Project Practitioners > Not All Projects Are Sunshine & Rainbows - Part I

Not All Projects Are Sunshine & Rainbows - Part I

By Morley Selver, P.Eng IPMA B

I would hazard a guess that all projects have something go wrong that takes time, money, and effort to sort out. This is how we, as project managers, gain experience and knowledge. In fact, when you look at all your company procedures and practices, you need to realize that they are the result of someone trying to solve a problem. Some problems you can laugh at and others are serious issues. Following are a couple of  problems I had on different projects. 

The Diesel Generators

Figure-1Figure 1 is a picture of a diesel generator. We purchased fourteen of them of three different sizes. We purchased them from the local dealer whom the Owner had worked with before. Everything was going smoothly until we wanted to startup the first of the units. When we approached procurement about setting up a maintenance contract, we were told the local dealer was no longer allowed on site. What had happened, was the local dealer had been bought out by another company.

The local dealer had a safety record that met the Owner’s requirements, however the company that bought them out did not have a safety record that met the Owner’s requirements. This new safety record applied to the local dealer. Therefore the local dealer was no longer allowed on site. We needed a dealer at startup to ensure the warranty so we had to find another dealer who could do the start ups for us. It took us about three weeks to get another dealer on site to do the startup. Fortunately for us, schedule was not a driving factor and we had time to search for an alternative. As a project manager should try to keep up to date on current news, be reading business news, and looking for things that could affect your project.  

Of the fourteen diesel generators we purchased, ten were the same size. Now you would have thought that all ten diesels would be wired the same. However, as we found out, even though we had IFC drawings indicating how they were supposed to wired, four of the diesels were wired slightly different. The diesel engine alarms were wired to different terminals on the terminal blocks, not as shown on their drawings. All ten were built in the same plant so how we ended up with different wiring on some I don’t know. We found this out at startup. The startup engineer had to go into the units, find out what was done, then try to figure out how to correct it. Was it as simple as moving wires in the diesel or not? In the end we changed how the alarm output signal behaved as it was easier than trying to rewire the diesel engine. As a project manager you should do everything by the book. Tell/show the vendor what you need before you purchase. Have qualified personnel review specifications, drawings, and purchase orders, take no chances and make sure you are in the right. You never know when something like this will come up. In this case, we did everything right and it was up to the vendor to correct his mistake.

The Pulp Washer

Some of you may be young to know, but in the early 90’s Autocad took off in the design world. Up to then everything was designed and drawn by hand. Companies thought Autocad  was the best thing since sliced bread and flocked to it as the next great money saving device. They wanted everyone to use Autocad, and to this day, try to get the old timers to use Autocad. A lot of the older designers could not make the change and quit the business. This left a big hole in the design departments that could not be filed by new designers working on Autocad. 

We were building a new plant and had purchased a large amount of equipment from a leading equipment manufacturer in Europe. One piece of equipment we bought was a pulp washer, (Figure 2). This is basically a big drum rotating in a vat of water. The drum consists of a framework covered by a fine mesh screen. Unwashed pulp is dropped into a trough on one side of the washer and as the drum rotates it picks up pulp which is washed as it goes around. When it gets to the other side, there is a doctor blade that peels the pulp off the wire mesh screen. Because of the chemicals involved all the metal is stainless steel.

So here we were trying to start up this piece of equipment. We got everything aligned, filled the vat with water and ran it. It would run for a bit then the doctor blade would cut into the wire and ruin it. These wires were worth several thousand dollars apiece. The vendor startup engineer couldn’t figure out what was wrong. 

Figure-2One day while they were working on the unit I was poking around at the foundation and I noticed that the bottom flange of the vat had moved away from the grout. The grout didn’t shrink, the vat had moved! After discussing this with the startup engineer, the vendor brought in some designers from Europe and discovered that in the design, they had left off the vat stiffing steel. They then had to design the stiffeners and install them in the field, which was not an easy task. Once installed the equipment worked okay. 

Another issue we had with them, which was so simple that they should not have done it was in the stainless steel (SS) fabrication. When fabricating the SS it should not be in a mild steel shop as the mild steel flecks get into the SS and you end up with rust spots in the stainless. Well, they didn’t do this so all the SS equipment looked like it had freckles. Some of the equipment was just too big to send back to a shop so the vendor had to bring out people to grind out the contamination in the field. These design errors, plus other ones, caused the vendor to loose a lot of money on the project. For them it was not  sunshine and rainbows. To me, there problems were caused by their rush to get into Autocad and get rid of their experienced designers. Even today, as a project manager you should be aware of who is doing the deign on your projects and what type of experience they have.  

Continued in Part II

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