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Automating process reduces errors

​By Leah Shapiro​

Electrical Engineer Gary Zevenbergen and Information Technology Specialist Tom Howard worked together to automate and streamline the production of more than half of one of WAPA's important safety publications, reducing one person's time investment from 250 hours to less than 10.

WAPA's Power System Safety Manual, a 300-plus page resource that is up­dated and published annually through the Office of Safety and Occupational Health, “details rules to perform work without incurring occupational injury or illness." Its intent “is to prevent incidents that result in personal injury, illness and property damage or work interruption."

It contains 19 sections on topics including fire protection, motor vehicles, live-line hot stick work and material handling and storage. It also includes appendices on minimum approach distances, metric conversion factors, working load limits and arc flash parameters.

The updates capture changes to procedures and safety parameters, which can be affected by changes to WAPA assets, such as transmission lines or substations.

Zevenbergen's and Howard's initia­tive will automate the calculation of the safety parameters that are critical in providing a safe work environment for WAPA's maintenance crews. ​


A complicated process

Each year around August, Zevenbergen begins the update of the safety parameters.

He performs short-circuit calcula­tions in the ASPEN OneLiner system and imports the data to an Excel spreadsheet. He imports the transmis­sion line lengths and distances, which are needed for future calculations, from WAPA's Geographic Information System into a separate Excel work­book. He then performs a visual in­spection of the data to verify accuracy and manually executes the necessary calculations in Excel. He repeats this process for each region and consoli­dates the data into yet another Excel workbook that Public Affairs uses to create appendices in the PSSM.

Zevenbergen is responsible for updating about 90% of the appendices, which make up more than 50% of the PSSM, and spends about 250 hours per year on this process.

Regardless of how focused or meticulous he might be, manual data reviews are prone to human error. Recognizing this, along with the labor-intensive process and the fact that he was the only one who knew or performed the process, Zevenbergen reached out to IT to see what might be possible.


Finding solutions

Discussions of a technology solution began back in 2012.

“It was a long road to get here," said Zevenbergen. “Once we started talk­ing through the process, we realized it wasn't as straightforward as we origi­nally assumed. It didn't make sense to tackle automating this piece until some other systems were integrated and we made more progress with mobile device access and cloud computing."

Zevenbergen and Supervisory IT Specialist John Ginkel touched base every year or so. After the Facility Identification Renovation and GIS/Maximo Integration projects were com­pleted and WAPA made strides toward the Modern Workplace, it was time.​

Zevenbergen and Howard met last year to design the automated process. Howard created a database and imported all of the Excel data. He developed a web-based user interface that guides the user through the steps to process the data and allows them to edit the list of transmission lines, substations and other parameters used in the calculations.

“I was amazed at how complicated and time consuming the original process was," Howard said, “and how Gary had been successfully perform­ing it for many years."

The new system connects directly to WAPA's GIS system to retrieve dis­tances and locations of transmission structures and improves the transfer of data from the ASPEN OneLiner system. The software that performs the calcula­tions is now managed with full version control. The updated safety param­eters are sent to Safety, and ultimately to Public Affairs, for production.

The parameters will also be made available in 2021 through the GIS system at a structure-by-structure level, which provides crews higher-resolution grounding requirements. This has never been done before. ​

“In the past, if crews had a ques­tion about a specific structure, they would call me to get a unique solution and exemption," Zevenbergen said. “Now they have direct access to more granular data at their fingertips."


A notable improvement

The new system will allow the data to be calculated more quickly and accurately than in previous years. For 2020, WAPA will be executing both the manual and the automated process to do a final check of the new process.

The Office of Safety and Occupational Health is pleased with the improvement as it supports WAPA's core value, “Do what is right. Do what is safe."

Safety and Occupational Healthy Manager Ed Crowson praised Zevenbergen's efforts and the IT partnership. “The PSSM appendices are integral to ensuring safety in the field," he said. “Once proven, this new system will enhance the PSSM's annual revision process, providing for distribution of the highest quality safety guidance."

“Each time employees identify and implement a process improvement, it serves WAPA as a whole," said Ginkel. “These add up over time, freeing up resources to focus on emerging issues and initiatives."

“We know this helps WAPA remain agile and prepared for the future," said Vice President of IT for Enterprise Applications Joe Fast. “As a strategic business partner, we are always look­ing for opportunities like this to work with other programs and add value. The best IT solutions are those that support solid business practices."
“Our patience paid off," concluded Ginkel. “For this solution to be a suc­cess, other pieces had to fall into place first. Gary put in an extraordinary effort over the years, and it will serve WAPA well into the future."

Note: Shapiro is a management and program analyst.


Page Last Updated: 10/1/2020 9:04 AM