Has your company ever been faced with having to solve basic mechanical equipment design type problems in the field during a supposed “turnkey” installation? Have you received systems that were adequate for the normal design conditions, but were not designed considering abnormal or upset conditions? Are all of your company standards and preferences adhered to in new equipment designs? Have you experienced an unacceptably high level of new equipment startup problems or low unit service factors? If you answer "yes" to these questions more often than you are comfortable with, then it's time to review how you're currently handling mechanical engineering quality control.
Quality control is normally thought of in terms of physical inspection process. Is the correct material being used? Are the dimensions and thickness correct? Engineering quality control is what should occur well before this inspection.
In an ideal world, an owner company should be able to give an engineering contractor or vendor a specification and expect everything to be designed correctly, and be installed, start up and operate smoothly. However, this isn't an ideal world. Corners are sometimes cut that shouldn't be. Mistakes are sometimes made. Misunderstandings occur. Inexperienced people are sometimes left without adequate supervision. The potential for these things to occur has increased in the era of corporate downsizing which all portions of the hydrocarbon processing industry have experienced over the last several years. The end result when problems are ultimately uncovered is that time and money are lost.
What is engineering quality control? It is a periodic sampling of a contractor's or vendor's engineering performance during the course of a job. It begins soon after a contract has been awarded and continues throughout the course of the project. This quality control by the owner is not intended to duplicate the contractor's or vendor's work and recheck everything. That is unrealistic. The objective is to check enough of the engineering in order to make a judgment of overall quality. The amount of sampling can be increased or decreased based on the results seen.
This engineering quality control effort will obviously have a cost associated with it. However, when done in a controlled manner, this cost will be small in comparison to that associated with field problems and unit downtime.
With the concept of engineering quality control now introduced, the next step is to provide some suggestions for how to implement this in the mechanical engineering area.