tasks are being completed.
Once pre-commissioning checklists are completed, commissioning can finally begin.
Commissioning is the process to verify that equipment on-site has not been damaged during shipping from the point where FAT was completed. This time, all field devices are installed, so field wiring is confirmed correctly.
Step 5: Performance Verification
The commissioning team administers fine-tuning and improvement on the utility process operation in consultation with the SME and the owner. Once completed, the contract may demand a trial period where the utility process is expected to run uninterrupted for a period of time. This could range from 24 hours or 30 days, depending on the contract requirements.
If the system operation is accidentally interrupted, the trial period starts over.
Once the trial period is successful, a Provisional Acceptance Certificate (PAC) is issued to the contractor. The contract may also indicate a performance guarantee period, where the utility processes are expected to meet contractual criteria over a while. Once the performance guarantee period is over and impacts have been determined, a signed Final Acceptance Certificate (FAC) is given to the contractor.
Step 6: Operational Readiness
As the project is near the in-service date, it is helpful for the owner to prepare the operations team to hand over the new systems. In fact, it is encouraged to have the owner’s operations staff present in the commissioning process, as this is an excellent chance for them to learn about the newly installed systems, ask the experts testing the system on-site, and pose any questions that they might have. The operations staff have an absolute interest in the operation and maintenance of the building and are best to manage the document control and asset management systems.
A soft handover approach is recommended to prepare operators rather than wait until the project’s end, pass new information to operators, and leave the site as a team.
Step 7: Project Completion
Once a signed FAC is issued, the project has officially closed. If designed, executed, and commissioned well, the construction asset should last for many years to come.
As you might have noticed, there is a lot involved in commissioning a project. It can be a challenging initiative, but it is very fulfilling as you get to see the original plan come to life!
If you want to ensure that your project gets completed on time, incorporate construction scheduling software, like Pro Crew Schedule, to help you be on top of your timelines and deadlines. Being strict with the schedule is not only vital during the commissioning phase; it is also crucial even from day one.