By: Wayne Perry
“Waterfall” and “Agile” project management are two methods with roots in the software development world. They were created out of necessity in a demanding industry with highly customized deliverables. Each (in its own way) is systematic, results-driven, and focused on delivering a successful, customer-oriented solution. These approaches to project management have naturally spilled over into other industries and corporate cultures. There’s also a clear application for these two approaches in compressed air system design and ongoing system maintenance and monitoring. In fact, to have lasting success, you should apply both in concert.
What is Waterfall Project Management?
This is more of a traditional approach—linear, sequential, and structured. The process flows steadily from one step to the next—like a cascading stream. The basic steps in the traditional waterfall model are:
With this method, you never proceed to the next step until the previous is fully completed. Here’s how the waterfall model relates to compressed air system design.
The Waterfall Model Applied to Compressed Air
System optimization—be it for an existing or a new one—should follow these basic steps to ensure the best possible design.
Requirements Identification: During this step, a compressed air solutions provider conducts a thorough walk-through of the entire system, including a complete inventory of compressed air equipment including piping, dryers, storage tanks, filters, drains, and compressors. Also notating operating pressures, capacities, and control methods. A block diagram is created showing all system components and their locations—including the old compressor in the broom closet that everyone likes to forget about. The provider discusses goals for the project and any existing problems (e.g. pressure drop, air quality, leaks) with the system owner. Note that any intended changes or improvements to demand-side variables should be implemented before the next step.
Design: The design step starts by conducting a compressed air assessment. This will establish a demand profile and give an overview of system dynamics. A reliable assessment should last seven to ten days. This measurement period is usually long enough to capture an accurate picture of a plant’s production cycles. Data should have a high sample rate and, since you pay for kilowatts, it’s best to measure kW directly instead of by measuring Amps and estimating kW draw. This assessment will baseline the existing system’s specific performance (e.g. kW/100 cfm) which is the true measure of system efficiency.
Based on the findings of the assessment, the compressed air solutions provider can propose multiple scenarios to improve efficiency and reliability. Ideally, these recommendations would include power cost simulations to understand energy savings potential and for calculating ROI. These simulations can provide very accurate estimates of proposed systems’ specific performance. This is the best basis for comparing energy savings potential, since any later change in production levels will affect kWh consumption.
Implementation: After reviewing the proposals, the best solution is selected. This selection process should also keep in mind future growth. This is also an excellent time to review current protocols for system maintenance and leak detection and see if revisions are necessary. With an equipment expansion, perhaps it might make sense to switch to a maintenance agreement with the equipment manufacturer. Having a straightforward approach to systematically monitor, identify, and repair leaks in your system will keep your costs down.
Verification: The verification step is critical as it helps ensure the changes made were the right ones. This is typically accomplished through periodic follow up data collection and assessment to have a clear before-and-after picture of the savings and improvements. For projects tied to utility incentives, this step may be a requirement in order to receive the rebate payment.
Maintenance: During this step, the protocols identified in the implementation step are followed. This is also where we segue to the agile project management model.
What is Agile Project Management?
An agile project management approach is adaptable. In the software development world, it’s an iterative rather than linear approach that uses extensive amounts of testing to gather data, find bugs, and troubleshoot along the way. Progress and success with this method evolve. This is also a very collaborative approach to projects, with close teamwork and quick communication being essential elements.
Agile Project Management Applied to Compressed Air
Although it may not seem apparent at first glance, agile project management has its place within a compressed air system—instead of a software team running scenarios, however, it’s the equipment that works together to deliver the most efficient system possible in a dynamic plant environment.
If we take the basic steps from the waterfall method for compressed air improvement projects and apply them to agile project management, we get something like this:
The steps are repeated in short bursts (referred to as “sprints” with the agile method) and are applied to a specific task or subset of the overall project. For example, you can think of each cycle being applied to a system component with the continual analysis and testing for the cycle handled by sensors (e.g. pressure, flow, dew point) that signal back to a system master controller.
The system master controller functions as the project manager. It scans the system’s requirements and analyzes the system design to ensure the system is always operating at its highest point of efficiency. The individual components continually send the data, perpetually running performance sprints. The master controller then implements changes in equipment selection as needed. Verification occurs as more data comes in and the feedback loop becomes one of maintenance. Additionally, some master controllers can send maintenance reminders for equipment. They may also balance load hours and reduce wear and tear on equipment, thereby extending service intervals.
Some system master controllers can even generate on-demand reports summarizing energy consumption and system specific performance for trend analysis, rebates, and energy management per ISO 50001.
When it comes to choosing a project management strategy there are a number of points to consider. By applying both methods, you’ll not only have a customized compressed air system designed to efficiently meet plant demand, but also one that is continually monitoring itself to yield a reliable system adept at handling plant demand changes while keeping energy and maintenance costs in check.
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