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Start-up and commissioning in a tight labour market

Published by , Digital Administrator
LNG Industry,

Decades ago, modular construction, a method used for project efficiency, became widely known in the US during World War II with shipbuilding construction. During this time, on average, ships required more than 1 million person-hours and nearly one year to build. Modular construction reduced labour hours and the building time to just over one month.

After World War II, this construction technique became more prevalent, and it was adopted by different industries and regions worldwide, providing many benefits to the execution of complex projects around the globe.

During the second wave of LNG liquefaction and export terminals in the US, many projects decided to use a modular approach, driven not only because of the benefits of reducing construction time, but also because of workforce shortage in a tight labour market.

Today, there are various approaches to managing and executing projects. Companies are likely able to reduce on-site personnel during the construction phase, but what about during start-up and commissioning?

Different from the construction phase, the skillset of personnel required during start-up and commissioning is much more specialised and, consequently, less available in terms of volume.

Accessibility to sites is another challenge. For example, projects located near the Gulf Coast consist of finding land with access to water rather than thinking about if there was enough lodge capability, good accessibility, or the distance to the nearest big city.

As well as the evolution of modular construction, commissioning services have evolved from a traditional way, with similar benefits and trying to address the same challenges.

Launched during the last decade and boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the restrictions of external personnel having access to sites, digitalisation has brought new ways of executing things and being able to address the same challenges in different ways. This includes workload transparency, personnel efficiency in the field, and more assertive ways to prevent or address findings and issues during the commissioning process.

Endress+Hauser’s Field Xpert can be linked directly to Netilion, the company’s IIoT ecosystem. The handheld tablet allows users to digitally track progress on off-site or on-site project services, pre-commissioning checklists, non-conformance tracking, commissioning and more.

Traditionally, start-up and commissioning technicians use around 15% of their productive time performing administrative activities like transferring data gathered from the field into electronic format, writing progress reports, work order creation, etc. Using digital tools such as tablets, specialised software, the internet and web services, start-up and commissioning service technicians’ productivity can be positively impacted by streamlining and automating some of these activities and having access to the right information at the right time intuitively. An efficient commissioning process always requires three elements: the right expertise, the right tools and access to the correct information. If one is missing, the commissioning process will be impacted.

While this concept applies to other disciplines as well, practical examples regarding the automation scope of supply include:

The right expertise

If a lack of expertise in terms of quality or quantity is an issue, the following options could be applicable to address the challenge:

  • Pre-commissioning.
  • Tailor-made training programmes.
  • Highly skilled commissioning crew supervisors.
  • Remote support.

The commissioning process requires access to a library of information and product status, smart commissioning capabilities and an analytical overview of the installed base.


Having devices and instrumentation pre-checked and preconfigured by highly skilled personnel before it is shipped and installed in the field allows the identification of more than 80% of issues beforehand. At the same time, because the pre-commissioning is performed in a lab/factory environment, the person-hours required for this activity are usually 30% less than when performed in the field.

Tailor-made training programmes

If local personnel and technicians need support developing their skill sets, tailor-made training programs could be the right solution for them and the project they are executing. Training courses are developed to meet specific needs and the required skillsets for the activities, devices, or equipment that are part of the project scope. Trainings have demonstrated how to help many companies obtain the required quantity and quality of labour in a short period. If this is the route a company decides to take, highly skilled commissioning crew supervisors are highly recommended.

Highly skilled commissioning crew supervisors

Even with well-skilled and trained labour, a tenured technician’s experience and knowledge in performing commissioning in the field and the lessons they have learned over time are irreplaceable. This is why having ‘troubleshooting commissioning supervisors’ is highly suggested. These persons will be the second layer of scalation and support for the commissioning crew to ensure efficiency and knowledge transfer.

Remote support

The next challenge during the commissioning process is when there is not a technician onsite who is able to resolve an issue. If a technician is not able to solve the issue, then it needs to be escalated. However, this involves additional cost, potential slower response time and project delays. Because of digitalisation, when a third level of escalation is needed today, the challenge can be resolved in an efficient and cost-effective way with almost immediate response time. Digitalisation works by using the right tools and resources.

The site could consider a SOS remote support kit, a box with specialised tools such as handhelds, communication protocol adapters, wearable glasses, and a 4G modem. This kit will allow the on-site team to connect with the manufacturer’s remote support service and access the highest level of support 24/7 in real time. The manufacturer service support techs will have direct access to the field device’s information and visual access to them through the wearables. This will allow the service techs to remotely troubleshoot the problem or guide the local commissioning crew to get it solved.

Streamline commissioning execution monitoring

Linking field activities with a real-time progress report dashboard is possible nowadays. Using the latest state-of-the-art handhelds in the field improves personnel productivity. It allows data to be collected and updated in real-time and reported into dashboards so that commissioning execution management can track the progress of field activities.

New or solved issues can also be reported and updated in real time in the system, including their criticality and evidence, like pictures or videos. They can be shown in a dashboard or a list allowing management and supervisors to identify the problem, read the related comments and take immediate actions to address it if needed. This avoids waiting for the site technician to return in the evening and report it manually, directly impacting the site workflow efficiency.

Another critical element of digital tools in the field is allowing field technicians access to crucial information like work orders assigned to them, device data sheets, configuration reports, configuration files, P&IDs and product manuals from anywhere on the site. This directly impacts the field technicians’ productivity and project execution cost control and execution time.

Digital commissioning strategies may not be prevalent or widely favoured yet, like modularisation decades ago. But this could be an innovative way to reduce the risk of delays during project start-ups and commissioning. No matter the size of a project, digital commissioning strategies could be applied or used for efficiency gains.

A remote support kit allows users to access a real-time progress report dashboard to enhance commissioning execution management.

Digitalisation is a megatrend that impacts every aspect of our lives and it can be leveraged in different ways. As with any other digital tool, it is crucial to consider its cybersecurity aspects. Due to this reason, it is essential to partner with companies that develop solutions and consider cybersecurity best practices in the design and operation of their digital tools, software, modems, firewalls, edge devices, and remote login services to ensure all risks are being appropriately addressed from start to finish.

In summary, there is a technical skills gap that remains in the industry when it comes to start-up and commissioning services. To support these industry challenges, manufacturers are coming up with out of the box solutions which can be used to drive efficiency, control costs and meet project schedules.

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