Starting strong and finishing strong

Mike Lindgren

Mike Lindgren

The lab and the field have pivoted from the last decade’s focus on operations to a decade that adds the challenge of major project planning, design and construction. As we enter 2017, we can look forward to three of our projects transitioning to operations. The CMS Phase 1 upgrades will largely be installed and running; we should have a modern master electrical substation and backbone water system; and the Muon g-2 experiment should see their first muons.

Each project has done well and is expected to be completed ahead of schedule and within budget, which are always two of the goals. Another is that they function well and reliably, and we can measure our success in that regard only after the project is completed.

The foundation for that success is established as part of the project, of course, and requires clearly understanding the science and technical requirements, as well as excellence in execution by our scientists, engineers and technicians. When subsequent operations are rocky, although we may have hit the mark for officially calling the project a success, we nevertheless lose science, time and money that would have gone to other projects or important operational needs.

Aristotle defined excellence as a mean lying between two extremes. For us I think of excellence in projects as the sweet spot between building as much capability within the project budget as possible (minimizing cost) and building a “space-ready” device that is practically certain never to fail (at an exorbitant cost). Unfortunately, there is no recipe that assures we will hit that sweet spot. But we try, and that is one of the reasons we document, communicate and review from start to finish.

On every project we have done at the lab in the last 20 years, there is at least one place where something failed in operations that was not foreseen in the project. Some impacts were larger than others, whether it was in CDF’s silicon detector, LHC quadrupole supports, NOvA photodetectors or MicroBooNE electronics. As Aristotle also noted, there are a thousand ways to fail and only one way to get it right. We should not forget that we do hit the mark a large faction of the time. But our project team’s goal is to deliver machines for science that are in all aspects durable, reliable and run the way we intended — to deliver science efficiently and safely.

We continue to keep this in mind with our full plate of starting and ongoing projects: IERC, constructing Mu2e, and ramping up LBNF/DUNE, PIP-II and the LHC Hi-Lumi upgrades.

Reaching our goals of reliable and safe operations bolsters our reputation and keeps people working on projects instead of repairs. It is my belief that our three projects are going to finish strong and that operations in 2017 will also start strong by commissioning and running well and reliably. We will be able to judge ourselves successful only once we prove it in the field. I am looking forward to that!

Mike Lindgren is the Fermilab chief project officer.