Cloud-based software service facilitates management of best practices, lessons learned

A quick call to a seasoned project director to inquire about how his company handles lessons learned elicited a response heard many times from powerplant managers: “I’ve never seen any plant staff or organization handle this well.” Yet virtually everyone agrees that best practices and lessons learned (BP/LL) must be captured and followed so what worked last time is repeated, and what didn’t is avoided.

Profitability and continuous-improvement assessments always key in on a managed, active, and robust feedback loop from past experience to future action, and continuity of knowledge transferred among appropriate staff.

For powerplants, the urgency on capturing BP/LL is acute—especially at facilities powered by gas turbines which may change ownership as frequently as every few years, and often are operated by third-party O&M firms. Multiple organizations, contractual responsibilities written in legalese, and what’s become the transactional nature of power generation all make capture and dissemination of BP/LL that much more difficult.

On top of this, there’s the critical issue of what platform to use. Tools may be available in Microsoft SharePoint, Excel spreadsheet, project management and scheduling software, maintenance management software, or even within the control and automation platform (slowly morphing into the facility knowledge-management platform). And that’s if the organization has made the leap from Post-it® Notes, three-ring binders, and paper and ink.

EP3 LLC  seeks to change all this. The company has designed a cloud-based software service now in commercial use by at least one portfolio owner/manager—Competitive Power Ventures Inc (CPV). As part of its Quad C® platform, the BP/LL module streamlines the entry, capture, and access to/propagation of activities ranging from commissioning, post-outage, projects, operations, and routine maintenance.

Perhaps best of all, the Quad C and BP/LL module has been designed by seasoned powerplant personnel for power generation facilities and is not part of a larger enterprise software system generally designed for other purposes.

It is intended to be a single repository for all company practices and lessons, with risk profiles and associated files and photos attached to each. Because it is built in Microsoft cloud-based software systems (with its cybersecurity practices), information can be easily shared with and accessed by all those with a need to know.

Managers can create, communicate, and track autonomous actions via email alerts to responsible parties. And of course, because it’s a database, it can be queried and interrogated for performance and statistical assessments and reports.

CPV’s BP/LL network. Successful implementation and use of the BP/LL module is particularly important to CPV, which considers itself the most active independent power producer of its size in the US. In the last two years, the company has brought online two state-of-the-art 2 × 1 combined cycles powered by GE 7FA.05 gas turbines: CPV Woodbridge Energy Center in New Jersey and CPV St. Charles Energy Center in Maryland. Two more advanced plants are scheduled to start up this year: CPV Towantic Energy Center in Connecticut, equipped with 7HA.01 gas turbines, and CPV Valley Energy Center in New York, which has Siemens Energy 501F4 engines.

Reliability Engineer Preston Patterson mentioned that CPV is focused on ensuring that personnel company-wide gain from the experiences of their colleagues—both good and bad—“to maximize our potential to construct and commission new plants as smoothly as possible, as well as to maintain our current portfolio of plants operating with high availability and reliability.” Management believes that collecting the knowledge gained from each plant issue will act as a force multiplier to incrementally improve fleet performance.

Patterson, whose responsibilities include building out the BP/LL database as experiences are gained in project development/design, construction/startup, operation, maintenance, safety, etc, said the challenges that impeded the company’s goal of quickly and effectively compiling and sharing BP/LL across its fleet included these:

    • Tracking of which best practices and lessons learned had been promoted where, when, and to whom using an Excel spreadsheet proved cumbersome. Plus, each time a new BP/LL was added, or new information was obtained, CPV couldn’t easily update each affected plant with the new information.

    • Using email to share BP/LL and solicit feedback from CPV’s various third-party O&M providers and EPCs made it difficult to maintain adequate control of the most up-to-date version of the database.

    • The functionality CPV expected from the solution it would implement included the following:

    • A central, online location for maintaining version control and creating a master list of BP/LL that could be updated as new information became available.

    • A tracking system to ensure PB/LL would be distributed to the relevant personnel in timely fashion.

    • The ability to transfer knowledge more efficiently both internally and with third parties outside the CPV network.

How the BP/LL program works. The EP3 BP/LL solution selected by CPV allows the addition of new best practices and lessons learned from a simple web browser on any computer or mobile device, or by email to the CPV Asset Management team responsible for this effort. Each lesson can have multiple “actions” assigned to specific users or roles for follow-up. To illustrate: A plant manager can forward a lesson he/she has received as an action item for an operator to evaluate.

The software makes it easy to submit a new lesson, thereby lowering the barrier to entry and enabling the company to harvest as many good ideas as possible. CPV Asset Management, CPV Construction, and the O&M teams at each plant site can submit BP/LL directly into the system while experiencing it in real time or after the successful implementation of a solution. CPV also takes advantage of this system as a platform to incorporate best practices collected from its participation in user-group meetings and from industry publications.

CPV Asset Management receives and reviews all submitted BP/LL for applicability and approval before they are promoted to other projects. This serves as a quality check and allows the opportunity to clarify and gather additional information if needed—such as photos or files that support a particular lesson. Taking the extra step ensures the best practices and lessons learned are easy to understand and apply, thereby improving the chances of a positive impact. Alerts notify appropriate personnel regarding new material and changes to existing posts.

The BP/LL software folds into CPV’s internal reliability program. It is through this platform that the company is able to develop trust in the quality and value of the material in the database, as well as provide training and support as necessary. In addition to interacting via the electronic network, personnel from each plant meet quarterly for discussions on key reliability topics.

CPV’s fleet-wide success in developing and sharing best practices and lessons learned earned the company a 2018 Best Practices Award, presented by CCJ and the 7F Users Group at the latter’s annual meeting in Atlanta, May 7-11.

Results. Since bringing Woodbridge Energy Center online in 2016, CPV has benefited greatly from sharing fleet-wide the best practices and lessons learned during plant development, construction, commissioning, and operation. An outstanding example is freeze protection.

Several CPV plants are outdoor installations located in the Northeast. Failure to provide world-class freeze protection at these facilities could easily lead to a loss in availability. Thumbnails of several freeze-protection best practices among the dozens shared among CPV personnel are presented in the sidebar. Woodbridge was the CPV fleet leader on this topic having been the first plant to experience some of the challenges of initial design issues, and installation practices by contractors. The BP/LL shared by Woodbridge earned the plant a Best of the Best Award in 2017.

Heat tracing may look insignificant in the greater scheme of things during plant construction, but the failure of an important circuit during a cold snap can shut down your plant as fast as an exhaust-temperature excursion can trip your gas turbine.

Despite the close attention CPV Woodbridge Energy Center staff paid to heat tracing, it wasn’t enough. Turns out the designer of the heat tracing system and the system installer didn’t communicate well and plant personnel found many installation errors, especially in programming.

Given the vital importance of this system at Woodbridge, CPV and the plant operator, Consolidated Asset Management Services (CAMS), engaged a third-party firm with heat-trace expertise to audit the system. Each circuit was inspected thoroughly. Electrical wiring was checked for proper configuration, current draws were measured, alarms set, etc.

The Woodbridge system is complex, as you might imagine. There are 17 heat-trace control panels plant-wide, with dozens of individual circuits tied into each one. Circuits include high/low current alarms and information that helps to anticipate failures. False alarms in mild weather were common and had to be addressed, since the alarms are directed to the control room and operators have to go to the local panel for access.

The extensive inspection effort and rework produced a treasure trove of best practices/lessons learned that helped avoid repeat problems at the other CPV plants in design and under construction. The following best practices and lessons learned pertaining to development/design and construction/startup illustrate the value of the EP3 software described in the main text; you may find a nugget for your plant among them.

Development/design

    • Add smart-panel amp indication on each circuit as well as a light to visually indicate that the circuit is energized. This makes it easier for operators to walk down the system, verifying that the heat tracing is on and working when it should be.

    • Have your engineer do a detailed evaluation of all vendor equipment (gas and steam turbines, HRSGs, etc) requiring heat tracing and make sure that the information is clearly presented to the heat-trace system supplier.

    • The mechanical engineer responsible for the heat-trace design scope should be the same person who reviews the vendor’s design isometrics. The field engineer may not necessarily understand the mechanical properties of the piping system and may miss things that should be included in the isometric drawings. In addition, the mechanical engineer is better positioned to be aware of potential piping changes needed.

    • Since the heat-trace design usually is not complete until late in the project, the necessary conduit cannot be installed until very late in the schedule. You can benefit by moving a large portion of this work forward. For example, run small (12 in.) cable trays in areas known to require heat tracing (finger racks, main racks, bottom of HRSG, etc); once the heat-trace design is finalized and power connection devices are located, only short pieces of conduit from the tray to the devices are needed.

Construction/startup

    • Ensure that compressor bleed-valve actuators and inlet-filter differential-pressure instruments are heat-traced and insulated properly for adequate freeze protection.

    • Coordinate with the instrumentation fitters to make sure that when cutting back the heated tube bundles they leave at least 3 ft of heat-trace cable on both ends. When they cut the heated tube bundles short, there is not always enough cable to reach the power connection kit inside the heated enclosure, or to trace the root valve. This results in having to relocate power-connection kits and add jumpers to accommodate.

    • Ideally, start the heat-trace crew when the piping discipline is at least 65% complete. Prior to this, the pipe systems generally are not complete (missing valves, permanent supports not installed, etc) which creates rework for heat-trace crews. This will allow a large runway ahead of the heat-trace crew, increasing productivity. Impact upon the project completion schedule and weather conditions may override this.

    • When installing the rubber boots in the termination kits, the leads tend to bunch up at the bottom and touch. If there was a ground fault during commissioning, 80% of the time it was in the rubber-boot connection.

    • Perform a thorough heat-trace audit during the summer to identify and address any issues before the next winter.

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