Commissioning as part of design, construction — and beyond

The benefits of involving the commissioning specialist at the design stage of a project are being increasingly recognised — with that involvement continuing through construction to practical completion and handover. (Photos courtesy of SES)
Nick Till explains why it is so important for the expertise of commissioning engineers to be brought in at the very start of a project.It is probably true that most people’s perception on commissioning is that of commissioning a ship once it has been launched to ensure sea and function worthiness of the vessel. In some respects, this is a part of the function of commissioning a building and its services. However, it is merely the tip of the iceberg, with most people completely unaware of the 90% that goes unseen. Enhance It has generally been the norm that the commissioning element of a contract is let at the very end of the project after the services contractor or the contract issue documents have been circulated. This appointment is often made well into the project, whereas the inclusion of a commissioning specialist at the design stage, for instance, and the undertaking of a commissionability review, would enhance the commissioning of systems. Unfortunately, it is often impossible to make the necessary changes at a later date. However, there has recently been more recognition of the value of involving the commissioning specialist at the design stage and their significant contribution to the delivery of the complete finished product. The first question to be asked is when the commissioning process should be considered? The answer to that question is that it is essential that consideration is given at the design phase, through construction to final handover. Achieving the benefits of that level of involvement requires a real understanding of the commissioning role and the following must be considered. • Design stage D — commissionability review.
• Pre-tender review to ensure the work carried out earlier has not been compromised.
• Define the commissioning specialist’s interface with client, contractor etc. • The sequence of events leading to commissioning.
• Influencing the construction programme and process.
• The organisation of the commissioning activity. In addition, the role of commissioning in the following aspects should be considered. • Planning and implementation. • Method statements. • Determining the accuracy of design information. • Pre-commissioning. • Setting to work. • Commissioning. • Life safety and black-building testing. • Environmental monitoring. In the lead up to commissioning it is important that the design is frozen and the design data is viewed by the entire team — including the commissioning specialist. Interdependence At the same time it is important to ensure that professional teams recognise the interfaces and interdependence between construction and commissioning process. The precise responsibilities of the management team, designers and the various sub-contractors must also be clearly defined. A construction programme must include the input of the commissioning specialist at every step in the process. An experienced commissioning specialist can help lead the client’s project through the pitfalls of construction by endorsing the commissioning process from day one. At the pre-commissioning stage, the design information must be in a clear, comprehensible form and schematic drawings should be available — thus avoiding loss of productivity and failure to achieve the programme. All too often, not all this information is available. This commissioning-documentation trail gives a means of controlling the commissioning activities on site and provides the client with a record of plant performance and settings that can be used to benchmark against the long-term building performance. The commissioning method statement clearly defines the methods and procedures, performance requirement and allowable tolerances on test results. This document will also define the procedure to be adopted for the witnessing test results and will be included in the commissioning programme. Witnessing, following on the heels of the commissioning activities, should be a progressive activity. Under no circumstances should witnessing be left until the end of the project, and commissioning specifications should be clearly defined to prevent demarcation disputes. Handover documentation records that the services were commissioned and achieving the design — and is now an integral part of the commissioning sign off required by projects. Time must also be given to ensure the building is fine tuned for effective operation and energy efficiency, given the growing requirement for a smaller carbon footprint in today’s built environment. To ensure the end user and professional team enjoy the benefits of the commissioning specialist, it is essential that the cost is ring-fenced at an early stage and that this is a reality from the beginning of a project. The alternative is that we will continue, as happens much too often, to return to project well after handover, which is a great loss to everyone involved. Nick Till is director of the Banyard Group of Companies with offices in Godalming, London, Manchester and Sevenoaks.
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