Stories of construction mishaps abound in the oil, gas and chemical industry. Suppose the pipe that Contractor A installed from storage doesn’t line up with the pipe Contractor B ran from inside the unit. Maybe Contractor A used a green light to signal pump run status in one unit, while Contractor B used an amber light for the same purpose in another unit. Or, Contractor A incorporated an approved design change that increases steam demand without communicating the change to Contractor B, who is responsible for steam generation equipment.
One of the more infamous examples of an interface issue is the Mars Climate Orbiter incident in the late 1990s. The satellite missed its orbital insertion due to misalignment on units of measure. The software sending data to the satellite was using Imperial units (lbf-s) rather than the satellite’s expected input of SI units (N-s). The result was the catastrophic loss of a $200 million satellite and years of hard work by the mission team.
Each of these scenarios illustrates a breakdown in interface management. Though individual teams may spend months working through design and construction details, even a minor miscommunication among parties can lead to large, unexpected problems. Correcting the problems introduced as a result of poor interface management is time-consuming and expensive.
The bigger or more complex the project, the bigger the risk of miscommunication at interface points. When you’re dealing with a high number of physical touch points, contractors and licensors, all interactions become more complicated. Oil, gas and chemical companies are aware of how difficult it is to make the details line up. Still, it’s common to assume interface management will take care of itself.
A better approach is to take time to plan communication interfaces upfront. Implementing a proven interface management process allows you to identify and prevent potential interface issues, thereby reducing changes and, ultimately, lowering project costs.