How to successfuly complete an engineering project
Based on one of our consultant’s experiences, it is important to have the following to achieve a successful engineering project:
- A clearly defined scope
- Representable acceptance tests
- And finally the handover from the engineering department to the customer, usually a production department
Context of the project
Our consultant’s project started during the commissioning and handover phase of a Filling Line using pilot equipment for one of our clients in the pharmaceutical industry.
Unfortunately, he did not consider this project as a successful engineering project because:
- they were over budget
- and the handover was overdue.
Furthermore, they were unable to reach the production targets the line was designed for, but this can eventually be fixed with optimization projects. As he learned more about the preceding phases of the project he began to understand why and how things went wrong. In the following paragraphs he will give his opinion on the problems that occurred and suggest a solution to operate a successful engineering project.
The suggested solutions for a succesful engineering project
Use novel technology
Starting out, they deliberately decided to use novel technology. Using new technology is risky because there is no guarantee that the technology is commercially viable. On the other hand, it can be a risk worth taking if the technology has more potential than the current market technology, which is true in this case. The company could afford to take this risk, because the rest of the company is more than profitable enough to compensate for this risk.
The project was initiated as a joint venture and will result in a non-profit production line. Because of the joint venture, the project is much more difficult to abandon when things go wrong due to added contractual agreements of the partnership. Also, when there are setbacks and you have limited resources to invest, it does not make sense to invest in a non-profit as opposed to high(er) ROI projects.
Factory acceptance test (FAT)
They were unable to have a factory acceptance test (FAT) with conditions comparable to their production environment and therefore should have been cautious. During a FAT you visit the manufacturer, at their factory, and test the equipment they made according to your specifications. A FAT is an important milestone in a project because afterwards you decide if you are content with the equipment and move it to your site, or if you are not satisfied, then, the manufacturer needs to make adjustments.
Afterwards another FAT has to take place until the equipment complies with the required specifications. Another concern with using novel technologies is that there are few manufacturers able to produce what you need and that these manufacturers typically only specialize in related equipment.
In this case there was only one manufacturer and, because they needed a complete Filling Line, they also required equipment from other manufacturers. Eventually there were 5 parties involved, including them. In situations like this it is nearly impossible to have an representable FAT, because you are unable to test a complete Filling Line, consisting of machines from different manufacturers, at the factory of one manufacturer.
Site acceptance test (SAT)
The next phase in the realization of a succesful engineering project is usually the site acceptance test (SAT), in which the equipment is brought to you, the customer, and again tested, on site, to see if it still complies with the required specifications. The SAT is important because you are testing the equipment in less favorable conditions, from the point of view of the manufacturer, and you get a better representation of its performance during production.
After the SAT comes the commissioning. Commissioning for this project also included (line) integration; integrating the different machines into one Filling Line and integrating the Filling Line into their network.
Most of the problems they encountered during the commissioning result from having 4 manufacturers and suppliers involved in one production line. The reason for this is that changes in one system have unforeseen effects on the other systems. Also, suppliers tend to blame each other instead of taking accountability for the problems. Making progress at these times almost always involves a compromise.
A summary of our lessons learned for a succesful engineering project
- Use proven technology if you cannot afford additional/unforeseen risks with novel technology.
- Try to use as few suppliers/manufacturers as possible when engineering a production line.
- If you don’t have another option, make one of the manufacturers responsible for the integration of the systems.