Optimizing Output: Effective Equipment Commissioning

A commissioning plan, when created at the start of a project, can mean the difference between an on—time, on—budget startup and one that fails to meet expectations. Far from being the last consideration during the startup of a manufacturing line, commissioning should be a top priority from the very first days of design.

A commissioning plan, when created at the start of a project, can mean the difference between an on—time, on—budget startup and one that fails to meet expectations. Far from being the last consideration during the startup of a manufacturing line, commissioning should be a top priority from the very first days of design. A commissioning plan, when created at the start of a project, can mean the difference between an on—time, on—budget startup and one that fails to meet expectations. From equipment design and procurement to startup and performance testing, a comprehensive commissioning plan allows a food manufacturing company to plan, track and evaluate its project from concept to completion.

Concept phase — scope, schedule & budget

In the concept phase, strategic goals for the company or plant are translated into project requirements and more specifically, equipment requirements. These requirements will form the basis for a project scope, schedule and budget. The scope defines the success criteria for the project, sets the boundaries for how the equipment will operate, and determines who will be responsible for equipment commissioning.

The overall schedule will be dictated by equipment lead time and installation. If existing equipment is in place, a replacement plan or interruption plan will need to be developed that minimizes plant operational impact. Lastly, the commissioning budget will be developed based upon these major factors:

  • Equipment ramp—up schedule;
  • Required vendor support;
  • Required engineering and project management support;
  • Required startup materials; and
  • Waste material handling

Equipment selection phase

During the equipment selection phase of a project, overall performance requirements identified in the concept phase are translated into equipment specifications. The specifications are then bid to equipment suppliers. This phase provides an opportunity to compare numbers from different equipment vendors and identify specific requirements necessary to the successful startup of the equipment.

Critical tasks include:

  • Creating equipment specifications unique to the product and project;
  • Deciding on how the equipment is to be tested for functionality;
  • Creating a protocol to follow during the factory acceptance test (FAT); and
  • Deciding how the equipment is to be performance tested — both individually and as part of the line — and creating a protocol for testing.



Deciding which equipment to purchase should not be based solely on the advertised performance numbers but on the availability and quality of the vendors' customer service and technical support. A good equipment vendor should work with the engineer to develop a systems solution unique to the project, and will make technical support representatives available for later phases of the project.

Equipment procurement phase

During this phase, equipment is procured and contractual parameters for the purchase are finalized. Scope, schedule and budget are reviewed at this time to make sure the equipment selections encompass all the requirements of the overall program.

Factors to consider during this phase are:

  • What is the lead—time when purchasing equipment?
  • Have contractual parameters been defined and accepted by both parties and the payment schedule determined based upon equipment delivery and performance milestones?
  • Have equipment design milestones been finalized for submittal review?
  • Are preliminary shipping schedules, including special shipping arrangements, in place?
  • Have estimated ramp up and performance targets been set?

Factory acceptance testing (off—site commissioning)

Prior to the equipment ship—date, the commissioning team should schedule an FAT. During an FAT, an equipment vendor will set up the piece or pieces of equipment that were purchased for testing by the commissioning team. This testing will be conducted at the equipment manufacturing site prior to shipment of the equipment to the owner's site. Testing at this phase of the project is essential to ensure that equipment is being built to project specifications and to identify any issues that might hinder a smooth and successful startup.

The FAT should be performed in an area set up by the equipment vendor to closely simulate the environment where the equipment will ultimately be used. For packaging equipment, the test system should include infeed and outfeed equipment similar to that designed for the project and the test should be performed using samples of the same raw goods that will be used in the machine during production. These raw goods must be provided to the equipment supplier in advance of the FAT and be deemed acceptable by both the supplier and the owner.

Delivery & installation phase

On—time delivery of equipment is essential to maintaining a project schedule. If the equipment is coming from an international supplier, it's important to have awareness of customs procedures involving imported equipment and contingency planning. Equipment delivery must be coordinated with on—site personnel so the equipment can be efficiently transferred from delivery vehicle to the final layout location within the manufacturing facility.

The installation contractor responsible for setting and assembling the equipment should be skilled and experienced with that specific equipment. The equipment supplier should also be asked to provide some measure of installation oversight. This can range from a two—day audit to verify correct equipment installation to full installation by the equipment supplier's technicians. The installation audit, whatever its duration, should have the same scope:

  • Identify any issues that could undermine the startup of the equipment; and
  • Develop a correction plan that will address issues before it's critical that the equipment be operational.



Correcting any problems before the startup deadline will allow the team to be focused on getting the equipment up to the required operational performance levels. Many issues are simple to correct if caught before startup, but would cause unacceptable delay if left unchecked. Lack of maintenance manuals or spare parts might not be an obvious priority during initial installation, but can become important very quickly during startup. Attention to details during this crucial phase helps ensure a smooth startup.

On—site commissioning

Vendor support during startup is absolutely essential and it is important to plan in advance with the vendor. Because many vendors have limited on—site support staff, it's important to provide the vendor with a clear schedule of the startup line so they can determine necessary staff.

Arranging to have all the vendor representatives onsite at the correct time is only part of the equation. The commissioning team must also create a clear startup sequence and communicate this plan to all personnel. Adaptability is a must, as any plan will change, however thorough. "Winging it" at this stage is dangerous and could be devastating to both schedule and budget.

The manufacturing change has been designed; the equipment specified, purchased, installed and started up. The careful planning put into the project so far has all led up to this: the test to see if the equipment is performing to expectations. The protocols created during the design phase of the project are now implemented to test each piece of equipment in the line individually and as a complete system. The commissioning team will have three main considerations during this phase:

  1. Target performance criteria,
  2. Testing methodology, and
  3. Test duration.

A performance target can involve anything from maximum machine throughput speed to average percent efficiency and up—time or any combination of criteria vital to the production operation.

The testing methodology can involve any number of electronic or manual data collection techniques. The objective is to be unbiased, but interpretation will be a part of any manual data collection test. When tracking downtime on a piece of equipment to analyze efficiency, electronic data collection can be used to track when the equipment is faulted, but the reason for the fault is also important. For example, a "Lack of Product" fault will register as downtime, but can be discounted by the testing methodology for individual machine efficiency because the fault was neither caused by nor internal to the machine.

The final consideration is test duration. This can be adjusted based on the number of analyzed equipment centers within the manufacturing line. Be sure to include enough time in the commissioning test to collect operating data that represents an average of the manufacturing line's performance.

If completed carefully, a thorough, comprehensive approach to commissioning will result in equipment performance that meets your project expectations. It's very important to have a well—developed plan from concept to on—site commissioning. The plan needs to be flexible and robust, based on an understanding of the risks involved, and must include mitigation strategies to address issues without significant delay.

Lloyd Snyder leads Woodard & Curran's beverage industry practice, and Joshua Ayers is an engineer specializing in manufacturing process design. For more information on the firm: www.woodardcurran.com.

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