What is Virtual Commissioning and why is there so much buzz about it?

by | Aug 24, 2017 | Simulation & Training

What is Virtual Commissioning?

Let’s look at the words:  Virtual – not physically existing as such but made -by software to appear to -be so.  Commissioning- the process of assuring that all systems and components of an industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements.

So, the term “Virtual Commissioning” describes the process of using simulation technology to design, test and verify plant changes (processes or design) prior to testing on the actual plant. It provides a means of performing testing and validation of the plant design changes without the risks associated with doing so on the real plant, where time and cost are inherently linked.

Power plants have their own unique lifecycle and are ever evolving. Whether it’s digitalization of analog, equipment upgrades, environmental systems or 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. While it has been applied to the manufacturing and process industries for decades it is only more recently being adopted in the power industry. Designing and validating production installations in a virtual environment prior to putting the real installation into service has produced far fewer problems during start up and reduced the time required to put them into service.

The realities of plant commissioning

If the commissioning process is the first time you are seeing plant changes in operation, you run the risk of rework and inefficiencies that will affect project timelines, safety and reliability, and revenue generation. More often than not, plants find themselves behind schedule due to time consuming trouble-shooting.

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

Clearly, 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 truly high-fidelity, is the perfect environment to verify and validate process design changes.

If your power plant uses conventional fuels such as coal or natural gas and you don’t already have a reference plant simulator, virtual commissioning just might be the added benefit you’ve been waiting for to justify a simulator. Not only would your reference plant simulator offer the ability to verify and validate process and plant design changes, but it could be used for greenfield builds where you need to build an automation system before design data is even finalized. Following commissioning, the simulator will also serve to train operations and maintenance staff. It will remain a valuable tool for engineering to utilize for the virtual commissioning of future plant changes. Some of the most forward-thinking A&Es, EPCs, and utilities have realized big savings using virtual commissioning.

Conclusion

Virtual commissioning is the use of simulation technology to design, test and verify plant processes and systems prior to installation in the real plant. Working on a virtual plant reduces risk and saves time (and time is money) during actual commissioning.

The value gained from virtually commissioning plant changes will pay for itself and GSE has many examples of where the application of our technology has benefited customers. Check out our presentation describing a virtual commissioning project that uncovered numerous issues and saved valuable start up time!

Virtual Commissioning + Real Time Training = Increased Performance and Profits Presentation

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