Water Design-Build Council Blog

Oh, the Benefits of Collaborative Startup and Commissioning

Posted by Bob Dudley, PE, Sr. Vice President, OBG on Fri, May 04, 2018 @ 02:30 PM

splashing-splash-aqua-water-67843.jpegThe power of the collaborative characteristics in design-build delivery is never more evident than during the startup and commissioning phases of a project. Raise your hand if you can share a story about a startup that went wrong in a design-bid-build (DBB) contract — I bet most of you have your hands up!

The specifications did not cover all of the equipment and coordination. The control systems integrator (CSI) fell down on the job. The general contractor (GC) was not properly involved. The owner’s existing equipment was not properly shown on the drawings. And the list goes on.

Having the engineer who designs the system, the CSI who provides and programs the equipment, the electrician who installs the wiring, the operators who start up the facility, and the GC all on the same team is quite powerful. Startup and commissioning is not an afterthought in the specifications, but instead, an essential thread in the project dialogue from the outset. In this approach, the plan is developed, discussed, and initially formulated during the bidding process (both fixed-price and progressive) and refined as the project progresses. 

Another key benefit of collaborative design-build delivery is the involvement of the owner’s operations staff throughout the process. In a DBB scenario, only so much can be developed between the engineer and owner related to startup and commissioning. However, it becomes a really powerful team when all of the parties who will be involved in the facility can collaborate on how the facility will be started up and commissioned.

An example can be seen through a recent water booster pumping station project that was secured through collaborative delivery. The station was boosting water from one pressure zone to another and utilized the existing transmission/distribution system for suction. As the station was going through the startup and commissioning phase, the pumps kept tripping after a short run time. The problem was diagnosed to the suction pressure sensors that tripped the pumps on low suction pressure.

Can you picture how this would have played out in a DBB scenario? The engineer would frantically check their design calculations to ensure they had specified the right pumps, and then consider it the GC’s problem. The GC would state that they bought what they were told to buy. The owner would look to the CM to make it work, and the CM would start to research who should make it work. The lines would quickly be drawn.

In actuality, what happened was a very collaborative process that examined what was happening and why between the design builder and owner. The sensor itself was checked, separate pressure measurements were made to verify low pressure, and flow was checked to make sure the pump was delivering what it should be pumping. After testing in the station, the data pointed to the system itself, where the owner and design builder started checking valves. No one was entrenched, and the collective parties worked together. Within a day, the situation was corrected (partially closed valve in the suction side of the distribution system).

When you take this small example and apply it to an entire plant, you can easily see the benefits derived from the design-build delivery approach to starting up and commissioning a facility.


Topics: design-build, Collaborative Project Delivery