Marcus Evans

Ensuring Timely Outage Completion with Xcel Energy

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Courtesy of Marcus Evans

Outages are huge, multi-million dollar projects that are crucial to the upkeep and maintenance of power plant assets. Due to the downturn of the economy, companies are cutting back on maintenance budgets. Outage and maintenance managers need to determine the best strategies to execute their outages in the quickest and most cost efficient ways possible.

As speakers at the upcoming marcus evans 12th Annual Outage Management for Power Plants Conference, in Dallas, TX, August 6-8, 2013, both Rogers and Lahti offer their expertise on how to have better preparations in place, so there are less unknowns at the time of the outage.

What are some of the detailed steps you take throughout the 18th months leading up to an outage?

We follow a phased approach. Initially, plant leadership sets goals for the overhaul, and key leaders within the overhaul are identified. Roughly 12-18 months out, major work scope is finalized and budgets are set. A key phase is scope breakdown. Approved budget scope is broken down into assignable, manageable projects. Project leads are assigned to the projects.

The detailed planning occurs at the project level. Each project lead identifies the tasks required to successfully complete their project. Tasks are all-encompassing and include all support activities – insulation removal, scaffolding, start-up testing requirements, operator training, etc.

We have found the most success through focused meetings to identify the scope. The project leads meet with the overhaul management team to list their project needs and the overhaul management team documents the needs and triggers further scope identification.

How has this comprehensive planning process impacted your outages come Day One of the project?

Clearly identified roles and responsibilities is the largest day one impact. Talented project leads who know their work scope and expectations make the overhaul successful. To put the project leads in a position of success, the overhaul leader communicates projects and responsibilities to all overhaul participants before and during the overhaul. All overhaul team participants are then aware of the expectations of others. The project leads themselves enter the overhaul with a clear goal in mind.

How do you get the related departments involved ahead of time, to check off all the items on your list pre-outage?

The only successful way we have found so far is invite the key individuals to discuss the details in a small-group format. This often results in multiple hands-on meetings for multiple teams. The meetings are working meetings, where the details of the project are discussed and documented. Once most of the small-group details are defined, larger group meetings are held to review scope and schedule.

When did you begin implementing this process throughout your various plants, and what are some of the challenges you have had along the way?

We began implementing in late 2012. Our department was conceived in 2011, and was fully staffed in 2012. We were fortunate to have a 6-month window to learn, contrast, and define optimum overhaul management processes. The challenges we’ve seen so far are:

1.      Emergent work. The detail planning gives individuals focus during the overhaul.  When emergent work is identified during the overhaul, it takes time and effort to change an individual’s work plan. We can improve by having a defined process to integrate emergent work into the existing overhaul structure.

2.      Change management. Our overhaul management team is part of a larger organizational change at Xcel Energy. Not only are we educating the overhaul team on our processes, but all of us are new to the organizational change. We’re able to work through by focusing on the specific overhaul projects and specific overhaul responsibilities.

3.      Documentation. Much of details we are defining don’t fit into traditional work management or scheduling software. Internally, Jon has developed a database to organize and report the data we are gathering. The database is fairly customized to what we need, and serves as a translation tool between detail project planning and other work management, scheduling, and communication tools.

Peter Rogers is an Overhaul Manager for Xcel Energy with 20 years of electricity generation experience in engineering, maintenance, and management.  Pete earned his Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1996, and has worked for utilities in Alaska, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  In his current role, Pete is working to build a centralized overhaul management team supporting 5 sites with combined net generation capacity of 3800 MW.

Jon Lahti is currently an Overhaul Superintendent with Xcel Energy that has 15 years experience working within the power generation and heavy industrial facilities.  Jon possesses Bachelor Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering from Michigan Technological University.  During his eight year tenure at Xcel Energy he has been involved in all stages of the overhaul cycle at multiple coal and natural gas generation units. 

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