Four common commissioning mistakes to avoid

A few simple steps can prevent countless expensive headaches.


Commissioning is usually that undefined time between construction and plant start up. If commissioning doesn’t go smoothly, you can count on startup not going smoothly. I have commissioned dozens of plants over the past 27 years and have seen firsthand the difference between a good plan and a bad one. If you avoid these following mistakes I've witnessed over and over again, your efforts will be more trouble free with fewer self-induced headaches.

Mistake  1: Why do I need a plan? Let’s just go out there and start checking stuff out as soon as construction lands the wires. As crazy as this sounds, I’ve seen it many times. When you start energizing equipment while construction is still terminating wires, it will really slow things down. If you have to start before construction is complete, you will need a carefully thought out plan and daily meetings involving operations, safety, construction, and commissioning. Some equipment will require vendors on site and their schedules aren’t as flexible as you might need so plan wisely.

Mistake 2: Why do we need all these expensive people? We can avoid all those high wages, travel, and living expenses if we just use some of the construction crew and some of our own maintenance techs. This might sound good initially, because the construction guys know where everything is located and, besides that, they wired it up. I’m not trying to knock construction, but if they were knowledgeable and familiar with your collection of instrumentation, they would be technicians and not construction workers. As far as the plant maintenance crew, it’s okay to use them if they are guaranteed to be dedicated to the commissioning effort and without having to constantly run off to handle existing plant problems. It’s going to look like it costs more on paper, but in the long run you’ll recoup those charges with your great commissioning job.

Mistake 3: Just plug it in. The skid vendor said it would work right out of the box. Maybe the skid vendor promised plug-and-play, but some of these things don’t perform as easily as you may hope. As a matter of fact, you will be wiser to expect problems, because when east meets west, voltage levels, contact configuration, logic, signal types, and many other small details will have to be worked out. Many times you won’t be able to run the equipment until start up, and you don’t want to have to do that with a crowd of onlookers while you straighten out a few “minor details”. If the equipment is complicated, you might even consider source inspection at the vendor site before they ship.

Mistake 4: We’ll deal with documentation when we get caught up with things. Everything’s on the Internet anyway. Gather tech manuals, drawings, specs, and other documents before you start commissioning, because you won’t be able to find everything at the vendors’ websites. It will take longer than you think for redlines and as-built drawings to get back in the customer’s hands. They will need a set for operating, and you’ll need a set for your CAD department. Those tiny changes you made will add up to a big job. Keep your master set in one place, make updates daily, and don’t make any exceptions.

These common mistakes may sound just like common sense, and they probably are, but I’m amazed to see them happen again and again.

This post was written by Steve Cochran. Steve is a senior technician MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.

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