Ensuring Capital Projects Success: Design for Cost, Quality, and Maintenance


Ensuring Capital Projects Success: Design for Cost, Quality, and Maintenance


Capital projects involve large-scale investments and represent initiatives that foster economic growth and innovation within organizations. These projects, from constructing new factories to implementing innovative technologies, play a crucial role in determining companies’ future. However, their success hinges on their design, which must address current demands and anticipate future needs.

This article explores the importance of developing solutions considering immediate and future costs, ensuring high-quality standards, and establishing conditions to optimize maintenance. As we present the challenges and methodologies that lead to the best solution, we aim to provide insights that promote sustainable success and excellence in capital projects.

Benefits of Designing for Cost, Quality, and Maintenance

When considering issues of cost, quality, and maintenance from the early stages of projects, the resulting benefits are substantial and directly impact operational efficiency and the resilience of the asset, whether it be equipment, new technology, a production line, or a plant. Next, we will explore the benefits of designing with these three variables.

Cost Efficiency

  • Capital Cost Reduction: Considering efficient design right from the start leads to identifying and implementing less expensive materials, processes, and technologies. Minimizing unnecessary features and complexity helps optimize resource use without compromising functionality.
  • Operational Cost Reduction: Efficient design choices translate into streamlined operations and lower expenses. Energy-efficient and sustainable practices incorporated in the design phase can reduce usage and maintenance costs over the operational life.
  • Improvement in Operational Processes: Designing with cost in mind also includes evaluating and optimizing workflows and operational processes. Optimizing operations from the design phase improves overall efficiency and productivity, contributing to long-term savings.

Designing for Quality

  • Process Improvement: Integrating quality into the design process of manufacturing equipment ensures process reliability. Focusing on quality from the start helps identify potential problems and mitigate risks, making the process more robust and avoiding rework and late improvements in the project.
  • Higher Quality in the Final Product: Designing for quality results in a process that allows manufacturing the final product in a way that meets or exceeds customer expectations. Rigorous quality standards, anti-error systems, and testing protocols implemented during the design phase contribute to a reliable and defect-free product.

Designing for Maintenance

  • Vertical Startup Optimization: By addressing issues in the initial design phase, the project can achieve a smoother vertical start-up, whether it be a new factory, line, or equipment. This minimizes delays and interruptions during the commissioning phase, ensuring a more efficient operational start.
  • Early Problem Identification: Designing for maintenance involves anticipating problems and challenges that may arise during the equipment’s lifecycle. Early problem identification allows for proactive solutions, reducing the likelihood of costly failures and improving overall reliability.
  • Improved Future Maintainability: Incorporating maintenance considerations into the design ensures that equipment is designed to facilitate maintenance. Well-designed maintenance processes and ensuring accessibility features lead to reduced downtime during maintenance activities, ultimately improving the overall lifecycle cost.

A thoughtful and integrated approach to designing for costs, quality, and maintenance results in a product or system that meets budget constraints and quality standards and is sustainable and easy to maintain over its operational life. This approach contributes to the success and long-term viability of projects.

Three Foundations of Excellence

Discover how optimizing design for cost, quality, and maintenance can improve operational efficiency and ensure the asset’s resilience against future challenges. Let’s delve into the key strategies underpinning capital projects’ enduring success.

Design for Cost

Design for Cost (DFC) is a systematic methodology to deliver the project’s essential functions at the lowest possible cost. This approach involves several phases that guide the development of cost-effective solutions while ensuring the fulfillment of necessary functions and requirements. Here is an overview of the main stages of the Design for Cost process:

  • Introduction: Design for Cost concepts are introduced during this initial phase. The goal is to establish a shared understanding of various aspects of the project, including objectives, critical issues, and constraints within the workshop environment. This prepares the ground for a collective and informed approach to design improvement to ensure cost efficiency.
  • Function Analysis: A critical aspect of DFC is analyzing the project’s fundamental functions. This analysis creates a Function Diagram, visually representing how different functions interconnect and contribute to the project’s overall objectives. Understanding these functions is crucial for identifying areas where cost savings can be achieved without compromising essential features.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: This phase evaluates each function’s relative contribution to the project’s main objectives. Subjective evaluations are paired with an initial cost estimate, setting the stage for a more thorough cost-benefit analysis. This step helps identify functions with the most significant value relative to associated costs.
  • Idea Generation – Creating Alternatives: DFC encourages a creative phase where everyone is challenged to generate alternative ideas for each function. This brainstorming session promotes innovation and leads participants to explore unconventional but cost-effective solutions. The goal is to discover various alternatives to optimize functionality while minimizing costs.
  • Preliminary Evaluation – Filtering: After the idea generation phase, a preliminary evaluation is conducted to filter out redundant or impractical ideas. This step ensures that the generated alternatives align with the project’s scope and are viable within the given constraints.
  • Secondary Evaluation – Prioritization: The remaining ideas undergo a secondary evaluation where they are confirmed, refined, and prioritized for further development. Prioritization ensures that resources are allocated to the most promising alternatives.
  • Development of Alternatives: Sub-teams thoroughly analyze and develop the selected alternatives. This involves comprehensively assessing each alternative’s feasibility, potential risks, and benefits. This phase aims to refine and enhance the chosen ideas to a level that can be practically implemented within the project.
  • Final Idea Evaluation: The last phase involves a final evaluation of the developed alternatives. The most viable ideas are recommended for incorporation into the project or further development. This step marks the transition from the design phase to the implementation phase, with a clear roadmap for achieving cost-effective functionality.
Design for Cost (DFC) prioritization matrix, with boxes marked 'DON'T TOUCH' for low priority and 'MAIN FOCUS' or 'SECONDARY FOCUS' for areas of greater attention to cost optimization and customer value.

Design for Cost is a strategic and collaborative approach that ensures project functions are delivered efficiently and economically. By analyzing functions, conducting cost assessments, and promoting the generation of creative ideas, this methodology enables teams to design solutions that meet project objectives while optimizing costs.

Design for Quality

Design for Quality (DFQ) is a crucial aspect of process development, ensuring the outcome meets or exceeds customer expectations. The Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) approach is a systematic method used in DFQ to proactively identify potential failure modes, assess their impact, and prioritize actions to mitigate risks. It is used at various project stages, focusing on quality. Here’s the step-by-step process to implement FMEA:

  • Analyze the Process: Use a flowchart to identify each process step or component and list each in the FMEA table.
  • Identify Potential Failure Modes: Analyze existing data and brainstorm to identify potential failure modes for each process component. There may be multiple potential failure modes for each component.
  • List Potential Effects of Each Failure Mode: Identify each failure mode’s impact on the final product or subsequent process steps. Recognize that there might be more than one effect for each failure.
  • Assign Severity Ratings: Evaluate the severity of the consequences resulting from each failure and assign severity ratings based on the potential impact on the product or process. Use a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents the highest severity.
  • Analyze Causes and Failure Mechanisms: Understand the root cause or mechanism that leads to the failure.
  • Assign Occurrence Ratings: Understand if there are occurrence controls to prevent the failure. Determine the likelihood of each failure occurring and rate using a scale of 1 to 10. A rating of 10 should be assigned to the highest frequency of occurrence.
  • Assign Detection Ratings: Analyze if there are failure detection controls. Evaluate the chances of detecting each failure before it occurs and the effectiveness of existing detection mechanisms. Assign a score from 0 to 10, where 10 represents the lowest probability of detection.
  • Calculate the RPN (Risk Priority Number): Multiply the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection ratings for each failure mode.
  • Develop an Action Plan and Implement it: Prioritize failures based on their Risk Priority Numbers and team sensitivity. Define actions and owners to address each failure mode. Develop an action plan specifying what needs to be done, by whom, and when. Execute the action plan, ensuring that the most critical failures are addressed.
  • Recalculate the RPN: Reassess each potential failure mode after implementing the actions. Determine the impact of the improvements on the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection ratings. Recalculate the RPN for each failure mode and define new actions if needed.
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) template for identifying and prioritizing potential failures in processes or products within the scope of Design for Quality (DFQ).

By systematically following these steps, the FMEA approach helps organizations identify, prioritize, and address potential failure modes early in the design or process development stages, improving the quality and reliability of the final product or service.

Ensuring Excellent Maintainability

Design for Maintainability (DFM) is a strategic approach focused on the long-term operational success of equipment. Below are the main objectives and associated steps to effectively implement DFM:

  • Improve Equipment Reliability: Ensuring the reliability of new equipment and reducing failures and associated downtime is a primary objective. For this, it’s imperative to ensure the robustness of critical components and integrate preventive maintenance features into the design.
  • Reduce Lifecycle Costs: Minimizing maintenance requirements from the design phase is fundamental to reducing overall operational costs over the equipment’s lifecycle. This involves optimizing the design to facilitate maintenance, selecting materials and components focusing on longevity, and implementing predictive maintenance strategies.
  • Improve Safety: Prioritizing safety involves conducting detailed safety assessments during the design phase, integrating safety features and devices, and ensuring clear and comprehensive documentation is available for safe maintenance procedures.
  • Facilitate Maintenance: Consider facilitating repair tasks, quick adjustments, and planned and autonomous maintenance. It’s essential to make components easily accessible for inspection and repair and use modular components to simplify repair tasks, allowing for a more efficient approach. Integrating visual controls, predictive analysis, and condition monitoring systems contributes to more proactive maintenance.
  • Vertical Startup: Streamlining the vertical startup process is essential to ensure that new equipment quickly and effectively reaches operational efficiency. This can be achieved through a good commissioning process and detailed testing during the design phase.
Main objectives of Design for Maintenance highlighted in blocks: 'Optimized vertical start-up', 'Minimized downtime', 'Cost-effective maintenance', 'Improved productivity', 'Improved equipment efficiency', 'Simplified training'.


The success of capital projects primarily lies in the integrated approach to cost, quality, and maintenance from the initial design stages. This strategy reduces costs immediately and strengthens operational efficiency, the quality of the final solution, and ease of maintenance over the lifecycle.

Designing for cost, quality, and maintenance are three key aspects of elevating capital projects to new heights of efficiency, innovation, and long-term success. By adopting this approach, organizations ensure success and resilience in the face of future challenges.

Still have questions about Design for Cost, Quality, and Maintenance?

What are Failure Modes?

Failure modes refer to the different states or conditions where a system, component, or process fails to perform its intended function. It is when an item fails to meet the defined requirements.

What is Severity, Occurrence, and Detection in FMEA?

Severity, Occurrence, and Detection are critical terms used in the context of FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis), a systematic approach for assessing and prioritizing potential failure modes.

  • Severity: Refers to the seriousness of the impact or consequence of a failure mode. It rates how severe the effect would be if the failure mode occurred. It is generally rated on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 indicates the highest impact.
  • Occurrence: Represents the likelihood of a failure mode occurring and assesses its frequency. The rating is generally done on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 indicates the highest probability of occurrence.
  • Detection: Refers to the effectiveness of existing controls to detect a failure mode before it causes an impact. It assesses the ability to identify the failure mode before it causes significant damage. The rating is generally on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 indicates the lowest detection capability.

The Risk Priority Number (RPN) is calculated by multiplying the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection values, providing an overall ranking of the failure modes.

What is Maintainability?

Maintainability refers to the ease with which a system or component can be maintained or repaired. A design with good maintainability facilitates the performance of maintenance tasks, reducing downtime and associated costs.

What is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous Maintenance is a concept where operators take responsibility for preventive and routine maintenance tasks on equipment or machines. Operators are trained to perform inspections, cleaning, lubrication, and minor maintenance, reducing the dependence on specialized maintenance teams.

What is Planned Maintenance?

Planned Maintenance refers to activities scheduled in advance based on a predefined strategy. This approach involves conducting inspections, replacing components, and other planned and systematic maintenance activities to maximize efficiency and minimize unplanned downtime. Scheduled maintenance is often based on historical data, performance forecasts, and predictive maintenance strategies.

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