Early Project Scoping Considerations in Finishing Projects

In Part 3 we focus on critical scoping and cost estimating considerations in the early planning and development for surface finishing process projects.


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Capital and operating and maintenance (O&M) cost estimates are important for project planning, development and implementation for building new process lines or for renovating/replacing existing process lines. With an overview of AACE International capital cost estimate classifications and considerations for cost estimates over the life cycle of a project now established, in Part 3 we can focus on critical scoping and cost estimating considerations in the early planning and development for surface finishing process projects.


playting line


Understanding key considerations for surface finishing process projects can help guide implementation toward desirable life cycle cost optimization and avoid the following:

  • Inadequate early budgets (a frequent problem that results in project constraints and increased life cycle costs).
  • Insufficient allocation of time and resources essential for optimization planning and design.
  • Lack of scope definition that can result in costly higher construction change orders and project implementation impacts and/or reductions in overall project delivery.

Surface finishing project optimization involves much more than simple line-by-line equipment replacement, particularly for renovation projects. For optimum project outcomes, initial project cost estimates and budgets should account for important process considerations that should be evaluated early in project development, including the following:

  • Schedule: Unrealistic project schedules can significantly drive up project costs considerably and limit the pool of resources available to support the project.
  • Project Phasing: Phasing logistics must be effectively planned for all affected surface finishing process lines and ancillary system areas. Phasing plans should minimize any production downtime and avoid the need for temporary production outsourcing, if possible. Early cost allowances should consider project phasing logistics and schedules.
  • Master planning: Master planning of the scope and schedule of related plantwide projects is critical to avoid unnecessary costs and interruptions caused by lack of planning between different project managers.
  • Accommodations for future flexibility: Considerations for future process flexibility may result in modifications to surface finishing designs, such as leaving space(s) for future process expansion or changes, or designing selected process configurations and materials of construction to meet future process expansion/modification needs. Accommodations for future process flexibility can increase current project capital costs but may yield substantial savings while reducing production disruptions caused by future process changes.
  • Effective layout and configuration of surface finishing lines and processes for optimum operability and maintainability: This requires a thorough understanding of flows of work, material and people with consideration of current and future production sequences. Process mapping can facilitate rightsizing and arrangement of process lines for flexible production of different processes, substrates and load sizes with variable production rates, load configurations and handling requirements. Ideally, plant design follows process design and arrangement of process lines. However, designers normally must develop plant layouts under constrained conditions. Perceived and real constraints must be identified early to optimize projects based on realistic cost estimates.
  • Process and Equipment Redundancy: Redundancy — including multiple processing tanks and duplex pumps and other critical equipment, systems and spare parts — can significantly increase project costs. Certain levels of redundancy may be needed to achieve desired process reliability and minimize the potential for process downtime.
  • Materials of Construction, Component Selection and Quality of Equipment: Incremental upgrades, overall equipment quality and robustness of materials of construction selected can increase capital costs but may provide significant increases in equipment longevity and performance that provides strong cost payback. Getting this right in the design phase can dramatically reduce overall life cycle costs by minimizing unplanned process disruptions and replacement of lower cost equipment or materials that can’t provide longer term performance in the specific application.
  • Level of Automation: Incorporating load handling and processing automation and integration of process monitoring and notification systems will increase capital costs but can provide significant enhancements to production capacity and capability and yield significant life cycle benefits.
  • Utilities and Ancillary Systems: Current and future utilities and ancillary systems requirements — including process water and wastewater treatment, air pollution control, makeup air, and process heating and cooling — must be sized appropriately. Considerations include whether utilities and ancillary systems should be updated, replaced or relocated to meet production needs, energy efficiency goals or to improve workflow. Replacement with right-sized systems and improved integration with new surface finishing systems can provide strong cost paybacks and also system performance benefits.

The above and additional key process scoping issues, as applicable to a specific project, should be considered in early surface finishing project planning with appropriate subject matter experts and diverse project stakeholders, and then analyzed in more depth and optimized after developing a more comprehensive project vision. Early insights to optimize project scope and recognize important constraints, such as business interruptions and schedule issues, provide a better foundation for establishing an early Basis of Estimate (BOE) for a surface finishing project and a more informed understanding of project cost estimate ranges, risks and cost optimization opportunities.

Consider the AACE cost estimate classes for early project development for Class 5 and Class 4 estimates and that the expected range of accuracy for each estimate is based on the maturity and accuracy of scope definition at the time of the estimate. The surface finishing process considerations above show why a combination of multiple project scope options and costs, cost allowances for scope variables and appropriately broad cost accuracy ranges should be evaluated for early surface finishing process project cost estimates. Improved early understanding of potential project scope variables and associated costs and benefits often leads to improved overall project implementation and life cycle cost effectiveness.

The following are examples of enhanced surface finishing project outcomes resulting from improved early project scoping considerations:

  • A decades old large U.S. DOD plating shop with over 100 process tanks was completely renovated with a strong cost payback, after identifying that exhaust ventilation and makeup air systems could be downsized by more than 90% by replacing old manual surface finishing process lines with new reconfigured automated lines, including rightsized process tanks with automated covers and sophisticated controls with energy savings from control of production operating
  • A project for adding a new wastewater treatment system for an automotive parts manufacturer with four aging process lines was transformed, after an initial project scoping workshop, into a project that included the replacement of the four process lines with new, high-efficiency automated lines. The new, efficient surface finishing process lines resulted in more than 85% reduction in wastewater generation. The production capacity was also tripled with process automation and by improving layout and workflow. The savings in downsizing the wastewater treatment system funded almost 40% of the new process lines, and the overall production capacity and quality enhancements resulted in rapid payback for the incremental project investment.

Relatively minor investments in up-front surface finishing project scoping and cost estimating can lead to significantly enhanced project delivery with strong life cycle benefits.

Peter Gallerani is president and chief technology officer at Integrated Technologies, Inc., an engineering, design and consulting solutions firm based in Burlington, Vermont, that offers project planning and development, full-service engineering and design, project and construction management, and services during construction to the surfacing finishing and industrial manufacturing industries. Visit processengineer.com