While scoping costs is hard enough, installing new process equipment on time and on budget can present a high-stakes planning nightmare for the inexperienced engineer.
Don’t fret. At AMG, we’ve helped thousands of clients install new equipment in a wide variety of industrial facilities. Across these projects, we’ve learned the common themes that derail equipment installation and leave project engineers scrambling at the 11th hour.
Here are 6 things you can do to prevent this from happening to you.
Step 1: Don’t Forget Your Environmental Reports
This is a common one missed by first-time project leaders.
Before you can put a shovel in the ground, you must have the appropriate environmental permits approved by local and state authorities. The best option is to team up with an environmental specialist who knows state and regional regulations, and the right people to contact. They are there for your resource. We’ve found that talking to authorities in person can be immensely helpful. It can take 8 - 11 months to obtain final air permit approvals. An emission plot plan and review of Best Available Technology (BAT) is a good place to start. Your environmental specialist can continue to make progress during the start of detailed design.
Step 2: Tackle the Critical Path Elements Next
The 2 most common critical path items are long lead equipment and structural steel. Chances are good you’ll need steel to house or support your new process equipment.
We recommend starting here when building your installation schedule. That means getting a structural engineer to help you identify structure requirements and material specifications. The engineer should produce the necessary steel and concrete drawings required to go buy the materials.
While designs and drawings can be a relatively straightforward process, procuring that material to your specifications can require significant time. It’s not uncommon for it to take 12 - 16 weeks upon receipt of order for steel to be delivered to your site. Plan for adequate time to procure the materials you need. This is where the concept of sequential engineering design comes in. Intuitively, most people think that you want to start with the foundation design first. Sometimes it makes more sense to start with the steel design, then follow up with the foundation design while the steel is on order.
While the steel is in detailed design, you can focus on the other big schedule killer: long lead equipment.
Step 3: Identify & Secure “Long Lead-Time” Equipment
Look, these machines and components aren’t sitting on a shelf at Amazon waiting for delivery. They have to be specified, built, fabricated, and freighted to your location. That lead time can fluctuate greatly based on your equipment requirements.
It pays to identify early on what additional items are necessary for your complete facility system to work—and identify which of those items have significant lead time.
In agri-product processing, bio-processing, and petrochemical industries, this is a common challenge. Facility leaders may be tasked with executing a project in 18 months from start of engineering, yet find that the large compressors, turbines, generators,centrifuges, transformers and control systems may each have up to a 12-month delivery times. Complicating things even further, some of these components may require additional time to secure the appropriate vendors. We live in a global economy, so some equipment may be fabricated overseas. In this case, it usually takes about 6 weeks to transport from the fabricator to the plant site.
Your smartest action is to identify and purchase these components early on, while the structural steel is being fabricated, so they are delivered on time to the project.
Step 4: Pay Attention to Job Sequencing
Very large pieces of equipment such as dryers, evaporators or extractors require much more attention to the installation sequence. It is not as easy as pouring concrete, erecting steel and installing equipment. Large equipment will need to be installed as the structure goes up.
Take a spray dryer for example. The first and second floor steel and concrete need to be installed, then the bottom cone and ductwork of the dryer. Structural steel and concrete for the 3rd and 4th floors are next, followed by the main drying chamber, burner, fans and dust collector. Now the roof framing, roof and siding can be installed. Schedule the equipment delivery so it can be picked directly off the truck and installed.
There is also sequencing in receiving materials on the job site. You don’t want equipment or electrical components showing up too soon, exposed to the weather for months prior to installation. If there are space limitations, you would like to have the foundation poured before structural steel is delivered. The logistics of a lay-down area need to be thought through.
This illustrates the importance of thinking through the details of the installation and sharing that with the contractors during the bidding phase. They need to understand the expectations in order to meet the schedule.
Step 5: Minimize Trade Stacking
Facility system installation is a complex organism. On a given project, there are lots of bodies, equipment, and materials vying for a limited space in your facility. Once the mechanical installation is complete, pipe fitters, electricians and instrument technicians all want to get to work. It’s what’s commonly known as trade stacking—and it can be dangerous, expensive, and annoying. If not managed properly, it will ultimately cause delays.
Prevent it by determining who needs to be in the space, when, and for how long in order for the next crew to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Then, build your schedule around dependencies and agreements.
For example, you may have pipefitters working in one area to fabricate pipe while you have electricians working on another area. Upon completion of specific tasks or milestones, you may have those groups rotate. While it’s not always possible to do this, keeping an open and fair mind around trade dependencies will help you build a more accurate project plan.
Another strategy is to generate piping isometrics for shop fabricated pipe. This usually improves the overall piping cost because the pipe fitters are working in a controlled environment, and it reduces the amount of time and manpower in the field.
Step 6: Develop Contingencies Around Weather
Remember, you may be planning for your project during the spring, but construction may not happen until fall or winter. Don’t pretend like the weather will cooperate fully. Iron workers are not going to hang steel after an ice storm.
While you can’t predict that far in advance, it’s good to have backup plans and schedules in place in the event that weather derails your timeline. Showing you’re proactive rather than reactive is sure to impress upper management.
From Best Guess Timelines to Thoughtful Planning
Scoping and procuring major equipment for your new process is only half the battle. Developing a realistic and complete project plan is the real key to success. Follow these 6 recommendations above to ensure you’re starting off on the right path.