Significant work is put into process manufacturer and producer capital projects: But how ready is the project team to transition the project to operations after the commissioning and startup phase ends?

Emerson’s Jason Sarnataro offered insight into this critical handoff processing on an expert panel at the Petrochemical Engineering and Construction conference on June 7 in New Orleans.

The panel, “Operational Readiness: Turnover of Project and Commissioning Start-up,” focused on best practices and valuable lessons learned in ensuring quality, reliability and efficiency during the Commission and Startup process. Industry owners and contractors also shared insight on delivering capital projects effectively and emphasized the need for a sound process for turnover from the contractor to the owner, to ensure that the project meets schedule and cost objectives as a project nears completion.

Sarnataro, an Emerson program manager who leads mega-project execution for the Sasol Lake Charles Cracker Project, noted that process control systems and instrumentation are typically considered at the end of a capital project—and yet have a major input on the schedule. Finding ways to optimize the work required, including moving activities forward, is important in reducing schedule risk, Sarnataro said.

Priority alignment among cross-functional team members is an investment in budget, but it’s an investment that pays off in smoother startups and transition to the operations team, panelists noted. Savings from less unplanned downtime during the learning curve typically balance the early investments made.

Creating a roles and responsibilities matrix to track issues as they are identified is an important part of a major project, Sarnataro said. This valuable resource helps make sure that issues raised aren’t pushed to the end of the project, when they cause greater delays and higher costs.

Technology is having a positive impact on project transitions as well, Sarnataro said. Virtual factory acceptance tests help identify control issues and misunderstandings early in the project, to lessen the learning curve and given operations and maintenance staff members more proficient post-startup.

Project Tips: 

  • Commissioning and startup planning should begin when you are close to 75% finished with detailed design but before the factory acceptance test is performed.
  • Identify all the interfaces between systems and plan how to best connect them and test early to avoid problems during startup.

For more insights from the Petrochemical Engineering and Construction conference, visit