The Challenges of Project Commissioning

What does it take to successfully commission a project? Robert Stocker shows how time, effort, and communication is required by all team members to get the project off the ground.

Robert Stocker, senior engineer, Avanceon
Robert Stocker, senior engineer, Avanceon

Start-up and commissioning is the point where a lot of people start getting excited about seeing equipment and processes come together and operating in unison. As an engineer, it marks the culmination of hours (or perhaps days, months, or years depending on the size and scope of the project) of hard work.

You’ve tested and re-tested, made tweaks, changes (both small and large) along the way. You’ve witnessed and verified results to ensure your Go Live is seamless and meets the customer’s specifications.

Recently, my team completed the first in a series of Wonderware System Platform upgrades for a large, multi-site water distribution/treatment company. As with many projects, we faced a number of challenges, some typical—such as a lack of standards and documentation supporting the existing software—and others were more complicated—such as the health and safety concerns around testing at a plant that delivers water to the public. The overall success of the project would hinge upon a successful commissioning at the first site, and, as with any project involving software changes, operator acceptance was a major concern.

From the start, it became clear that communication, along with a collaborative approach, would be critical. Our customer’s team included a wide variety of personalities with varying years of experience, so, to be successful, we’d need to take a team approach.

We started by undertaking a series of fact-finding missions, but with little documentation, deciphering the existing code would be much easier with the collective input of everyone.

As the project progressed, we sought feedback from the operators who would be using the system. We started by creating a punch list of the things they liked as well as the things they didn’t. We then listened to their concerns and developed several navigational features to help ease the transition.

Was the buy-in immediate? No, but we continued to work together, and, despite the challenges, we were able to complete and install an expandable and reusable system that met the customer’s requirements and is easier to maintain.

Now, it’s on to the next site.

Robert Stocker is a senior engineer at Avanceon, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avanceon, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.