by Lisa Meiman
On Jan. 13 and 14, Western linemen and subject matter experts gathered in Loveland, Colorado, to test a new field inspection tool to document the condition of Western’s transmission lines and structures across the organization.
"This will be a huge thing for [Desert Southwest], as our region will now have the ability to accurately inspect, record and report our transmission line conditions using a robust Geographic Information Systems-based inspection system,” said DSW GIS Specialist Humberto Aceves, a Northstar Technologies contractor. “This new system will ensure the integrity and health of our transmission system information moving forward.”
Nearly 30 members of the Transmission Line Inspection Solution Team evaluated the new application, accessed on rugged computers, on the Airport-to-Boyd 115-kilovolt transmission line. This spring, the application will become the Westernwide standard for inspecting, documenting and tracking Western’s more than 177,000 transmission structures and their many components.
“It’s a pretty good product,” said Rocky Mountain Western Colorado Division Maintenance Manager Will Schnyer. “It will be good to have everyone using the same thing.”
Aceves added, “So far, it functions very well. We have encountered a few hiccups, but that’s why we are thoroughly testing the software now. It has been very impressive and positive having all the critical personnel—GIS, linemen, information technology and the software vendor—here and working together as it will be vital to the success of this Westernwide program.”
Training on the new application will begin in February at Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada with full deployment expected in May. Each crew will be assigned a rugged computer to take to the field with them during inspections and maintenance work.
“My vision is when the crews are maintaining or changing structures they are recording what is being accomplished,” said Upper Great Plains Supervisory Maintenance Specialist Jerry Paulson. “That will allow us to know the current condition of each structure in the line section and not have to assume a condition of the line based on its age.”
RM Foreman III Lineman Ron Burbridge added, “We want this tool to help us get better about preordering equipment for projects instead of storing so many components until they are needed.”
Down to details
The field trials are another step in a multiyear initiative that began in 2012 to standardize transmission structure inspections across Western. The first week of December 2014, the team met at the Electric Power Training Center in Golden, Colorado, to go over the new tool, customization options and the user interface with the vendor.
That week-long meeting was a systematic and comprehensive examination of the more than dozen transmission components, such as insulators or cross arms, that need to be inspected. Each component then had drop down menus of several attributes that should be assessed within the component, down to its connections and bolts.
“We’re looking at each attribute to make sure we meet everyone’s needs. It’s a lot of drill down but worth the effort. We’ll have a good product in the end,” said Schnyer.
The vendors listened to feedback on different aspects of the user interface and customization. Every few hours, the group took a break and the vendors made real-time changes to the interface so when the meeting resumed, the latest interface was on the screen.
“We need to make sure that what we are collecting will be used and useful,” added Eric Weisbender, a Geographic Information Systems Specialist in Lakewood, Colorado. As the tool is based on Western’s GIS database, GIS technicians also attended. Natural Resources staff also stopped by to ensure their area of responsibility was included in the component list since linemen note the condition of rights of way during patrols and need to be aware of environmental constraints and landowner information.
“It was a very positive experience. The group was engaged and I was pleased with everyone’s effort to collaborate,” said Headquarters-based Project Manager Bill Bailey. “I felt we had solid commitment from the Craft to reach common naming conventions and attributes and sort out nuances each region tends to carry. Having the real-time changes was a positive attribute for the workshop. We didn’t have to wait to see the changes, and I believe that made it more successful.”
Small pieces to big picture
Uniform and consistent approaches to gather asset information are foundational for a strong asset management program, like the one Western is implementing.
Maximo serves as the Western database for transmission condition health, but its entries are high level, usually entire segments, leaving a hole of information between the breakers. This weakness was highlighted when the Asset Management Program Improvement Project ran its first risk reports in June 2014 using Maximo data.
“The transmission line segment data is misleading and not usable for decision making,” said AMPIP Project Manager Don Roberts. “The primary data point for the health index is age of the whole segment, breaker to breaker, which may not represent the age or health of its individual structures or components. And what the other … asset classes have taught us is age doesn’t necessarily correlate to health.”
Each region has always collected the transmission line structure granular data, but each had different databases, different methodologies and different definitions of asset health. “It is difficult to get our hands around the health of transmission lines Westernwide. We have a good maintenance program, but different approaches for document issues,” said Bill Bailey. “The project will implement one application to track information, offer a common GIS database and use one priority rating approach to identify deficiencies.”
Besides strengthening asset management, the automated system is also expected to help with reliability audit preparation. “The less capability you have to manage your data, the more cumbersome audits are,” said Bailey. “We noticed in the substation project field trials at RM that the electricians could more quickly put material together to respond to audit requests for information.”
A third and final phase of this project will integrate Maximo and GIS later this year. Once the two systems are linked, both crews in the field and the support staff in the office will have access to a comprehensive maintenance information system.