Piping Design

RT-047 Topic Summary
RT 047


The purpose of this research was to identify ways to improve the efficiency of the piping engineering process.

The piping function in the engineering and construction industry frequently is inefficient and problematic. Improving the piping function could amount to an average savings of $3.8 million on a $190 million heavy industrial project (1996 data). The major causes for the problem can be found in the engineering development processes for piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), supplier data, and packaged units. The research team found three key drivers of P&ID problems: 

  • Inefficient sequencing and prioritization
  • Inefficient procedures for P&ID development and review
  • Inefficient communication of P&ID uncertainty

The team identified the major problems in the supplier data process to be communication, coordination, and selection-duration. Packaged units, according to the research team’s investigation, have problems that include issues with supplier quality and design.

Research indicates that early input can greatly improve the performance of projects. Lack of input from construction and operation/maintenance at the early stage of projects is a main contributor to project uncertainty. Leading companies are encouraging such input in order to minimize uncertainty in the piping process.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Enhancing the P&ID Development Process

The heart of this research is to understand the drivers of late P&ID changes and to create solutions that reduce these costly changes and schedule delays. Early input can greatly improve the performance of projects in this area. To obtain this early input to P&IDs, the owner’s project team should be organized at the beginning of a project and assist in the progress of the project. In addition, lack of input by personnel from operations, maintenance and construction at the early stage of projects is also a main contributor to project uncertainty. Some companies have increased early input from these areas in order to minimize uncertainty in the piping process.

The research found that the following six stages best describe the flow of the P&ID development process (Integrated Flowchart for P&ID Development Process): (RS47-1, p. 7)

  • Approval for preliminary review (AFP)
  • Approval for multi-disciplinary review (AFM)
  • Approval for owner review (AFO)
  • Approval for detailed design (AFD)
  • Approval for construction (AFC)
  • Approval for start-up and operations (AFS)

To improve P&ID development and reviews, the research developed the following five tools:

  • Pre-P&ID Information List
  • P&ID Standardization List
  • P&ID Review Checklist
  • Responsibility Assignment Chart for P&ID,
  • Strategies for Avoiding Artificially Frozen P&IDs
Reference: (RS47-1)

2 : Inefficient Communication of P&ID Uncertainty

The current approach of communicating P&ID uncertainty by highlighting the uncertain area with a “cloud” and marking it with the word “hold” is inefficient. Research indicates that while the current approach is widely used, it is unsatisfactory for the following reasons (RS47-1, p. 14):

  • No specific information about what is uncertain in the “hold”
  • No contact point for P&ID users to clarify the information pertaining to the “hold”
  • No time of reference for when the information will become firm
  • No recommendation for follow-on action

Tool 1 – specifies those information items that will remain uncertain, which discipline/engineer to contact for clarifying “on-hold” information, and when “on-hold” information will be released.

Tool 2 – adds an estimated level of certainty of an “on-hold” P&ID item, and suggests a course for follow-on action.

Reference: (RS47-1)

3 : Problems with Supplier Data Process

 Research has identified three major classes of problems with supplier data (RS47-1, p. 15):

  • Communication problems, of which the main components are inefficiency in communicating supplier document schedules, delivery deadlines, and review schedules
  • Coordination problems caused by the necessity of sharing a large amount of scattered information among various engineering disciplines
  • Supplier selection problems that primarily stem from using the classical bid approach

The main cause of supplier data communication problems centers on the supplier data requests themselves. Some designers incorrectly assume that suppliers have a clear understanding of the “standard” set of drawings required to support the design effort and the information that should be included on each type of drawing. In addition, suppliers are not always fully informed as to when the designers need supplier drawings in order to support the design effort. To improve supplier data communication, a standard pre-printed form has been developed. The form should be filled out by the designer for every equipment requisition/specification issued, with commentary on its usage.

Holding regular supplier data coordination meetings is a recommended procedure for design teams. Doing so could help improve supplier data coordination.

Reference: (RS47-1)

4 : Supplier Pre-Qualification Program

The supplier selection process is often the primary cause for long procurement and supplier approval cycles. The cycle time to bid equipment and receive acceptable technical documentation can vary between 12 and 22 weeks, and can cause delays in producing design documents. A Supplier Pre-Qualification Program is recommended by the research team to solve this problem. (RS47-1, p. 17)

Reference: (RS47-1)

5 : Packaged Unit Supplier Pre-Qualification Program

The packaged unit process is a major problem in the piping function. Research indicates that packaged unit supplier quality suffers due to:

  • Insufficient supplier engineering staff
  • Complexity of packaged units
  • Inexperienced sub-suppliers

A Packaged Unit Supplier Pre-Qualification program should help streamline the selection process. A customization/specifications meeting between owner and designer teams prior to specification issuance is recommended. A pre-award meeting with packaged unit suppliers can also reduce packaged unit design problems. The last recommendation for reducing the packaged unit design problems is to designate the role of a packaged unit coordinator for each project. (RS47-1, p. 19)

Reference: (RS47-1)

6 : Implementation Tool #1

IR47-2, Tools for Enhancing the Piping Engineering Process

To improve the efficiency of the piping function, the research team developed 22 tools, which are categorized into policies, procedures, checklists, and roles. These tools have been designed so that a company, by making minor adjustments, can meet its own particular needs. The tools are divided into three categories:

  • Tools for Enhancing the P&ID Development Process –12 tools 
  • Tools for Enhancing the Supplier Data Process – 5 tools 
  • Tools for Enhancing the Packaged Unit Process – 5 tools 
Reference: (IR47-2)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule, Improved quality (reduced errors & omissions)

Research Publications

Tools for Enhancing the Piping Engineering Process - IR47-2

Publication Date: 01/1997 Type: Implementation Resource Pages: 74 Status: Tool

Piping: Improving P&IDs, Supplier Data, and Packaged Units - RS47-1

Publication Date: 12/1996 Type: Research Summary Pages: 30 Status: Supporting Product

Managing Uncertainty in the Piping Process - RR47-13

Publication Date: 09/1996 Type: Research Report Pages: 103 Status: Archived Reference

Enhancement of the Piping and Instrumentation Diagram Development Process - RR47-12

Publication Date: 08/1996 Type: Research Report Pages: 136 Status: Reference

Improving Industrial Piping Through Vendor Data and Packaged Units Processes - RR47-11

Publication Date: 05/1996 Type: Research Report Pages: 164 Status: Archived Reference