501F Vendor Spotlight: Case for third-party outage solutions strengthens

TOPS Field Services LLC

A visit by CCJ editors to the TOPS shop during an editorial swing through Houston revealed how capable third-party companies are evolving as turbine OEMs try to corner the market for total plant outage solutions.

 Among the growing concerns of the end-user community, very loudly voiced at most industry user groups this year, is the ability of OEMs to perform acceptable outages on-time and near budget. According to this chatter, many OEM field engineers are retiring (or going elsewhere) and the replacement rate is not on pace, exacerbating the experience deficit.

After a couple of hours at TOPS, you can see why and how this OEM-alternative services provider is not just weathering the storm but gaining on the competition, according to its order book:

  • People.
  • Growth.
  • Expertise.
  • Strategic partnerships.

People. TOPS leadership includes two industry veterans in its president, Toby Wooster, and Engineering Director Jim Beckett. In past lives, Wooster ran the GE Wallisville 7FA rotor shop; Beckett is a former GE field engineer and plant manager at 7FA, 501F, 501G, and 501D5 sites. Wooster’s sons, Luke, Josh, and Adam head up operations, safety/logistics, and business affairs, respectively. This kind of generalship and family values has created a culture of hard work and people who care, as evidenced by its high retention rate, safety record, and job success. During the peak season, TOPS employs nearly 300 millwrights with over one-million hours of power-generation experience.

Growth. Now in its 10th year operating as a third-party field-services company, TOPS has performed over 900 maintenance-related activities on gas and steam turbines. More than half of these jobs have been performed on Siemens (including Westinghouse) engines with the vast majority on the 501F.

TOPS has worked extensively in one of the nation’s largest fleets where it performed its first major outage on a W501D5 in 2009 with a successful turbine/generator and rotor pull. From there, jobs came in for the 501F and 7F, along with steam turbines. Fast forward to today, at the time of printing, TOPS is at eight sites across the USA performing four majors (including generators), two HGPs, a generator field removal, a generator FTI, an iron-cross gas-leak repair, and a general-health borescope inspection.

For the 501F, TOPS has developed both inspection-specific and outage-specific toolkits to suit customer needs. Wooster touted the company’s sustained growth in this market as TOPS added a major outage toolkit for six consecutive years. These resources are located strategically around the country (Nevada, Texas, and North Carolina) for rapid deployment coast-to-coast. Services for the 501F fleet now include:

  • Borescope inspections.
  • Basket changeouts.
  • Blade blending.
  • Four-way-joint leak repair.
  • Engineering.
  • Balancing.
  • Exhaust-cylinder removal and replacement.
  • Combustion inspections.
  • Hot-gas-path outages.
  • Major outages.

Expertise. With experience comes expertise and the TOPS culture stresses improving safety and efficiency for better customer outcomes. Several process-improvement initiatives and capital investments have brought about effective solutions for all units, including:

  • New system to pull generator fields.
  • A significant investment in the latest hydraulic tensioning equipment.
  • Mobile machine shop.
  • Innovative flange-spreading tooling.

Productivity and safety initiatives developed specifically for the 501F fleet are:

  • Blade-ring stands.
  • Dummy blade rings.
  • Top-hat bolting tools.
  • Roof stands.
  • Fuel-nozzle stands.

Strategic partnerships. So, how does a relatively small company compete with behemoths like GE, Siemens, and MHPS? Simply put, TOPS is positioned for rapid deployment of its field-services expertise by working closely with capital parts and generator experts to offer turnkey outages. The goal: Provide maximum value for end users through improved quality of work and lower cost than the OEMs.