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Commissioning: Fast-Track Commissioning 

Feel the need for speed? Strong planning will let you keep pace on the homestretch.

Last month, I wrote about the importance of and unique characteristics associated with commissioning D-B projects. This month, it is time to discuss fast-track projects. Introducing commissioning to fast-track projects is a special challenge, but it can infuse an important level of quality-focused discipline without necessarily affecting the critical path. The key is to involve the commissioning professional early and often.

Of course, as with all commissioning, this requires strong support from the facility owner. If a building is important enough to be built in a hurry, then I think it is safe to assume it is important enough to have it confirmed operational when the owner moves in.  When procuring the services of a fast-track design and construction team, the owner needs to emphasize the importance of fast and functional.

As with D-B projects, having a draft commissioning plan in place prior to hiring the designers and contractors and including the plan in the contract documents is a great way of clearly articulating the owner’s expectations for performance verification of the new systems. The OPR document is another must-have prior to giving a fast-track team notice-to-proceed with their work. These two documents will contractually bind the project team to designing, installing, and commissioning the new building within the all-important fast-track schedule.

Involvement Is Key

The key to incorporating commissioning into a fast-paced project is to involve the commissioning professional in all aspects of the project. The commissioning professional should always be able to move at least as fast as the design/construction team, as long as he is aware that something needs to be done. Similarly, the design/construction team can incorporate commissioning activities into their project schedule as long as the activities are understood, planned, and coordinated ahead of time.

To accomplish this level of communication and coordination, it is critical that the commissioning professional attends project team meetings where the details of equipment and materials procurement are discussed, where project phasing is determined, where documentation and deliverables are defined and scheduled, and where project team synergies and relationships are developed. Fast-track projects don’t have time to drag along an outsider, but they should be able to absorb another team member to assist in delivering what the owner wants.

Some of the biggest challenges come at the beginning of a project, especially if the project team is unfamiliar with formal commissioning and how it needs to be integrated into the project delivery model. The commissioning professional could spend a lot of time trying to educate the project team, while the project team doesn’t realize it is important to them and they do not think they have time. “Commissioning is an end-of-construction thing, isn’t it?” That’s where having the commissioning plan in place and understood by the bidders before their notice-to-proceed is so important; the education should be behind them when the project starts.

A recurring challenge in fast-track projects is incorporating commissioning requirements into early procurement packages for equipment associated with systems to be commissioned. It is not unusual to purchase chillers, large AHUs, and generators before design drawings are produced and complete specifications are written. It is not difficult to write the commissioning specification section in time for inclusion in these early bid packages. In addition, the commissioning professional can quickly suggest appropriate coordination language to be inserted into the technical specifications for the equipment, as long as the commissioning professional is aware of both the schedule and when his input is needed.

The same applies to all of the bid packages that go out on a typical fast-track project. The commissioning professional can determine which bid packages need to have commissioning specifications and coordination included and which do not. However, the commissioning professional needs to know what the bid packages are and when they are to be issued.

When fast-track projects include plans for phased completion of different areas of a building, input from the commissioning professional is especially valuable. Whereas most of the project team is thinking in terms of walls, floors, ceilings, and finishes, the commissioning professional will be thinking in terms of systems. How can the systems (or, more often, partial systems) be verified operational for the first phase while other phases are being completed? Is it necessary to re-test earlier phases when later phases are completed? Will the infrastructure systems (chilled water, steam, emergency power, etc.) be functional in time for the first phase? These are critical issues with which the commissioning professional can help, as long as he knows what the phasing plan is.

Although a lot of people will say they do not have time to commission their fast-track project; I say they do not have time not to commission the project. Project teams need to invite the commissioning professional into the inner circle with open arms and allow him to help turn an on-time project into a successful project.


Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, June, 2008

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318