What is Virtual Commissioning?
First, let’s take a look at what each word means. Virtual means simulated on a computer or computer network. Commissioning is designing, installing, testing, operating, and maintaining all industrial plant systems according to operational requirements. “Virtual Commissioning” is the process of using simulation technology to test plant changes before making changes to the actual plant. That way, you avoid the risk of downtime or revenue loss.
Why Should Plants Use Virtual Commissioning?
Power plants have their own unique lifecycle and are ever-evolving. There are so many factors influencing industrial plant design, including digitalization of analog, equipment upgrades, environmental systems, and advanced control applications. Chances are that your plant is consistently in some phase of commissioning new equipment and processes. The idea behind virtual commissioning is not new. The manufacturing and process industries have used this process for decades, but it was only recently adopted in the power industry. Simulating plant changes leads to fewer startup issues and faster implementation.
The Realities of Plant Commissioning
If the commissioning process is the first time you are seeing plant changes in operation, rework and delays are bound to happen. Commissioning will most likely affect project timelines, safety, reliability, and revenue generation. More often than not, plants find themselves behind schedule due to time-consuming troubleshooting. Here’s the harsh reality:
- Design changes will occur during the system build
- Plant start-up and first production dates are fixed
- Operating procedures need to be defined in advance
- Start-up delays run in the millions per day
Commissioning is not the time or place to make these changes. Yet, that’s traditionally how the power generation industry has operated.
Simulation is an Essential Part of Virtual Commissioning
Nuclear power plants already have a virtual representation of their plant to use for virtual commissioning. Your full-scope simulator, given it is high-fidelity, is the perfect environment to verify and validate process design changes.
But what if you don’t have a reference plant simulator? If your power plant uses conventional fuels such as coal or natural gas, a simulator is a smart investment. Some of the most forward-thinking A&Es, EPCs, and utilities have realized big savings using virtual commissioning. This technology allows you to verify and validate plant changes. What’s more, you can build an automation system before greenfield designs are even finalized. After commissioning, you can use the simulator to train operations and maintenance staff. Engineers can also use it to plan future changes.
There’s no denying the benefits of virtual commissioning for industrial plants. Simulations reduce risk and save time (and time is money) during actual commissioning. It pays for itself. By testing changes in advance, you avoid costly disruptions and downtime. Many of our customers have benefited from using virtual commissioning. Here’s one example of a customer who used it to uncover numerous issues and save valuable startup time!