It's never too early or too late to invest in OCR, even if your project has been delayed

By Pamela Florian | August 10, 2020

Whether due to market pressures, new safety protocols, or workforce availability challenges, many organizations are facing delayed capital projects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others are simply worried about their projects still being able to deliver shareholder value once they come online in a volatile economic climate.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, investing in a sophisticated operational readiness, commissioning, and ramp-up (OCR) program is one of the best ways to protect, improve, and create value for your project, no matter what stage you’re at and yes, even if you’ve been delayed.

Why investing in OCR is worth it at every stage of a project

Because the goal of OCR focuses not just on getting a facility up and running, but on aligning the operation with an organization’s corporate goals for long-term profitability and sustainability, investing in OCR is worth it at every stage of a project, even if you’re just steps away from bringing your new asset online.

  stage of investment in OCR table

Create and maximize value with early-stage investment

In the early stages of a project, OCR can not only help you achieve your planned goals, but it can push you past those targets, creating new value above and beyond your project’s best-case-scenario predictions. It’s possible to do this when OCR is fully embedded into the earliest-stage discussions that take place in the prefeasibility and conceptual engineering phases.

The role of OCR needs to be explicitly defined as part of a project’s overarching strategy and that definition should articulate how the OCR strategy is aligned with the corporate vision. This allows owners to determine the path to follow for a sustainable operation according to their specific business strategy and assign the proper resources to execute it. It’s a holistic approach that considers a broad range of project dimensions including operational philosophy, organization enablement, functional processes, and their corporate interactions, technology, talent requirements, workforce availability, and social, environmental, and safety aspects.

Even if you think it’s too early and the project has no defined structure or schedule yet, having an OCR strategy outlined will enhance the development of the project as it comes to life with the evolution of each project stage.

Early investment in OCR can create value in many different ways:

  • Enabling a solid operations organization
  • Defining and implementing action plans to respond to issues and opportunities
  • Aligning comprehensive KPIs with the business case and establishing reporting at all levels
  • Integrating the requirements of all core and support areas
  • Monitoring committed activities in real time to ensure they are clear, integrated, and carried out
  • Eliminating silos and creating a common language
  • Managing operational risks by identifying proactive opportunities for improvement
  • Implementing comprehensive training and change management programs

Not only does investing in OCR this early unlock additional value in your project, it also minimizes the overall cost of conducting OCR activities throughout.

Improve value with middle-stage investment

In the middle stages of a project, you still have time to use OCR to improve and protect the massive capital cost investment you’ve already made by optimizing some of your project’s most critical activities including the ramp-up program and load commissioning stage. Even in the middle stages, investing in OCR can significantly reduce your ramp-up time and thus have a significant impact on your return on investment.

Protect value with late-stage investment

In the late stages of a project when you’re steps away from bringing an asset online, investing in OCR still gives you a chance to support the achievement of your project’s planned value and minimize the risk for erosion of that value by having expert support in place to respond to and solve problems quickly. OCR is still of critical importance at this point to protect shareholder value.

Remote OCR is your best route to ramp-up when your project has been delayed

When projects are delayed due to emergency protocols, such as those put in place during the current COVID-19 pandemic, OCR offers a way to proceed with important preparatory steps remotely. Critical activities can be executed with online cloud-based tools and remote support to ensure the safety of project teams without impacting the quality of the work being done.

These digital tools offer important advantages over more traditional approaches: easier collaboration, more transparency, increased accountability, better traceability, more effective monitoring, and enhanced decision-making capability. With centralized aggregation of data from across the project, more sophisticated analysis can help identify bottlenecks and issues that can become risks. This can be done faster and more effectively, before they become bigger and more expensive problems to fix.

No matter what stage you’re at, remote OCR allows you to assess scenarios to optimize your program in order to continue to meet your main targets for sustainable operations and achieve a faster ramp-up once you’re given the green light.

The potential for sustained value creation far exceeds the cost of investment in OCR

Organizations that invest in OCR early on frequently recognize the inaccuracy of industry-standard estimates and benchmarks of the owner’s cost for this critical component of getting a successful project online. Sometimes the costs are higher than expected and sometimes they are lower, but a proper OCR plan can give a more accurate estimate and demonstrate the extent to which early investment pays off in the long run.

Early investment and sustained engagement on OCR activities throughout multi-billion-dollar projects in the Middle East and South America resulted in a savings of two to four months on planned ramp-up times. That represents a significant impact to the bottom line of any capital project. This far surpassed the cost of their respective OCR investments.

Even in late-stage projects, the application of OCR expertise has bridged gaps and mitigated negative impacts to projects’ bottom lines.

Why we should constantly challenge our assumptions

Having a focus on how you're going to operate something that doesn't yet exist allows you to see with different eyes what you need for your asset to start and operate in a stable and sustainable way, fulfilling the commitments you have with your shareholders, your workers, the community, and the environment.

This approach requires a different perspective from that of the project itself. It expands the focus outward to incorporate the corporate vision, and extends it to incorporate the life of the project many years into operation.

Because no two projects are alike and no two projects come online under identical operating conditions, to be competitive we must always be prepared to challenge the following assumptions when it comes to OCR:

  • Process validation for nameplate capacity, recovery, and availability
  • People requirements and training solutions
  • Technology and digitalization applications and potential
  • Effective work processes, ways of working, flexibility, and productivity targets

There is no single solution for any given issue. Inviting in the perspectives of experts in the field can help us shift our own to find better solutions collaboratively. You can read more about how to ramp-up during COVID-19 and the benefits of remote OCR here, or get in touch today to discuss your project’s unique challenges and opportunities at this time.