Startup

Vision. In the business world, managers are encouraged to visualize what their business will become and then generate a "road map" to get there. We talked about the need for vision in our remarks on project management. Engineers and architects have used vision for centuries in designing and building their projects. In startup, vision is needed to transform the project, basically steel and concrete, into the manufacturing process originally desired.

It is common in an industrial environment for a project team, as described in the project management section of this site, to design and build a facility and another team comprised of operating personnel to startup and operate the facility. Operating personnel, and in particular chemical engineers usually manage startup. Hopefully we can help you "see" your startup and offer advice on the the tools and methods available to help you get there. If you opt to have your startup professionally managed, you may be able to use some of the following remarks to help understand and oversee the progress. In general, here's the way we would approach startup of a major facility.

  1. Teams. During startup, due to the critical need for communication and coordination, we have found the establishment of teams with specific roles to be necessary during startup. In our opinion, a highly effective approach to team resources is as follows:
    • The project team and the construction team. We have described these teams in the project management section of this site. In a large complex, construction may still be proceeding in some areas and startup beginning in other areas. Some members of these teams are usually retained on site during the early phases of startup to make any changes discovered to be necessary by the startup team.
    • The startup-manufacturing team. This team, drawn from operating forces, is usually comprised of product managers, chemists, engineers, supervisors, and safety personnel that work with the project engineer during design and construction. They audit the construction against the design, conduct operator and laboratory technician training, perform plant start-up and demonstration, and then go on to be the process, quality, and production leaders.
    • The maintenance team. This team, drawn from operating forces, is usually comprised of engineers and supervisors that work with the construction manager during latter stages of construction, are active in commissioning of equipment and control programming, support operations during start-up and demonstration, and then go on to be maintenance leaders.
  2. Overall startup plan. A lot of time and attention should be devoted to making the startup plan. The plan has to consider the start up of utilities, processes that could generate an early revenue, isolation of ongoing construction areas and startup areas including access and traffic control, training, safety, and security. We recommend that the plan be developed in stages, each stage detailing work identified in the previous stage. Because each startup is unique we won't try to develop a comprehensive example. But we can offer a few remarks:
    • Determine what order the areas should be started. It may make sense to start the firewater distribution first followed by wastewater collection and treatment, utilities, and raw material storage before starting the actual manufacturing areas.
    • Next each area should be divided into their sub areas and the sequence of starting these sub areas determined.
    • Assign a reasonable duration for each task and assign a responsible party.
    • Use your project management tools and generate a network diagram, Gantt chart, and critical path so the plan can be distributed and discussed.
  3. Area startup plans, These plans need to be done in detail. We consider water batching the first major milestone and the introduction of raw material as the second major milestone. Some of the typical paths converging on water batching are:
    • Maintenance training, commissioning of equipment, hydrostatic testing, flushing and draining.
    • Initial operating procedures, and operator classroom training
    • Safety review and final area walk down
    • Instrument calibration, control loop setting, and control programming
    • Clean up
  4. Safety and security, Some of these items may have been completed earlier or are already in place.
    • Fire fighting and fire brigade training
    • Equipment decontamination for hot work
    • Hazardous material teams
    • Procedures and training on lockout, tag out, confined space entry, emergency breathing, and personnel rescue.
  5. Outside services
    • On call hazardous material, fire fighting, and emergency medical.
    • Technical services such as corrosion control and water treatment.
    • Operating supplies, hoses, clamps, and fittings.
    • Temporary technical personnel
    • Environmental testing laboratories
    • Research testing laboratories to handle investigations beyond the scope of the in house laboratories.
  6. Agency interface
    • Chemical inventory report filing.
    • Uncontrolled release reporting requirement
    • Occupational safety reporting
  7. Quality training and quality plan
    • Develop the internal quality plan which documents the quality parameters for each flow stream and test used to document quality.
    • Develop the quality control procedures used in to verify quality.
    • Conduct technician training to ensure each shift can provide the required level of support.
  8. Water batching. We won't try to describe water batching in detail. The objective in not pumping water. The objectives are operator training, operating procedure validation, and factory shakedown. It needs to be recognized that the startup team is performing operations never performed before. If there were a good a time and place for a machine, control loop, or operator to fail it is during water batching. Supervisors should promote a positive atmosphere where operator failures are allowed and used as a learning event. We might use the following general methods:
    • Walk through requiring operators to find, name, touch and state the purpose of each piece of equipment and major control item.
    • Walk through requiring the operators to trace each process system (such as cooling water, steam, solvent, green product, and similar). Every operator should be able to touch and name the isolation valves for each system.
    • Walk through requiring the operators to find, name, touch, and state the purpose of the motor starters and disconnects, the individual machinery stop-start stations, emergency power generators, and emergency lights.
    • Walk through requiring the operators to find, name, touch, and state the purpose of the fire system activation, pull stations, deluge valves, fire hoses, fire extinguishers, and emergency exits.
    • The operators and supervisors, using the operating procedures, to the extent possible, fill the systems with water and look for leaks.
    • The operators and supervisors, using the operating procedures, to the extent possible, transfer water through the process, operate the control valves, and look for leaks or abnormalities in the machinery and controls.
    • The operators and supervisors, using the operating procedures, to the extent possible, transfer water through the process, heating and cooling to simulate operation, operate the control valves, and look for leaks or abnormalities in the machinery and controls.
  9. Raw materials and fuels. Once the areas are ready to receive raw materials or fuels, materials can be received and stored, provided:
    • Access to the area is suitably controlled to prevent untrained personnel and unauthorized vehicles from entering
    • The system is checked out and water batched to the extent possible.
    • Safety systems are activated
    • Personnel are trained in handling the materials
    • The liquid systems are isolated from the rest of the operation via tag outs and valve locks, blind flanges, or removed piping spool pieces.
  10. Startup. We can't describe how your startup should be performed. Every startup is unique. We can offer some overall remarks:
    • Start slow and controlled. If the operation can be run on day shift only and at reduced rate, then start up on day shift at reduce rate.
    • You have done your best at training, but now that operation has begun the entire complex is in a learning curve.
    • Avoid the urge to increase rate until the laboratory is able to support full rate operations. Avoid the urge increase rate until you are sure that the process in well enough controlled to be safely increased.
  11. Blame. If it is in your culture to blame someone for startup problems, blame the project manager. By this time she is probably on her way to new project anyway.

We wish you patience, planning, wisdom, and good fortune during your startup. If you are considering calling on a resource for this venture, consider a professional chemical engineer.