Over the past 30 years, one of the most important keys to IMS’ success has been the way we execute our projects, and guess what? It still is today! As IMS was starting out, we landed an order with a major steel producer that required us to follow their formal project execution standards. Rather than simply “check the boxes”, IMS listened and took those requirements seriously. During the process, we quickly recognized its value and adopted the methodology as our own way of delivering projects. It did not take long for IMS to craft and fine tune these project execution principles into our own set of standard practices.
The basics of our execution process starts out similarly to most traditional approaches and includes the following steps: define, document, execute, test, train, and commission. Where we differ is that the attention we place on system function, is the driver for everything we do!
We define the functional requirements early in the process as part of the operational specification and engage the operators in its development, and its review. This document then serves as the foundation of what we deliver, and the programming is developed around it. The test plans we write and execute are simply the functions we have defined in a procedural format. The test plans in turn, drive our training. The final stage in our process is commissioning and that covers additional testing associated with physical site construction. But at its root, it is a reverification of the functionality tested during the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT).
Because we keep the focus on the intended functionality of the system, we can consistently deliver to our customer’s expectations on quality. The early focus on function allows us to operate mostly on the left side of the cost-influence curve.
The left side of the graph represents where we have the ability to influence a project’s success; this is where project modification costs are minimal. Over time, the ability to influence the project goes down dramatically while modification costs increase sharply. We do not proceed with detailed design and manufacturing until the functional details are understood and agreed upon. This keeps the changes in the documentation phase and avoids changes after the equipment is built. After all, changes to documents cost very little, where reworking an operator desk after it has been built costs much more. Changes on the right side of the graph not only have an impact on cost, but on the project schedule as well.
So, how do we actually go about it?
Definition begins at project proposal preparation and continues through completion of all specification submittals. During the project proposal phase, the work is defined to a level of detail sufficient enough to perform cost and schedule estimation. During the past few decades, the owner specification and supplier proposal processes have changed. In the past, it was common for an owner to provide a detailed specification to potential suppliers in the RFQ process, recently it is more common for the owner specification to be very general in the RFQ description, with the detailed scope of supply left up to the bidders. Here is where IMS’ extensive experience in specialized automation systems and our network of similarly experienced sub-suppliers enables efficient creation of reliable estimates.
After contract award, the formal specification process is initiated, building on what has been defined in the proposal. The entirety of the specification is contained in multiple volumes and documents which are organized on a project basis depending on the project size and complexity. Below is a description of the full project documentation set:
IMS strives to create a specification set that can be reviewed with the owner’s team to whatever level of detail desired and is then used by the IMS team to construct the system. The specification set defines how the system will be constructed leaving minimal decision making to be done during the actual build.
The testing phase of project execution is an opportunity where project risk can be reduced significantly. Through rigorous testing, the system can be verified such that site commission work is minimized and risk is limited to only those items that cannot be tested prior to commissioning. Finding and fixing bugs or operational issues during testing at the factory is significantly less expensive and stressful than finding issues during site commissioning. For this reason, IMS performs extensive testing with and without the customer present. The testing we do before the customer arrives includes: power on, communications, point by point I/O testing, etc. The testing we do with our customer present relies on all of the previous tasks to be completed correctly therefore it focuses on verifying system fidelity with the functional goals defined, and refined, in the earlier project stages. For more information on our Factory Acceptance Testing approach .
Training takes place before and after equipment installation and commissioning, both at IMS’ facility and on-site. Because of the efforts we put into our simulation and testing, our systems feel and behave like live systems, complete with pushbutton stations, desks, and HMI for operator interfacing. This provides the first good opportunity for hands on, virtual training. Opportunities for continued training are available during commissioning as well. However, it is IMS’ experience that the most efficient training for most projects is “hands-on,” on plant floors and control rooms.
Our commissioning plans are crafted to make sure the installation work is completed and is correct. This typically involves power to the cabinets, communications, field device wiring, etc. Once those checks are complete, the commissioning plan becomes a reverification of the functions tested at the Factory Acceptance Test.
By adhering to the principles above, IMS has earned a reputation for being able to consistently deliver predictable project quality, cost, and schedule results.