The Right Time For Test Procedure Development (Part 2)
Last month, this column began exploring the following three fundamental options for when the commissioning professional prepares customized functional performance test procedures for a project.
- During design
- Immediately following acceptance of all submittals
- As late as possible in the construction phase
We established that it is logistically unlikely to happen effectively in the design phase of a typical design-bid-build project. We also acknowledged that early construction phase test procedure development, after submittals are approved and the controls integration process is completed, is likely more efficient and effective than shoe-horning test procedure development into the design phase. The following are some thoughts about late construction phase test procedure development.
Late Construction Phase
Customizing test procedures as late as possible means waiting until a time when all change orders should be on the books and all requests for information should be answered.
Instead of scheduling test procedure production based on a certain time after submittal approval, this approach schedules test procedure development for a certain time before functional testing. The “certain time” could be something on the order of two to four weeks in order to give the contractors an opportunity to review and comment on the test procedures, to adjust any system performance elements required to pass the tests, and to dry-run the test procedures prior to the commissioning professional conducting the formal witnessed and documented tests.
The downside to late construction test procedures is the risk of surprising the contractors with unexpected acceptance criteria. This could lead to angst amongst the team members and potential delays while issues are resolved and any installation or programming changes are made by the contractors. The controls integration process performed in conjunction with submittal reviews is intended to minimize the possibility of such surprises, but — for various reasons — coordination and communication does not always occur as seamlessly and clearly as we would like.
Although procrastination is often frowned-upon, late construction phase test procedure development could be the least costly approach. This is because the test procedures should only need to be written once with no more than one round of potential tweaks here and there based on contractor feedback. This should result in lower commissioning professional fees than if multiple drafts and revisions are required.
It may also be most efficient for the contractors because they will review the test procedures, conduct dry-runs, and then move into formal commissioning testing all within a relatively short period of time. This eliminates the need to review procedures early in construction and then dust them off and re-review them when it is time to conduct dry runs.
On the other hand, if the controls contractor wants to use the test procedures and acceptance criteria as a reference for initial programming, early construction phase test procedures would be best. That would be more efficient for the contractor than needing to re-program based on the test scripts and acceptance criteria published at the end of the project. The risk of change orders and requests for information modifying the system performance requirements, and thus the test procedures, is a factor for both the contractors and the commissioning professional with early construction phase procedures.
Customized test procedures and acceptance criteria in the design phase construction documents is the commissioning purist’s ideal in order to contractually obligate the bidders to the specified test scripts and pass/fail criteria. However, there has historically been minimal, if any, pushback from contractors as long as the general level of rigor for testing is included in the contract documents. This is most easily achieved by providing “example test procedures” for systems similar to those being commissioned in the project being bid.
There is no “perfect” time to prepare customized functional performance tests. The decision for each project will be a balance between efficiency/cost and potential schedule disruptions associated with surprises. A project with contractors, major equipment vendors, and design engineers fully engaged in the commissioning process will have a reduced risk of surprises and, thus, will benefit from the efficiency of later test procedures.