Without extensive prior documentation, there’s no way to know what obstacles may arise in complex retrofit projects. Salas O’Brien’s automation and controls team knows this better than most, and our insight and experience can help you plan for the best and prepare for the worst in your upcoming retrofit projects.
In this short interview, automation and controls manager Jeremy Ahijevych gives perspective and tips from over 18 years in the industry.
In your experience, what factors contribute most to unexpected obstacles in the design process?
Retrofits typically present more obstacles than other projects because you don’t always have a complete or accurate picture of what you’re dealing with. Drawings tend to be out-of-date, so right from the start we oftentimes have to begin with incomplete information. We do field work as much as we can to try to mitigate those risks ahead of time, but it’s not foolproof. Some things you just won’t know until you tear out the equipment.
Can you give any examples?
A great example is one project where we were replacing a motor control center (MCC) but had to keep some equipment running while doing so. During the process of phasing out the existing MCC, we removed most of the existing wiring and found that some of it was not landing on terminals, as expected, but instead installed straight through the MCC. Unfortunately, we still had to remove the MCC but keep the wiring in place, and we didn’t want to cut the new piece of equipment just to accommodate this issue. To make it work, we had to improvise a temporary solution that would allow room for the existing wire to not interfere with the new MCC while we replaced the existing one. Fortunately, in the end, we were able to design this solution without adding to the overall cost for our clients—but not all projects work out as smoothly.
Conversely, we had a perfect scenario on a project to replace of a large number of relays controlling a coal handling conveying system with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). The plant decided to spend about a month up front on field investigation to verify and update their drawings to reflect reality. Since this project had a tight schedule for taking out the relays, we really couldn’t afford any surprises. The up-front preparation helped minimize risks and saved the client time and money. It all comes down to having good drawings and knowing what exists.
What advice would you give a client for a successful project, despite potential obstacles?
We all know the further along in the design, the more costly changes are. Doing your due diligence up front—properly documenting and maintaining drawings, having an accurate and complete understanding of the current situation, establishing and committing to a realistic schedule—will lower your risk, keep costs down, and help team members hold each other accountable. Communication is paramount through the entire design process to mitigate design changes mid-stream due to misunderstandings.
Salas O’Brien’s seasoned team is a nationwide resource for clients dealing with unexpected obstacles in both new and retrofit projects. We have the insight from decades of experience to adapt and overcome your project’s challenges while balancing the unique design, budget, and scheduling goals to achieve the best possible results.