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Pre-Commissioning Readiness – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

By September 27, 2023Conduit

Quality installation is the goal for all construction projects – especially data centers. Today’s construction environment has created a perfect storm of obstacles to the quality goal: complex equipment and systems, numerous equipment vendors, skill disparity, speed of construction, equipment delays, and a constant squeeze on prices and margins. On many projects, these challenges create a gap in the quality process that, if unaddressed, leads to a less-than-desirable outcome. The solution to this gap is pre-commissioning readiness (Pre-Cx), an additional phase of QA/QC.

In a previous blog, we discussed QA/QC at the post-installation/pre-energization (Level 2) stage of construction. Pre-Cx involves validating that equipment and systems are working as designed and installed before the L3 acceptance testing and L4 commissioning processes. Pre-Cx may not be contractually specified and may or may not be budgeted. It is typically initiated and paid for by the General Contractor (GC), and the savings gained can often more than pay for the expense.

Construction schedules are always based on the project iron triangle of Time, Cost, and Quality. If your schedule is fixed, and high quality is required, then additional dollars are often necessary to obtain the desired project outcome. If you have a robust QA/QC program at L2, may not be needed, but most construction projects, particularly data centers, are so schedule-driven that quality is always in jeopardy. The best Pre-Cx team doesn’t follow a set process but rather responds to the individual needs of each project and client.

What Can Pre-Cx Do for My Project?

One of the functions of a robust Pre-Cx program involves combing through all the scheduling documents, timelines, and commissioning scripts to look for gaps and errors. Projects often have generic schedules and scripts applied; a Pre-Cx team can review these documents, customize them for a site’s specific needs, and catch errors. At one site, we identified a specification that called for a failure flag at a 15-degree deviation during the load bank infrared while the correct failure mark was a 15-percent deviation. After identifying the issue, we worked with the GC to revise the project specification. Another function of a Pre-Cx team can include setting up power quality metering during programmable relay testing, as many GCs don’t know how or what data to capture.

“Good commissioning readiness involves meeting with the owner’s team and the GC to identify and tailor the process to the needs of each project.” Ethan Poole, HP&D Project Executive

In another example, a large hyperscale client has specifications that reference linked documents that are updated by different groups within the company. Over time, these documents directly contradicted one another but were still used in the same specifications. HP&D reviewed the documents during Pre-Cx, flagged the issues, and assisted in resolving the conflicts.

A skilled Pre-Cx team can identify logic issues in the schedule, such as Cx functions scheduled before power is available. During one project’s Pre-Cx timeline review, we recognized that the schedule called for electrical equipment to be ready one day, commissioning the next, and control power energization the day after. As control power was required for Cx, the existing plan, if not addressed ahead of time, would cause a delay. This issue may not seem like a big deal, but significant schedule slippage will happen if similar issues occur regularly.

Another area where Pre-Cx can assist is with task and prerequisite organization and validation.  Each critical infrastructure project includes several layers of construction, installation, startup, and commissioning activities, and each layer has prerequisites and processes.  For example, a simple bus row must be inspected onsite, installed by the contractor, inspected in its final location, tested, energized, integrated with the controls team, commissioned, and turned over.  If any of the myriad of documents or processes required in each step are missed, the process must begin again, affecting the schedule and the budget.

Pays for Itself

Equipment is always part of the critical path in a construction schedule. Having a knowledgeable Pre-Cx team perform a deep dive can go a long way toward keeping a project on schedule and on budget with quality intact. Pre-Cx may not be necessary if your project has robust MEP support, a site-specific schedule, and QA/QC built into the construction process. If any of these components is missing, Pre-Cx can be a valuable return on investment.