Bad experiences come from a lack of wisdom and wisdom comes from bad experiences. Perhaps there is some wisdom here for each of us.
It has been a privilege for me to be part of the design and construction of a number of aquaculture facilities for a variety of customers including privately owned companies, federal research facilities and universities. These range from live holding systems for shellfish to water-source heat pumps for a federal research facility. During the course of these projects some things have happened to me and the others involved that most of us would like to avoid in the future…mistakes. Here are some of the things I have learned…the list is not meant to be exhaustive.
- What Business Are You In?
The first rule of the design phase is to put the designer’s mindset in the right place. Ask your designer perhaps yourself) “what business are you in? The design business? The construction business? The equipment supply business?” Having worn all of those hats, the only right answer is the one that matches the answer of the party paying the bills. They are in the business of selling their product or service, so producing smolts/juveniles low cost or high weight or other) or optimizing growth rates to get to market size quickly. Typically, the owner does not wish to be in the equipment maintenance business or the design and construction business.
- Establish The Vision
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs of Solomon, 29.18). There are some folks involved in any project that are only there to put in time and collect a pay cheque. It is always encouraging for me to talk with those who are interested in the vision. The vision stems from knowing what business the owner is in. What are his/her/their objectives? Everything being included in the design can be tied back to these objectives and this vision.
The manger of my first job in aquaculture, Daniel Leblanc, has the most succinct method of trying technical details to the project vision. It starts with this: “Fish have three goals in life: eat, not be eaten, and reproduce.” Almost every question about why something is done this way and not another way can be answered by starting with that line and relating it to the project vision.
The old adage, “not enough money to do it right the first time, but plenty of money to do it again” is something that the whole project has to be guarded against. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, everyone looks bad, loses money and gets stressed – or worse – when these things happen. When the costumer asks if it can be done for less money, only accommodate without compromising effectiveness.
- Effectiveness Over Efficiency
As rewarding as it is for designers to optimize efficiency, it must take a back seat to effectiveness. If it doesn’t get the job done, being 90% efficient is not better than being 60% efficient. Of course, reducing operating costs is very important and efficiency needs to be a target. But effectiveness comes first.
- More Than Energy Efficiency
Efficiency is not easily defined. Sometimes we think first about energy efficiency. But, what about fish-handling efficiency, staff safety efficiency, staffing efficiency (number and skill level required), traceability/certification efficiency? Each of these are perhaps many other efficiencies should be considered. An 80/20 list of which efficiencies are going to create the biggest impact for a business should be examined during the design stage.
- The Stocking Density Mirage
One of my customers was complaining about poor results in tanks built by a competitor. During this discussion he showed me the quote for construction of the water systems on those same tanks. It plainly read that each tank would support 22 mt of fish. The customer was typically stocking 45 mt of fish in these tanks. My competitor had plainly spelled this out up front, and yet I was getting awarded the work of expanding the facility because the customer wasn’t happy with results from stocking double the biomass specified. Rule-of-thumb is that if it first in the tank, the water system had better support it.
- The 2:00 AM Rule
What do you want to get out of bed for at 2am? Ask yourself this question during the design stage and make the list as small as possible. Is there a way for you to sleep well every night without wondering if your fish will be alive in the morning?
Not a happy word, liability. Almost as warm and fuzzy as the 2:00am rule. And also easier to deal with during the design phase. What part of a proposed design are you taking someone else’s word for? Are you willing to be liable for their error if they have never used this component in aquaculture before? Anything that hasn’t been proven should be eliminated during the design phase. Or tested! It is very likely that there is an expert somewhere who can give you a proven solution, remove all doubt, and in the end, provide a better and stronger solution than waiting for the liability debate to start.
The term herding cats comes to mind… hundreds of parts to be quoted/ordered/built/shipped/ assembled/installed/commissioned. Shortages of raw materials, failures of factory quality control, defective components, errors in drawings, weather…so many variables and so little time.
Scheduling is a whol e science itself and has birthed the discipline of industrial engineering. The keys are:
- Break it down to as many small portions and details as possible…on a calendar.
- Find the bottlenecks and address them (for example, if A has to happen before B,C,D can start, A is a bottleneck)
- Communication! Perhaps the hardest part of scheduling is to keep all parties informed (If A is three days late, B,C,D will not be happy (and may charge extra) to show up and wait around for three days to start).
- Share the Vision
Tradesmen, suppliers, delivery drivers and sub-contractors are often fascinated by aquaculture. It is important that they also are given the vision. Many will immediately take more pride in their work once they understand its purpose.
Feedback is a critical element for everyone on the project, especially the operator. During commissioning establish baseline performance and record it. During future operations, this provides a comparison to indicate if something is wearing out, being used incorrectly, or any other issues are affecting performance for better or worse. Feedback should include performance in mechanical terms, financial terms and ease of operation for staff of all stripes.
Another aspect of feedback is to keep a “breakdown list”. Anytime there is a “breakdown”, however small or large, record it. When you have the opportunity, go through the list and determine bother what is cost to remedy it and what can be done to avoid it happening again.
The construction phase is a valuable time for training operational staff when possible. What better way to earn a complex system than to put it together with your own hands?
For ease of training once the system is operational, labels/numbers on equipment, piping and valves, allows for procedural directions to be created and followed.
Daily, weekly, monthly and annual checklists provide accountability for proper maintenance and operations. After training my customers, I request that they fax me the checklists on a regular basis: every day for the first 2-3 weeks to ensure proper operations, and then weekly until they decide they don’t need to anymore.
Clear labels are needed before training the operator which blower to turn on at any given time. It may also be required by local regulations to avoid risk of electrocution.
Checklists such as this monthly record help to keep maintenance on track and provide some feedback to colleagues.
Purge tank oxygen: if the operator ignores the design stocking density, what will the water quality be?