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Knowledge transfer: A primer for major capital projects

12.01.2011  |  Magarini, A.,  Technip Italy, Rome, ItalyAltamura, A.,  Technip Italy, Rome, ItalyRobertson, R.,  Technip Italy, Rome, Italy

Improve transfer strategy across the project supply chain to achieve smooth end-user takeover

Keywords: [major projects] [engineering] [construction] [supply chain] [capital projects] [training] [simulator training] [EPC operator training]

Among the risks inherent in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects for grassroots facilities and large facility upgrades, transferring operational responsibility to the end users poses significant challenges. Seasoned EPC contractors manage this risk with a project-customized knowledge transfer strategy directed at all levels of the facility’s workforce. When the strategy is managed as a core feature of project execution, knowledge transfer can mean the difference between on-time, under-budget plant hand-over vs. a hand-over period marred by delays, cost overruns and initial operation incidents, all affecting plant integrity and profitability.

The goal of knowledge transfer could not be more clear-cut: to create the pool of specialized knowledge, skills and troubleshooting abilities, which underpins superior individual and team performance and, in turn, the plant’s business mission and operating objectives (Fig. 1). Boosted in recent years by a host of environmental, safety and reliability issues, knowledge transfer has evolved from a piecemeal, low-priority line item to a core feature of the project life cycle, alongside the cornerstones of EPC.

  Fig. 1. Job knowledge, skills and attitudes
  wired to the plant’s O&M mission are the
  basis for knowledge transfer strategy.  

A new generation of project managers values the benefits of a strategy in which skill gaps of end users are mitigated through technology-supported knowledge transfer. These efforts methodically build individual and team competence as project activity morphs from EPC through to commissioning and hand-over. For plant owners, the operating and maintenance skill sets put in place through a cohesive knowledge transfer initiative are critical to operating success, and often yield substantial savings in post-takeover technical assistance, offspec product write-offs and unplanned maintenance stoppages affecting plant availability.

Scoping the knowledge transfer.

When project managers strategize the hand-over phase for a major capital project, they focus on three areas, which will determine the process plant’s operating viability:
• Well-designed processes, equipment, control systems and health, safety and environmental (HSE) safeguards
• A proficient workforce characterized by leadership, trained and qualified personnel, a strong team ethic and accountability
• Reliable operating and maintenance (O&M) manuals and procedures.

These three areas—plant, personnel and procedural know-how—are the foundations of the knowledge transfer strategy; they will underpin the successful, safe hand-over of the completed facilities. How effectively the project management team leverages these inputs to produce the required O&M excellence in the end-user workforce will affect the success of plant hand-over and the project’s conclusive profit margin.

Early in project execution, the future end user and the EPC contractor sit down together and jointly shape the content and timing of the project’s knowledge transfer strategy. It should detail the coordinated sequence and schedule of expertise-transfer activities designed to generate the knowledge, skills and problem solving abilities needed by the plant workforce to confidently manage commissioned plant assets at takeover. In devising the strategy, contractor and owner can tap into a range of knowledge-rich contractual services and systems that embrace four categories:
• Knowledge and skill creation such as training and capacity development programs at and away from the plant jobsite.
• Dynamic learning and learning-support tools like the operator training simulator (OTS), computer-based training (CBT) systems and the learning management system (LMS).
• Knowledge capture, storage and distribution—Process plant O&M documentation such as operating and maintenance manuals and customized IT applications including plant information management system (PIMS) and asset management system (AMS)
• Knowledge collaboration and sharing—The intense formal and informal exchange of information and ideas between contractor and end-user project teams during engineering, procurement, construction, and commissioning.

When these contractual inputs are harnessed in a concerted plan to build individual and team capacity, visibly tagged as key milestones on the project schedule, and orchestrated for delivery as the project unfolds, the net result is a robust body of O&M knowledge and skills in the owner’s workforce—and a leading factor in smooth plant hand-over within contractual schedule and budget.

To drive the knowledge transfer strategy and to generate momentum across the project life cycle, perceptive project managers designate a knowledge transfer specialist to lead the delivery of all knowledge transfer inputs, and liaise permanently with key stakeholders—the EPC team, technology licensors and critical equipment vendors, key subcontractors, and end-user management. With an ideal background in plant technology, training and human resources (HR) management, the knowledge transfer specialist coordinates the planning, development, delivery and evaluation of all knowledge transfer activities hand-in-hand with takeover-critical HR sourcing, recruitment, training and job placement.


No process plant hand-over can succeed without a competent workforce to safely apply O&M knowledge and skills, and take custody of the completed facilities. Knowledge transfer begins by building a profile of the human organization required to successfully manage, operate, maintain and technically support the physical plant equipment and systems.

The EPC contractor, as primary agent for the plant’s supplied processes, equipment and control systems, is well positioned to work with the end user to analyze the quantity/quality of managers, supervisors and skilled technicians who take over the site’s O&M needs. The results from this shared analysis, which includes the specialized inputs of process licensors, equipment and control system vendors, and site technical managers can be structured as an organizational blueprint (Fig. 2). This blueprint forms the basis for plant employee recruitment and training, and their competence-based placement in the plant environment during advanced construction and pre-commissioning activities. The organizational analysis answers important questions about plant workforce configuration, technical and core competencies, reporting hierarchy and lines of communication, which are categorized as:

• Process operations. What is the optimal segmentation of plant processes and equipment into operating and control areas? How will equipment geography and design affect operator workload and numbers? What criteria are used to determine the staffing requirements for distributed control system (DCS) console operators? Which sophisticated units and systems require increases in control room and field operatives? What operations and maintenance shift criteria will be implemented?

• Plant maintenance. How will the plant maintenance organization be affected by process complexity and equipment accessibility? What are the staffing requirements for shift-based maintenance inside process units? How will plant ergonomics, maintainability and redundancy designs affect maintenance workforce numbers? Which maintenance crafts and turnarounds will be supported by external contract labor and consultants?

• Management and support areas. Which staff positions sign off the policies and procedures that govern operations and maintenance? What are the contributing operational roles of technical support staff? Which personnel are accountable for hazard recognition, safe work planning, field verification, and measurement of compliance against safety standards? Which staff positions make up the in-plant fire brigade?

  Fig. 2. Typical workforce blueprint for a process plant organization.  

The final organization chart and accompanying job descriptions—modeled to reflect the plant’s technical complexity, culture, and business—are the basis for the plant owner’s campaign to recruit the HR organization for a grassroots facility, or fill in HR gaps for an existing plant expansion. The organization chart helps management highlight HR “hot spots”—areas requiring a special skill focus (e.g., complex process technologies, sophisticated equipment and controls) and current workforce deficiencies in key knowledge and skill areas, which, if not addressed, can pose barriers to the scheduled takeover of the completed facilities.

Job descriptions.

They are a crucial resource for knowledge transfer because they specify unambiguously the required outcomes of HR recruitment and training processes.

Assembling job descriptions is a straightforward and enlightening process, producing a calculated blend of:

• Technical competencies specific to each position. These include detailed job task procedures, key interactions with other personnel, and HSE skills when and where they are required in the job.

• Core competencies such as knowledge of processes, equipment and control systems, problem-solving ability, analytical thinking, business acumen, teamwork skills, negotiating ability, adaptability, etc.

Each completed job description is an effective multi-tool to screen end-user candidates for training and employment, develop and deliver training material, and test personnel for competent job performance. With the plant organizational blueprint in hand, the EPC team and end-user managers work closely to plan and time the sourcing, selection and mobilization of plant personnel in line with project milestone dates and schedule of knowledge-building activities at and away from the plant jobsite.


Training’s role for the EPC project is to develop the individual and team capabilities, which underpin the plant’s operating and maintenance missions. To succeed, training must focus on closing the knowledge and skill gaps. Guided by this principle, effective process plant training hinges on six key steps (Fig. 3):

1. Define job performance requirements. Accurately describe the technical competencies of personnel who will staff the completed installations; produce detailed job descriptions of key job groups such as shift leaders, DCS operators, maintenance specialists, lab analysts and HSE engineers.

2. Quantify the learning gap. For each job group in the plant organization, carefully assess the real or expected entry level ability of recruited personnel against their job descriptions; document the learning gap that separates employees from the job competencies they will need at plant takeover.

3. Design training sequences. Bridge the learning gap quantified in Steps 1 and 2 by matching instructional content to the job performance requirements and individual capabilities of owner trainees; for each job group, set up a progressive timeline of instructional units leading to on-job integration during plant commissioning; support learning sequences with validated plans of instruction, O&M training materials, and training facilities; accurately screen candidate instructors (licensors, vendors, contractors) for the depth of subject matter competence and instructional expertise.

4. Conduct training at learners’ level and pace. Explain training objectives at the start of each session and link these clearly to job performance requirements so that trainees fully understand why they are being asked to make the effort to acquire knowledge and skill; present learning material in a structured, logical sequence that leads naturally to stated objectives; use presentation aids that appeal to as many senses as possible, and to emphasize major learning points; use learning activities that are metaphors of trainees’ job requirements, such as case studies, team projects, and in-tray exercises; involve the group in as many activities and interchanges as possible; conduct regular questioning to stimulate trainees, to create a climate of participation, and to stretch trainees’ ability; include frequent recall, practice and impromptu testing during each learning session. People learn best by seeing, doing, failing and practicing until they succeed.

5. Test for retention and use. During instruction, test personnel to measure their retention of job knowledge, skills and attitudes and their ability to perform actual job tasks and troubleshoot work problems; diagnose learning difficulties and initiate corrective actions; where required by law or critical to safe, effective performance, formally test and certify learners’ ability to perform job procedures according to approved criteria.

6. Build bridges into the workplace. As construction completion and conditions permit, transfer trained personnel from the training setting to the work environment where they try out and gradually master newly learned skills under close supervision and coaching.

  Fig. 3. Training goals bridge the gap
  separating trainees from their required
  job knowledge, skills and problem-solving

The heart of the training process is the transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSAs) directly linked to each trainee’s job competencies. This tangible link between job tasks and learning content is crucial. It shows learners unambiguously the concrete work outcomes that training will lead to (Fig. 4) and reinforces their motivation to attain demonstrable, measurable job skills.

  Fig. 4. Job tasks and their underpining
  knowledge, skills and attitudes form the
 basis of technical learning content.  

Thanks to the profusion of available digital technologies, this transfer of KSAs to owner personnel can now take place in many formats which include CD-ROM, learning management system (LMS), local area network (LAN) based and web-based learning, instructor-assisted operator training simulator (OTS) training and instructor-led practical training. The final learning blend is a smart balance of training techniques and tools supporting the creation of requisite competencies needed within the takeover timeframe.

Training scenarios.

Training for a grassroots complex or large plant upgrade unfolds on two tiers:

• Tier 1. Develop technical expertise and leadership ability in key supervisory personnel like unit managers, process shift leaders, maintenance supervisors and technical support engineers.

• Tier 2. Build core job skills and problem-solving abilities in teams of operations and maintenance specialists who make up the bulk of the plant workforce.

End-user trainees are a mix of experienced and inexperienced personnel, and the EPC contractor will factor this into the planning of training content, delivery and durations. One technique for exploiting the variable skill backgrounds frequently present in trainee groups is to pair more experienced personnel with novice learners in a “buddy system” that enhances the role of more expert trainees while ensuring that less expert learners are not left behind in the training process.

Tier 1 training slated for key managers and supervisors typically comprises:

• Overseas training at the design offices of process technology licensors and the EPC contractor’s main engineering hub. Trainees receive intensive instruction in plant processes and equipment, the design and operating parameters, special operating procedures and related HSE issues.

• Training at operating process units closely resembling in design and magnitude the licensed process units under supply. Trainees tap the knowledge of expert operators by observing and shadowing them as they operate, control and troubleshoot plant processes and execute standing operational and safety procedures

• Training at the manufacturer workshops of critical plant items including rotary equipment, key package units, plant control systems and electrical machinery. Trainees receive valuable learning in equipment design, construction, operation and troubleshooting, maintenance and repair.

Training is not restricted to building technical knowledge and expertise. End-user supervisors have the opportunity to form relationships with their licensor, vendor and EPC contractor counterparts with whom they will later cooperate closely onsite as plant facilities are mechanically completed, commissioned and performance-tested. Training is scheduled to give end-user personnel exposure to the learning opportunities available at design offices, similar process plants and manufacturer shops, but not so early in the project cycle that owner engineers retain but a vague memory of their learning as plant testing and commissioning get underway onsite. As the skill set of managers and supervisors also includes directing and motivating employees to produce results, their training curriculum should also incorporate shared learning in effective leadership, strategic management and communications.

Another worthy form of Tier 1 knowledge transfer is the “engineer residency” by a team of plant-owner engineers at the EPC contractor’s engineering hub during project engineering and procurement activity. For this knowledge-transfer segment, the EPC contractor develops a detailed work-study and interface program with the dual aim of transferring relevant design and procurement knowledge to the owner engineers, and benefiting from their networking experience in the owner organization and with their region’s regulatory environment.

During the residency, owner discipline engineers (representing project management, major engineering disciplines and construction management) work closely with their contractor counterparts, exchanging information and ideas, reviewing and commenting project deliverables across several releases, and brainstorming design alternatives and solutions. Focal points covered during the residency include:
• Project cycle and work breakdown, deliverables structure and schedule.
• Design and engineering—Process units, utilities and offsite facilities, civil and structural, PV&HE and piping, electrical, instrumentation and control systems, mechanical/packages.
• Procurement cycle, specifying and purchasing materials and equipment, subcontracting, control of procurement and vendors, procurement software, inspection and expediting.
• Construction organization, resources, management and scheduling.
• HSE issues—Safety procedures, HAZOP studies, environmental impacts and constructability.
• Planning and scheduling—Phases of network scheduling and control, project timing and time/resource constraints, planning software techniques.
• Controlling project costs—Control budget, documenting costs, predicting trends and overruns, cost reporting and software techniques.

Knowledge is delivered in many formats: formal seminars, roundtable sessions and discussion groups, meetings to review deliverables and design alternatives, and visits to licensor and vendor premises that focus on outstanding design issues and problems. The sum result is a transfer of need-to-know knowledge to core end-user personnel who will later work with contractor’s specialists onsite during construction and commissioning.

Training end-user O&M teams.

Workforce training on Tier 2 is the large-scale instruction of operating and maintenance teams who will staff the completed installations, based on the HR quantity/quality profile of the plant organization blueprint. Tier 2 training concentrates on developing hands-on knowledge and problem-solving skills among key job groups such as control room personnel and maintenance specialists.

In line with established job description and recruitment criteria, training follows a competency-based approach to develop teams that are highly skilled, flexible, and adaptable to change. Training is delivered at the plant jobsite and regularly includes:

• Operating teams. Formal, structured instruction in process and equipment design, operating parameters and operational procedures sandwiched with hands-on OTS-based practice in “live” process startups, control and troubleshooting, followed by supervised transfer to the plant control room and process blocks during pre-commissioning and commissioning where trainees’ span of control gradually increases as they practice and master job tasks and solve problems relating to process and equipment control and optimization.

• Maintenance teams. Craft specialization training in mechanics, instruments and electronics by expert maintenance discipline instructors, enhanced with vendor specialist training in critical machinery and control systems as these are inspected, tested and commissioned onsite.

Within each job-specific group under training, the competency-based approach dictates the quality and quantity of learning provided:

• Outside operator training incorporates process systems, principles of mechanics and instrumentation, practical process equipment operation, local process control, equipment monitoring and care, and operative maintenance.

• Control console operator training will emphasize chemical and physical processes, distributive control systems, advanced process control, IT management, console-specific procedures and monitoring, and process and plant troubleshooting.

• Maintenance specialist training will develop the expertise needed for preventive and corrective equipment maintenance but also for major repair jobs during scheduled outages or turnarounds and emergency shutdowns, with equipment vendor support where required; training will also develop the close cooperative relationships needed between operating and maintenance teams to ensure plant availability and maintenance priorities.

Safety first.

Safety during training is critical. Before receiving specialized job instruction, all plant trainees undergo extensive induction in HSE and emergency procedures, job hazard analysis and the risks inherent in training and working in a process plant environment. An expert training engineer reporting to the EPC project manager leads all training and evaluation activities comprising development, validation, delivery and skill testing, and works closely with end-user management to ensure the timely mobilization of recruited O&M personnel for training. The training engineer also ensures that logistical requirements such as training facilities, access permits, ground transportation and personal protective equipment (PPE) are seamlessly in place as needed.

An approved set of standardized templates are used throughout the training process to record plans of instructions (POIs), learning content, attendance-in-training, testing and evaluation, and training completions.

Testing and evaluation during knowledge transfer.

No knowledge transfer can succeed without continuing evaluation of the strategy’s success in shifting O&M know-how to the plant owner’s workforce. Systematic evaluation provides the data to correct and reinforce the knowledge transfer strategy, and opportunities to motivate employees and improve communications across work teams. Valid evaluations determine employee placements and degree of autonomy in the end-user’s site organization as plant activity transitions from E&C to commissioning and startup. Knowledge-transfer strategies include three progressive tiers of evaluation techniques:

• Competence-based testing during formal training. This verifies the degree of knowledge and skill attained by plant personnel; testing includes written and oral examinations to test individual knowledge and skill, on-the-job testing to evaluate individual and team based skills, and emergency drills to test team responses to a variety of in-plant events and incidents.

• Coaching during pre-commissioning and commissioning by competent job performers. This largely informal process enables EPC and owner supervisors to observe, direct, correct and reinforce acceptable work behaviors in individuals and teams, providing valuable, immediate feedback.

• Self-assessment within work teams. The plant’s future O&M operatives critically evaluate their own work behaviors, taking on the responsibility of discharging and improving their tasks and enhancing their trouble-shooting effectiveness, with and without the intervention of contractor instructors and coaches. This evaluation tier brings owner O&M teams to the brink of autonomous facility management.

A fourth tier of evaluation worth mentioning is the regulatory evaluation mandated for those job roles or job procedures requiring formal certification and compliance audits of housekeeping and safety practices performed by public safety and health authorities. The EPC team uses these ongoing audits as tools to underscore the knowledge and skill requirements and attitudes needed for effective owner takeover.

Dynamic OTS.

Among the high-tech supports available for process operation and control training, the dynamic OTS is the high-tech tool of choice for effective process instruction and human error reduction. The OTS emulates process and control system behaviors dynamically in a setting closely resembling the control operator’s actual work environment and conditions. Trainees receive dynamic hands-on instruction in a full range of normal and transient operating conditions, and often make remarkably fast and reliable transitions from training to the real-world operating environment.

OTS trainee workstations represent the human-machine interface (HMI.) It mimics the control operators’ future work environment, merging faithful duplications of process and plant dynamics with identical screen graphics and keyboard features. With this enhanced look and feel, the OTS gives operating teams (shift supervisors, DCS operators and field operators) a “live” experience in operating and troubleshooting complex processes in a wide range of operating scenarios—normal startups and shutdowns to rare plant upsets and recovery procedures during serious malfunctions.

The OTS instructor directs training sessions from an instructor console (Fig. 5) at which the instructor can start up/shut down simulated process models, create scenarios and activate malfunctions, freeze and run simulations and adjust their speed, and monitor trainees’ operating performance in real time, giving corrective instruction and pointers to reduce errors and improve work safety. Using these monitoring and evaluation features, the OTS instructor can reliably forecast on-the-job operator performance and help end-user management make informed decisions about critical operator assignments post-training.

  Fig. 5. Sample layout of OTS.  

Far-reaching as they are, OTS benefits go beyond operator training for the initial plant startup. The OTS can provide other important advantages as a performance support tool; these include:
• Providing refresher training to operators whose skills may degrade due to the lack of rare upsets and emergency events in highly instrumented plants
• Running periodic certifications of control operators to lower insurance premiums and promote the plant’s HSE compliance profile
• Enabling process and startup engineers to try out control procedures (new operating conditions, modified control loops, multivariable control applications, etc.) and optimize standard operating modes, thus dramatically reducing the likelihood of stress damage to the real plant
• Aiding instruments and process engineers as they design controls for a new process and tune existing control loops, and checking the DCS database for consistency and stability
• Observing the dynamics of process units under a variety of new operating conditions.

With an OTS price tag for a grassroots refinery typically exceeding $1.5 million, several key aspects need close attention when specifying an OTS for a cluster of process units:

• OTS scope-of-work. This is a critical step, entailing definition of the OTS process models’ scope and size, boundaries and accuracy, installed functionalities and simplifications that do not negatively affect core simulations such as the emergency shutdown (ESD) sequences. The final OTS scope is a balanced trade-off between content, performance functions and cost, and has the consensus of the plant owner’s operations managers.

• OTS vendors. These are accurately screened for in-house design expertise, reference projects of similar complexity and magnitude, reference experience of current design staff and competitive pricing.

• Functional design specification (FDS). This is developed by the OTS vendor and details the agreed OTS design basis comprising custom process models, stimulated or emulated operator stations, instructor facilities and supporting software. The EPC contractor reviews and approves the FDS for accuracy and compliance with the OTS purchase order (PO) and technical specifications.

• OTS engineering in compliance with plant process, equipment and I/C design. The project deliverables schedule, ensures OTS ready-for-use in line with the operator training schedule.

• OTS factory and jobsite acceptance testing. End-user training in correct OTS use, maintenance, and configuration and OTS as-built updating, along with end-user training in correct OTS use, maintenance and configuration, and OTS as-built updating.

The OTS ready-for-use schedule is crucial. The project OTS engineer must ensure that all design and control system inputs needed to complete process models and control simulations are available enough in advance (Fig. 6) to have the OTS up and running per the operator training schedule at the plant jobsite. 

  Fig. 6. OTS delivery schedule is anchored to process and
  DCS deliverables and quality.  


Knowledge transfer cannot be effective without reliable plant O&M documentation to guide end-user teams through the phases of workforce training, plant pre-commissioning, commissioning and performance testing. O&M documentation is the interface between plant processes/equipment and their human controllers. O&M documentation underpinning the knowledge-transfer strategy covers three major categories of plant activity:
• Plant operation and optimization, including analytical requirements
• Maintenance planning and implementation
• HSE plans and procedures.

These incorporate a wealth of information and guidance for plant operation and maintenance, and also for other key areas of plant management and control: HSE planning (information on hazards and actions to prevent or contain them), environmental safeguarding (O&M work instructions reduce risks of toxic release and specify response sequences when incidents do occur), manpower training (manuals are the unquestioned knowledge basis for O&M instruction) and plant engineering (process optimizations rely on precise narratives of plant operation and maintenance).

Access to O&M documentation by trained owner personnel is crucial for an effective turnover. Operators need updated reference data on process and equipment technology, process hazard data, operating procedures and safe work practices. Maintenance technicians need maintenance and servicing manuals, structural plans and safe maintenance guidelines. Without ready access to these, owner personnel cannot develop the independent take-charge mentality required for successful takeover.

The EPC contractor’s commissioning team plays a pivotal role in developing O&M documentation and guiding end-user personnel in their effective use during:
• Workforce training and integration onsite
• Dry plant check-out
• Preparation of pre-commissioning and commissioning procedures
• Plant pre-commissioning and commissioning
• Plant startup, line-up and upset management
• Performance testing
• Planned and emergency shutdowns and recoveries.

The project commissioning manager plans early documentation releases to end-user O&M staff, enabling them to review these and contribute to their final versions. Especially at the plant site, the EPC project team involves owner teams in checking and revising detailed commissioning/startup/shutdown procedures to develop their deeper understanding of O&M requirements and instill a sense of ownership and control over plant operation and maintenance.

Given the sheer volume of O&M documentation generated for a large facility project, the EPC contractor takes extreme measures to ensure the consistency and accuracy of plant documentation as knowledge inputs. This means enforcing the four cardinal rules in the development and release of O&M documentation:
• Uniformity. Text formats and templates are standardized; technical terms are homogeneous.
• Precision. Text descriptions, sequences and guidelines are based on final design and equipment releases and are drafted by specialists experienced in the O&M work processes at hand; document releases are carefully controlled and signed off.
• Concision. Level of detail is balanced and appropriate to the work being described and to users’ background and experience; text material and graphics emphasize need-to-know information and data; text with no direct bearing on performance or safety is omitted.
• Control. Clear guidelines are enforced for updating and approving documentation revisions or modifications.

Operating manuals.

Plant operating manuals provide detailed knowledge for safe plant startup, on-spec production, transient management, and planned and unplanned shutdowns. The knowledge basis for every operating manual includes the EPC contract, PFDs and P&lDs released for construction, process licensor and equipment vendor instructions, specifications for equipment and instruments, heat and material balances, utilities summaries, and HSE/hazard operability (HAZOP) requirements.

Based on these inputs, operating manuals incorporate critical knowledge and guidance for plant operators:
• Plant duty, feedstock/product specs, battery limit conditions and utilities/chemicals/catalyst specs/consumptions
• Process theory. Physical-chemical principles, reactions, catalyst activity, separation and purification steps, links with other installations, and relevant drawings and diagrams
• Process fluid flows, significant pressures/temperatures/levels, reaction at each equipment stage, control systems, interlocks, alarms wired to temperatures, pressures and other parameters, and main data of process equipment
• Process variables that control and optimize the process and subject to operator control and change with substantial effects on the process
• Pre-startup inspection checks, cleaning, tightness testing, dry-out, purging, machinery run-in, etc. Safe startup sequences per circuit, oil-in sequence, sequential operations up to unit alignment
• Normal operation and control requirements. Typical operations, special checks, alternate operating modes, complex operating areas
• Normal shutdown sequences, and emergency shutdown sequences for each emergency type, detailed operations for each plant section, interactions with other units, restart mode from shutdown state
• Analytical requirements: streams to sample, sampling points, test methods and frequencies, lab equipment
• Plant safety. Hazards, PPE, handling of chemicals and products, entering confined spaces, housekeeping, fire prevention and fire fighting, and executing maintenance work.

The project commissioning team prepares and shares with their end-user counterparts the step-by-step pre-commissioning and commissioning procedures for each plant system. P&C procedures cover items such as the cleaning of piping and equipment, tightness testing, nitrogen purging, electrical system and instruments operability, and rotating machinery testing and running-in. They are a source of intense familiarization with plant operating requirements for end-user personnel.

Plant maintenance manuals.

These consist of the maintenance management manual prepared by the contractor and equipment vendors’ operating and maintenance manuals assembled and bound in the plant mechanical catalogue. Together, they provide detailed guidance to owner maintenance teams for plant troubleshooting, servicing and repair. The contractor’s maintenance management manual outlines cost-effective strategies to ensure continued availability and safety of plant assets. The manual is the source for scheduled inspections and a detailed maintenance plan for each equipment item, providing guidance to owner maintenance teams in these areas:
1. Maintenance definitions and classifications
2. Critical analysis of main equipment items. Basis for the maintenance strategy and based on costs, safety and environmental factors
3. Maintenance strategy designed to ensure equipment is maintained per manufacturer recommendations throughout the facility’s life and to optimize availability
4. Maintenance for mechanical and electrical equipment and instrumentation. Details of maintenance activities and scheduled intervals for each equipment type
5. Spare parts per equipment type as the basis for management of stocks and costs.

The maintenance management manual refers as appropriate to vendor operating and maintenance documentation collected in the plant mechanical catalogue and available for consultation. In this way, large portions of vendor information are not repeated in the manual text.

HSE plan and manuals.

Contractor’s HSE standards and documentation prescribe the practices which mitigate O&M risks and hazards and support safe work throughout the project cycle and into plant commercial production. All documentation is based on accurate risk assessments to identify the potential hazards present in design, construction, commissioning and steady-state operating activities. The HSE plan and associated manuals provide guidance for:
• Hazard exposure identification and control (e.g., toxic substances, noise and dust)
• Hygiene and housekeeping
• Medical assistance, first aid, hospitalization and coordination with local authorities
• HAZOP follow-up
• Process plant safety, emergency shutdown procedures in multiple scenarios, fire and gas detection system descriptions
• Safe execution of work (SEW) protocols, which place a premium on integrating safety into job tasks, based on work risk identification, job assessment, work permit control and pre-work hazard review (toolbox meetings)
• Work permit system and lock-out/tag-out procedures
• Confined space entry
• Hand and power tool use and safety
• Fire-prevention and fire-fighting systems; explosives and flammables management; fire fighting equipment inspections
• Environmental emissions
• Chemical hazards and exposure limits
• Personal protective equipment: requirements, care, maintenance
• Process stream sampling
• Safety during in-plant and workshop maintenance
• Interlock system tests
• Security and personnel access controls and incoming material inspections
• Emergency planning, training and drills
• Motivation and recognition schemes
• HSE reporting media.

Contractor’s HOP and site HSE managers work closely with end-user supervisors during engineering, construction and commissioning to identify hazards and implement proactive procedures to prevent and contain them through documentation, training and awareness campaigns. This ongoing knowledge transfer is critical to plant safety and the well-being of personnel during construction, commissioning and initial operation.

O&M knowledge sharing.

To succeed as effective contributors to knowledge transfer and plant hand-over, the contractor’s O&M documentation must revolve around a jobsite-based plan to achieve end-user O&M teams’ buy-in of O&M know-how during training, construction, and commissioning.

In addition to formal knowledge transfer activities, the contractor’s commissioning team actively fosters informal communication and collaboration with the end user’s operating and maintenance departments. During large upgrades of existing plants, the lines of communication between the contractor’s site team and the site workforce are substantial, as the plant owner has large numbers of expert operations and maintenance personnel already on hand. In grassroots EPC projects, this may not be the case, and the EPC commissioning team must go the extra mile to identify their counterparts in the owner’s organization and structure opportunities for one-on-one knowledge sharing as site work progresses through mechanical completion, commissioning and performance testing.

As part of the knowledge sharing and turnover process and with special reference to grassroots facilities, the EPC contractor needs to instil or integrate two key techniques within the owner’s organization:
• Detailed O&M work planning and scheduling, with the objective of reducing plant out-of-service for repairs or alterations
• Data-driven daily briefings and more extensive formal reviews to identify short- and medium-term process and maintenance issues.


Among the digital systems supplied under EPC contracts for grassroots facilities and large upgrades, three stand out as high-value contributors to plant knowledge transfer:
• LMS.

The PIMS feeds operation management a steady stream of real-time data on process and plant conditions, enabling them to optimize yields, business performance and profit margins. The AMS manages maintenance work flows, resources and schedules, thereby reducing unscheduled plant downtime and reactive maintenance. The LMS tracks the planning, development and delivery of all knowledge-transfer events across the EPC project timeline, ensuring that performance-building opportunities are maximized.

For each of these customized digital systems, the EPC project team works with end-user O&M personnel, training managers and specialized vendors to specify system requirements, coordinate their engineering and acceptance testing and train plant personnel in the system’s correct use during plant commissioning and initial operation. Full involvement of owner O&M engineers in specifying and approving system features cultivates a sense of ownership as software applications and hardware are tested and commissioned onsite during plant commissioning and startup.


Operating management’s decisions to optimize plant assets and improve business performance rely on the real-time monitoring of asset performance. This is the core feature of PIMS architecture: a customized software engine captures real-time data from multiple plant sources (DCS, process lab, environmental monitors, etc.), then collates and distributes the data on graphic displays fed directly to plant managers’ PC work stations, prompting peer-to-peer brainstorming and enabling them to take appropriate preventive or corrective measures. The PIMS database includes built-in features like key performance indicators, operating trends, long-term historian and methods of calculating these from real-time and manually inputted data (Fig. 7).

  Fig. 7. Typical PIMS architecture for a large process site.  

During PIMS acceptance testing and running-in onsite, owner operation supervisors receive intensive coaching in the use of core PIMS functions:

• Process management. Shift foremen learn to evaluate alignment of product yields with plant targets and abnormal trends; unit managers and process engineers learn to evaluate process alarm causes and identify remedial actions like changes to process/equipment operating points, field checks, maintenance requests, etc.

• Performance management. Shift foremen and process engineers learn to monitor process overall efficiency and equipment/machinery performance, evaluate plant alignment with performance and consumption targets, and identify root causes of issues that drive low performance.

• Laboratory and quality management. Process and lab engineers view chemical properties of process, utility and effluent streams; evaluate alignment of plant product stream qualities against targets and define remedial changes in process/equipment operating conditions; identify malfunctions or sub-optimal operating conditions that cause alarms, and define remedial actions.

• Environment. Process personnel view real-time and averaged values of air quality data from environmental monitors, gaseous emissions from process furnace stacks and other effluent data to control threshold values on air and water quality and plant emissions.

• Manual input module. Plant personnel input/update process data, emergency shutdown (ESD) trip bypass status indications not available at DCS, and targets for process variables that are manipulated to adjust operating conditions.


The AMS platform enables cost-effective management and control of maintenance resources. With coaching from the contractor’s maintenance engineers, end-user maintenance supervisors build a customized “knowledge base” comprising a master equipment list and tag data, preventive maintenance (PM) specifications, maintenance job plans with detailed “how to” instructions and material inventories that balance stock availability with cost outlay.

As commissioning and startup unfold, end-user maintenance specialists learn to manage core AMS work order (WO) functionalities:
• Database-generated preventive maintenance WOs, and corrective maintenance WOs generated on demand
• WO planning including work description, craft requirements (discipline, hours estimate), spare parts and consumables requirements, special tools (crane, fork lift truck, etc.), technical documentation references and approval by authorized personnel.
• Work scheduling based on regular planning meetings (weekly/monthly), triggering WO status updating and preparation
• Work execution. Quality of work, craft manpower performance, work efficiency, compliance with work permitting, etc.
• WO closure and lessons learned analyses to identify root causes, evaluate failure consequences and analyze future failure probability.

PIMS and AMS systems reinforce the knowledge-transfer strategy by combining accurate plant information with the benefits of database agility, speed and distributive power; thus, a strong basis for building workforce knowledge and skills in the tightly packed timeframe typical of engineering and construction projects.


In large EPC projects requiring extensive workforce training/retraining and qualification, a digital LMS is the ideal tool for tracking all learning scheduling and management, matching learning events to workforce skill-building targets, improving learning efficiencies and controlling training expenditures. Automated LMS features include gap analysis, course and curricula management, trainee registrations, customized multilevel reports, third-party software interfacing, pre- and post-assessment management and template layout customization. Higher-level LMS solutions can manage the production and updating of the project’s entire learning content for plant operation, maintenance and technical support functions, whether delivered in person by instructors or via self-paced e-formats.

Once a commercial or open-source LMS solution is identified and approved, the LMS configuration is modeled to the project’s training objectives and strategies, and is designed for compatibility with the plant owner’s LAN. Whatever the final configuration selected, the LMS interface typically includes:
• A “user” application enabling authenticated personnel-in-training to view training sequences and module offerings, launch online training modules where applicable, manage their individual learning plans, and print their learning records and certificates
• An “administrator” application allowing training supervisors to oversee and update training module offerings, coordinate instructor-centered and online enrollment of personnel, record learning completions, and control costs.

When an LMS is part of the knowledge-transfer provision for the EPC project, the overwhelming majority of plant owners rate the content-customized LMS as a valuable legacy of their workforce’s training for takeover and a pragmatic management tool for follow-on refresher instruction of the takeover workforce, the training of new hires and contract labor. LMS-documented training records can also have a positive impact on lowering annual insurance premiums for the process facility.


Contractor project teams, pursued by the incessant EPC-driven demands of a multibillion dollar plant investment, inevitably devote limited time to planning and managing the range of knowledge-transfer initiatives spread across the project. This underscores the need for a dedicated expert to coordinate and exploit the myriad formal and informal knowledge-transfer opportunities on offer during the project cycle. A knowledge-transfer officer reporting to the project manager coordinates to maximum benefit the vast array of specialized knowledge and information available to the plant workforce. An effective knowledge transfer officer:
• Has broad experience in process plant organization, operations and maintenance, and the human dynamic that contributes to superior plant performance
• Is versed in project management, planning and control techniques
• Knows the principles and practice of instructional development, delivery and testing
• Has strong communication skills and genuine empathy for human career development needs, which transcends due diligence.

Even the best knowledge-transfer expert needs the visible and sustained support of contractor and end-user managers. Only if championed and followed through by management will project knowledge make the leap to plant workforce performance.


Table 1 list the benefits and challenges of knowledge-transfer strategies. Given the variables that come into play in every plant investment project, EPC contractors will continue to face opportunities and risks in managing human factors with the goal of building end-user capability for plant takeover. In all cases, common sense dictates that getting ahead of the curve with a customized knowledge-transfer strategy may be the best basis for reducing human-originated risk and delivering O&M know-how across the project timeline and into startup and initial operation.


As in so many areas of EPC contract services, the outcome of knowledge transfer ultimately depends on the EPC contractor’s confidence in knowledge transfer’s far reaching benefits for EPC project outcomes. To achieve this confidence, EPC contractors need to:
• Disseminate the importance of intellectual capital as a key project commodity, and the impact of knowledge transfer on the end user’s capacity to take over completed plant facilities
• Formulate EPC proposals inclusive of knowledge-transfer services at the level and depth needed by the end-user workforce and mindful of the end user’s expectations and corporate culture
• Share plant turnover experiences and successes among project managers and develop methods to overcome cultural and other barriers that inhibit or slow knowledge transfer
• Educate their project management teams in the direct benefits of knowledge transfer on project profitability, customer satisfaction and contractor competitiveness. HP

The authors 

Andrea Magarini is the head of start up, training and maintenance department at Technip Italy, Rome. He has experience in process engineering, construction commissioning and start up, training and maintenance. He worked in the field of refining, LNG, petrochemicals and lube oils. Previously, he was employed at STP, Altran and Snamprogetti. Mr. Magarini holds an MS degree in chemical engineering from the University of Rome, “La Sapienza” and is a registered professional engineer in Italy. 

Alessandro Altamura is the head of Technip Italy “customer training, OTS and operating manuals” section. After achieving an MS degree in chemical engineering in 2000, he conducted many process simulation studies both for engineering support and for OTS development for Comerint. In 2002, he started to focus on the “knowledge transfer” key-values, becoming responsible (2008) for the following areas: operating manual development, operator training simulator supply management and customer training Projects design. 

Ray Robertson, certified performance technologist, is a senior learning consultant with the Technip Group for whom he has designed and site-managed end-user capacity building projects on five continents for industrial investments in oil & gas, petrochemicals, manufacturing and food processing. He regularly conducts workshops on instructional design, competency certification, and learning project management and writes extensively on performance issues for specialized periodicals. He is a graduate of the University of London. 

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Achmad Junus

It is a very comprehensive coverage of knowledge transfer concerns and methodology. A very good framed and structured article.

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