Avoiding the hidden costs of packaged plant

Published:  15 October, 2005

Make sure you ask the right questions of your supplier in order to get a fully functioning system that is guaranteed, has no cost or time overruns and needs minimal input from you

Rick Plummer looks at the not-so-obvious costs that can scupper the most carefully planned budget for heating plant and explains how to avoid them.

Packaged steam heating and hot water systems have grown strongly in popularity over the past five years or so. This has attracted many companies to jump on the bandwagon to offer their own complete packages. The trouble is, some packages are less complete than others.

The major attraction of packaged heating plant over the conventional method of building plant on site is that costs are fixed. The supplier fabricates a system off site that is delivered ready to be hooked up to the site services. You get a fully functioning system that is guaranteed, has no cost or time overruns and needs minimal input from you. You save time, cut hassle and end up with a better installation.

Yet all too often it doesn’t work out like this. When the unit is delivered, you may find you need to purchase auxiliary items to install it. Or you get a standard package that doesn’t quite match your requirements and costly modification is needed. All the time and cost savings you had expected suddenly vanish.

The questions to ask

The potential benefits are no illusion, however. You just have to know what to watch out for and the right questions to ask your supplier.

Have they got a strong track record in offsite construction? It takes years to build up real in-depth application knowledge. The supplier’s engineers need to know what standards apply, what materials are needed and which connections to use for any type of building. Many companies simply do not have this depth of knowledge.

Will the system really be complete? Engineered systems should include all the parts needed for installation. This ensures there are no surprise costs or delays from buying and fitting ancillary pipeline parts to complete the installation. It should all be there.

Has your supplier got the right project management skills? A successful project is about more than simply supplying the right equipment. A good supplier will have detailed processes in place to ensure that every project runs as efficiently as possible. Based on project management best practices, the system should incorporate method statements and work summaries, site assessments and much more.

What about regulatory compliance? From the Pressure Equipment Regulations to the Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations, a decent supplier will take all the necessary regulations into account in order to ensure that regulatory and Health & Safety requirements are met. It is important for the building owner to check, however, because the responsibility for compliance will ultimately rest with them.

Can they guarantee performance? You are buying a system to do a job. Make sure that your supplier offers guaranteed performance criteria to meet your requirements. Using a large supplier that manufactures all the components used in its engineered systems helps, because it ensures that all the components will be compatible and able to offer the highest operational efficiency.

Back it up with warranties. Extended warranties with annual breakdown cover and maintenance options offer the ultimate in peace of mind. Not only will they be there if something goes wrong, but it also shows that suppliers have confidence in their product.

Rick Plummer is UK engineering manager with Spirax Sarco, Charlton House, Cheltenham GL53 8ER.

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