by Morley Selver, P.Eng., IPMA-B

As a consulting engineer we recently did a project for a refinery where the pipe specification called out asbestos gaskets. Knowing that asbestos has not been used for years in North America and the fact that on the last refinery project, the project engineer did not want to use them, we assumed that this project engineer would do the same. We spent some time researching what was used in the past to replace the asbestos gasket, made up a specification deviation and sent it to the refinery project engineer. To our surprise he refused the specification deviation as he liked asbestos gaskets and that was what he wanted to use. To him, it was a matter of personal preference.

This is not an isolated incident and is a problem that all people dealing with Owners have, that is, what does the Owner want? As a service provider, time and money are wasted when there is confusion and indecision on the Owners’ side. People do not know what to do, so nothing gets done. You don’t know which direction to go, so you spin your wheels. You struggle, you waste time, and money. This is not a pleasant position to be in, especially when you figure out what one project engineers’ preference is and the next project engineer has different preferences. This preference issue not only applies to equipment and material, but also forms and other documents.

What to Use, What To Use?

This is the issue of uniformity and it applies to every company, even your own. By uniformity, I mean everyone in your office should look the same to the outside world. If I am a contractor or consultant, I should see only one person. All the forms and letters used should be the same, the letterhead, and formatting should be consistent, in other words there should be no deviation between personnel, no personal preferences. You don’t go to a bank and every teller has a different form based on what they like to use! They are uniform, teller to teller, branch to branch. You need to be the same.

For CAD, materials, and equipment installation there are specifications and standards. These specifications and standards have been developed over the years through trial and error, discussion, study, and research. They are to be taken seriously and should not be deviated from. If you need to deviate from them, the proper procedure is to get a ‘Specification Deviation’ to record the deviation and obtain authorization for the noncompliance.

So, to be consistent, amongst other things, your company should have standard forms, specifications and standards, procedures, letterhead, minutes of meeting, etc. and all correspondence should go through a common secretary who can format it the corporate way. This sounds easy but can be difficult to do. It is the only way to operate a business efficiently.

Oops, We Got The Wrong Item

For equipment and material, one way for the Owner to achieve consistency when working with engineers, vendors and contractors, is to use a Plant Conditions and Standard Component List. This document serves two purposes; 1 Have you ever been in the position of looking for design basis information and the Owner does not have the answer or the answer given differs from the last time the question was asked? This is what the Plant Conditions document is used for. It describes to Service Providers what the plant conditions are. It tells them the plant elevation; water, air, natural gas pressures; fluid temperature and power information; weather information at the plant location; plus any other important information about the plant and its’ location. This allows those designing equipment to have the same operating conditions as the next designer. With the conditions printed out, everyone knows where they are and there is no guessing as to the conditions. This document has to be kept up-to-date. One important section is the earthquake design information. For this the Owner should hire a structural engineer familiar with the location to provide the numbers. If this is left up to the vendors there is a good chance that the information used will be wrong since they are usually taken from general information. These plant conditions will provide uniformity across all designs. For the Service Providers there is no wondering what numbers to use. 2 Have you ever been in the position of buying an equipment skid, it shows up on site and within 15 minutes someone from maintenance is in your office telling you that the components use in the skid are not what the plant use. Now the fun starts trying to get the situation rectified. The standard component list is there to help you prevent this problem. It is a list of the plants preferred make and type of components they like to use. It covers, amongst other things, architectural, mechanical, electrical, and instrumentation. It can have one, two, or three choices of manufacturer to give the Service Providers, Vendors and Contractors some leeway. If you have given this type of document to a vendor then the skid problem becomes a lot easier to handle. You just call up the vendor, tell him he did not use what you asked for and you want it fixed at his cost.

The Standard Component List does not just apply to industrial plants. One of my workshop attendees was a volunteer on a historical gold mine restoration and adapted this document as it was a great way to ensure consistency of hardware / components across all the volunteers and avoid confusion with the vendors / contractors providing services.

Where To Find One

It is important for this document to be developed and transmitted to the Service Providers, Vendors, and Contractors. If you want more information and the actual document, I have written an e-book on this which includes a comprehensive list of components used in a plant. You can take this list, give it to your maintenance people to fill in and you are ready to go. For a copy of this ebook, please contact