Cut Out Costly Construction Disruptions

Apply these simple approaches to your next facility expansion project to avoid disrupting your business.

Why would you expand an existing facility instead of building one from the ground up? For starters, the price tag on new construc­tion can far exceed a plant modi­fi­ca­tion. And, when your process equipment is functioning well, it may be more cost-effective to add onto your manu­fac­tur­ing capacity if you want to grow. But, in all cases, expansions of an active facility present a formidable risk: plant shutdowns.

Can you afford a shutdown? Most businesses cannot. They can mean the potential loss of millions of dollars, which is why side­step­ping shutdowns is a goal all companies share. If you are planning to expand at an active site, how can you do it without costly disruptions? CDM Smith principal project manager Joe Gidcumb, PE, offers his keys to success:

“Number one is scheduling,” he says. “You want to establish your project’s drop-dead date early—whether your schedule is driven by regulatory mandates or a corporate goal to double production—and work backward in planning how you will achieve it.” By beginning with the end in mind, says Gidcumb, you can more easily plan out project logistics and answer critical questions, such as: “What are the site processes that cannot be disrupted? Can construc­tion happen around or be integrated with planned outages? If not, identify what additional outages are necessary and develop outage scope and duration require­ments to be scheduled?”

Consistent commu­ni­ca­tion during all phases of a project is also paramount to success. “On our projects,” says Gidcumb, “we have daily plan-of-the-day meetings to coordinate with the owner’s repre­sen­ta­tive and the delivery team. We also use these meetings to look ahead at the schedule to make sure we’ve mitigated risks to upcoming tasks.” According to Gidcumb, strong dialogue during the process design phase can result in cost savings down the road. “Good commu­ni­ca­tion and an under­stand­ing of the facility might help you realize that putting equipment in one location could negatively affect utilities and shut down the site, whereas adjusting equipment orientation or relocating it a mere few feet in another direction could maintain the facility’s operations during construc­tion.”

If everyone understands how the facility functions and can come to the table feeling like a true partner, it will be easier to meet the owner's goals more efficiently and with fewer disruptions.
Joseph Gidcumb, PE, Principal Project Manager

Planning for these kinds of projects will require on-the-ground research and strong part­ner­ships. “If everyone understands how the facility functions and can come to the table feeling like a true partner, it will be easier to meet the owner’s goals more efficiently and with fewer disruptions.” According to Gidcumb, site walks are a vital first step in building a common under­stand­ing and fostering dialogue between the project owner and the rest of the team. They allow the design and construc­tion team to confirm if the facility matches existing site drawings and to see what facets of a facility’s operations might prove challenging to the project. In many cases, Gidcumb advises performing laser scanning at the site to get the most up-to-date picture of the existing layout to avoid inter­fer­ences.

The final important step is to identify key process systems, such as potable or service water, instrument or service air, steam supply and condensate drains, lube oil, dust collection systems and other common utility systems that any new equipment will use. “Knowing what these are will help you decide where to locate new systems, so they can be installed safely and with the least possible disruptions.” One instance where this proved important for Gidcumb was on an engineering, procurement and construc­tion (EPC) project for a power plant in the western United States. “Inside the ash trenches at the plant, the client had major utilities—electric, steam, fly and bottom ash and other miscel­la­neous utilities—that were critical to the power generation unit. We had to relocate them, but they couldn’t be taken offline for a long duration. After coor­di­nat­ing with the owner, we developed a utility relocation plan that required a 3-day outage window to take the unit offline, complete utility relocations, test the piping systems and complete the utility tie-ins. We constructed the relocated ash trench and utilities outboard of the existing operating system and then scheduled outage activities and crews to accomplish the remaining tie-in activities over the 3-day outage window by working 24 hours a day to cut out the existing pipes and make the new connections."

While industrial facilities all operate differently, these basic principles can be applied universally. “That’s my goal as a project manager,” says Gidcumb. “If you can figure out a way to minimize disruptions, accomplish the owner’s goals and possibly save costs, that’s what it’s all about.”

If you can figure out a way to minimize disruptions, accomplish the owner's goals and possibly save costs, that's what it's all about.
Joseph Gidcumb, PE Principal Project Manager
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