Top 10 ways to streamline a 'live factory' project

When designing a new project, consider these ten tips to evaluate whether you and your A/E are employing best practices

12/13/2013


When it comes to design and construction projects, the conventional design process is relatively straightforward: the client hires the firm, the client shares expectations and requirements for the project, the firm develops and refines the design, and the design is constructed.  Client expectations are confined to satisfaction with the final constructed state as it relates to functionality and aesthetics.

The rules change when the facility is already built and operating and cannot be shut down for the sake of the project.  While the objective of the project remains the same as in a conventional construction project—a functional, code-compliant design—the path to achieving a complete design and getting the project constructed under budget is far more complicated.  This is especially so in large facilities that contain multiple exhaust streams and scores of gas, water, and chemical distribution systems—particularly when these processes and systems have an array of “owners.”

From the perspective of designers and engineers, the difference between designing and constructing a brand-new facility versus designing and constructing for “live factory” projects is very important and can greatly impact the success of your project. 

Successful design and construction firms recognize the unique challenges inherent in taking on a significant project within an existing space. This article offers insights into these challenges and provides 10 great tips that can serve as a checklist of sorts to evaluate whether you and your A/E supplier are employing best practices on your new design project.

Ten recommendations

1. Always be mindful that the A/E firm is a consultant accountable only to the project manager (PM). As the design is developed and the A/E interacts with stakeholders, new requirements and scope will be discovered, some more justified than the rest. The PM must decipher which of these elements should be incorporated into the project and determine the value of added design and construction costs.   

2. Do not underestimate project impacts to pipelines, electrical panels or equipment.  Necessary work-arounds may require engineered designs, bypass piping, or ductwork. Temporary facilities or HVAC and/or a plan for partial plant or equipment shutdowns may also need to be provided.

 

3. Keep the system owners in the loop. Generally, the purpose of projects is to upgrade or improve their systems. Being that they operate the systems, they can provide valuable insights for improvements or report system inadequacies. Sometimes projects can be oriented to be "win-win" by rectifying already existing issues at no incremental cost. System owners are also very aware of what commissioning the systems will entail. Can elements of what they need be incorporated into the design package?

4. Field verification is crucial. Moving even small conduits, pipes or tubes in live factories can sometimes be impossible. Conflicts must be identified prior to releasing a design with foreknowledge that obstacles will be moved or the design will accommodate the obstacle in place. Diligence on the part of the A/E firm to identify conflicts between design elements and existing obstacles and decision making on the part of the facility's stakeholders to decide how to accommodate these conflicts in the design in a timely fashion is crucial to project success.

 

5. When new equipment is being placed on a factory floor, consider move-in paths. Can the equipment physically get from the loading dock to its installation location in one piece? Equipment may have to be designed or ordered in pieces or scope may need to be included to clear a path.

6. Interim conditions can be a crucial consideration. While the existing state works for the facility and the final constructed state also works, what about the state during construction? Is there room for the work-around and the new construction to exist simultaneously? Can the facility continue to operate between the taking down of a piece of old equipment and the installation of new equipment?

7. Get buy-off from system and process owners during design development to shut down or modify systems. Sometimes the “obvious Plan A” is a no-go.  For instance, the nearest available tie-in that can be used might be hundreds of feet further away than expected, which adds significant project cost. System and process owner input is crucial with these considerations.

8. Analyze connections to piping and ductwork during design development. Some piping and ductwork materials or contents are not appropriate for hot-tapping either for engineering reasons, facility safety, or operational protocols. That said, if the design requires connecting to a system that doesn’t have an available connection and cannot be shut down, the facility is going to have to consent to the use of an existing connection or coordinate a shut-down of that system to make a tie-in.

9. Focus design review sessions around the issue of system interruptions and associated ramifications. It is easy for an A/E to overestimate the effectiveness of communications within their client’s organization. Try to get system owners and process owners engaged in the discussion of anticipated system interruptions.

10. Consider air quality requirements within the facility. Air quality can be an important concern to process owners at facilities that make food products, pharmaceuticals, microprocessors, etc. Concrete saw-cutting, welding, painting, gluing and roof work are just a few construction activities that produce dust or odors. Watch where outside air is taken in relative to these activities. Watch also for pressurization relationships between areas within the facility and outdoors.

 

Julian Quist, PE, is a mechanical engineer with SSOE Group. 



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