gerund or present participle: commissioning
Bring (something newly produced, such as a factory or machine) into working condition.
The dictionary definition of 'commissioning' is clear. But it hides a much more nuanced discussion around what is or isn't commissioning. There are many words one can use to describe us engineers, but surely pedantic has to top that list.
If you’re serious about your energy project, you’ll want to see it come to an end. The layperson will even know right away what you mean when you say you're looking forward to your project being 'commissioned'. But in the context of 'insiders' on clean energy or engineering projects, you could ask a dozen people, and you’re likely to get two dozen answers as to what it really entails.
What the specific tasks and objectives of the process are, and who is responsible for them are as varied as the projects and personalities involved.
My broad experience has seen me at the pointy end of commissioning for projects in the clean energy, hydropower, water supply, and building sectors, so I’ve noticed a big divergence around definitions.
Let’s look at a widely recognised example from ASHRAE Standard 202 (Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems):
The process focuses on verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.
So far, so good.
The definition is clear. Let’s call this the ‘broad definition’ of commissioning.
Now, let’s take a look at another definition, this one approximated from a client specification on a recent project in the hydropower industry (with some creative rewording to protect confidentiality):
The process of testing and starting the system to operate under normal and anticipated anomalous or emergency conditions.
This second definition is much more narrow in scope (let’s call it the ‘narrow definition’ of commissioning). Unlike the broad definition, it excludes the planning, design, installation, and maintenance phases of the project.
The narrow definition focuses only on the testing and commencement of operation. This is not to say that no-one is checking to make sure that the system is planned, designed, installed, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements. The narrow definition just says that these are not considered part of the commissioning process.
It bears mentioning that my experience (even in the building industry) is that most people would consider the narrow definition to be closer to everyday practice and experience.
But the boundaries get even more fuzzy.
As a specific example, a previous client of mine had engaged me to oversee the commissioning of their facility. One of our many discussions was regarding some of the electrical testing - specifically instrument loop checks - and whether this should be considered the first stage of the commissioning process, or the final stage of the installation process (incidentally, it's more typically considered part of the installation phase). Semantics maybe, but the distinction is important. If part of the installation process, such tests fall under the responsibility of the electrical contractor, but if we considered them part of the commissioning process, they would need to be incorporated into the oversight and documentation I was developing in the commissioning plan for the facility.
The specific answer to what is or isn’t part of the commissioning process is not important. What is critical is to make sure it’s clear for everyone on every project who is responsible for which task, and who is verifying conformance of the completed task with the project's objectives. Each project will have different requirements, so the right balance will not be the same every time.
But for goodness sake, don’t allow confusion around definitions let anything fall through the cracks because everyone thought it was someone else’s responsibility. That is precisely the kind of mistake that a well-designed commissioning process is intended to avoid.