Successful plant relocation: A checklist for success

Each relocation project comes with unique challenges. Detailed planning and communication in the beginning yields successful projects


In challenging economic times, some manufacturing companies are faced with difficult decisions regarding the location of their manufacturing facilities. Sometimes companies decide to consolidate facilities to reduce operational costs. Business growth and/or new product lines may be pressing companies to move their operations to larger facilities to keep up with increasing demand. Other companies may simply be responding to changing market pressures by relocating closer to their customers or supplier network.
Regardless of the many reasons for relocating a manufacturing facility, when that final decision to relocate is made, it's up to the plant engineering staff and its supporting contractors to execute the project. Each relocation project comes with unique challenges. Detailed planning and communication in the beginning yields successful projects.
Accurate and detailed layout drawings of the donor facility where the equipment is currently located are required to plan for equipment location within the destination facility. These drawings also enable engineers provide the designs to accommodate the necessary utilities.
Facility and equipment layout drawings often become neglected. The accuracy of the available drawings should be checked and missing drawings should be replaced before any design effort begins. Items such as building column locations, equipment quantities, equipment identification and sizes, utility locations, pits, trenches and aisle sizes should be confirmed by spot checking. Be sure to note overhead equipment such as conveyors or cranes that may not appear on layouts.

Equipment condition review
A detailed equipment review and condition assessment is required prior to detailed relocation planning. The plant engineer and supporting resources should document the condition and make recommendations as to whether the equipment's condition warrants direct relocation, refurbishment or abandonment.
Often, it costs more to repair, upgrade and relocate the out-of-condition equipment than it does to replace it. For equipment that will be moved, operation and maintenance manuals, maintenance records, spare parts inventories, PLC program data and structural information should be gathered and identified for each specific machine.

As-built conditions
If accurate layout drawings are not available, as-built drawings should be developed. The as-built drawing should clearly indicate the building column grid, critical utility connections and equipment slated to be relocated. Be sure the equipment is properly identified to include the equipment type, department or area, manufacturer, asset identification number, motor plate data, weight and utility requirements.
High resolution, digital photographs are particularly helpful for equipment documentation. Photograph the equipment from all sides, paying particular attention to utility connection points and external control panels. It is also important to determine if the equipment needs special foundations, pits or trenches. Provide detailed dimensions of the pit including depth, length and width, and note any utilities in the pit.
It is imperative to determine if the equipment from the donor facility meets codes in the receiving location. Discuss in detail with code officials at the receiving location and confirm the code requirements on relocated equipment prior to developing the relocation plan and budget. Check control cabinets and panels for UL, NEC or comparable approvals. Check state permit requirements for boilers and pressure vessels as well.

Equipment database and identification
All equipment information gathered in the field should be added to an equipment spreadsheet or database. Equipment not clearly identified with an asset tag or ID that can be easily read should be manually tagged. During the physical relocation, all of the utility and controls tie points and connections on the equipment should be clearly identified, documented and tagged by the relocation contractor.

Utility and structural requirements
After the equipment database is populated with information from the equipment to be relocated, the other design disciplines can begin work to define and design the utility systems. It is the plant engineer's responsibility to coordinate with these design disciplines to confirm that the utilities are installed in the correct location based on new drawings as well as at the correct time.
Coordination of pit, trench and foundation information requires coordination with a structural engineer. Overhead requirements such as cranes, monorails, conveyors and tooling rails also require structural coordination.
If the relocation is taking place within a "hot" facility (operational) or from a "hot" facility to a "cold" facility (non-operational), temporary or redundant utilities may be required to maintain operations. The plant engineer will have to identify and coordinate these issues with the correct design disciplines to size the temporary utilities and design the required tie points.

Scheduling, evolution planning
Development of the overall plan for a relocation project is perhaps the most important and most difficult aspect of plant relocations. The schedule may have to consider time for ramping down production at the donor location while ramping up production at the receiving facility, which may require sequencing specific equipment and infrastructure to meet this requirement.
The plant engineer will have to coordinate with manufacturing operations to develop the sequence and schedule of removal and relocation. This information will also be required by the facilities design team to schedule design, procurement and installation of utilities and structural requirements. Testing and commissioning requirements and durations should be included in the schedule. Detailed schedules should be developed and tracked using project scheduling software.

Equipment relocation work instructions
If the plant engineer intends to use contractors to perform the relocation operations, equipment relocation work instructions (ERWI) or similar documents should be used. ERWIs are detailed documents that can be sent out as part of a bid package for relocation contractors.
The ERWI should contain equipment-specific instructions regarding disconnection, dismantling, cleaning and mothballing, crating, loading, protecting and transporting, unloading, reconnection and startup of the equipment at the new location. The ERWI should also contain a detailed equipment list with all tag numbers, a drawing list and a list of available client documents. The plant engineer will also define how the relocation contractor should leave the area being vacated.

Installation coordination
The plant engineer's responsibility during installation is to coordinate with the utilities installer and the relocation contractor to ensure the arriving equipment is ready for installation and the utility tie points are correct and available.
When the equipment and utilities are connected, the relocation contractor should perform a preliminary test to confirm motor rotations are correct, all utilities are energized and the equipment functions. At this point, the equipment is considered mechanically complete. The plant engineer should perform an inspection and check off the quality of the installation before turning the equipment over to manufacturing.
Testing, commissioning
Each company has different requirements for testing and commissioning. The amount of plant engineering involvement with testing should be defined and agreed upon between the plant engineer and his or her manufacturing organization early in the project. The requirements for testing and commissioning should be included in the ERWI if the relocation contractor has responsibility for support during this phase.
Relocating a manufacturing facility is no small endeavor. But good communication, accurate documentation and smart planning help ensure a successful project execution.

Reb Stivender is an industrial engineer in CH2M HILL's Manufacturing Integration Group. He has more than 27 years of engineering and consulting experience, specializing in aircraft, automotive and general manufacturing.

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