Don't place asset operation above employee safety

Power Plant Management conference to focus on balancing cost, reliability


In power plant management, the idea is to catch failures before they occur, says Aaron Melda, General Manager, Paradise Generating Station, Tennessee Valley Authority. However, if the budget for upgrades and new equipment is limited, power plant managers need to ask themselves: Are we putting our money in the right place at the right time? Melda is chairman of the marcus evans Power Plant Management Summit 2011, in Wheeling, Ill., October 17-19. Plant Engineering is a media sponsor of this event. Melda shares his thoughts on finding the balance between costs and the absolute reliability of plant equipment.

Q: How do you keep the Paradise Generating Station equipment safe and reliable?

Melda: We take a number of steps.

First: Apply a robust preventative maintenance program to identify the correct upkeep for all pieces of equipment that we are not planning to run to failure.

Second: Monitor, operators go on daily rounds, checking for trend information that is passed on to the engineering team to determine if any measures must be taken to ensure reliable operation of the plant.

Third: Learn, we have a strong corrective action program for when equipment does fail. We try to find the root cause of the problem and put corrective actions in place to prevent it from occurring again.

Most important: Plan, from a long-term viewpoint, we do long-range planning to identify how often major rebuilds and equipment replacement will be required to plan for the funding of these future needs.

Q: How can companies in this industry stay competitive?

Melda: Staff should attend technology seminars, training sessions and benchmarking activities, to know the latest and greatest out there for proactive maintenance and operation. They should also look for new types of monitoring equipment and consider how they could be applied in their plant.

The idea is to catch failures before they occur. Many managers consider what needs to be rebuilt based on frequency, whereas we try to find a balance between the cost and the absolutely reliability of our equipment. We aim to identify failures through data and trending, to make sure we are putting our money in the right place at the right time.

Q: What technologies can power plant managers take advantage of today to optimize their plants?

Melda: Wireless technology to monitor our equipment has been a real benefit to us, as it significantly reduced our costs. Running conduit/wiring between equipment is expensive. Ideally, we want to monitor all pieces of equipment, but in the past it would not have been economically feasible to monitor recycle pumps, heater drain pumps and some of the smaller equipment that can fail and cause reliability issues.

Wireless technology allows us to economically justify better and more continuous monitoring to prevent more failures.

Q: Any final comments?

Melda: There are two critical derailers in this business: placing asset operation above employee safety and not having a long-range plan in place.

Employee safety has to be our first priority, environment the second, asset preservation the third and megawatts fourth. Maintaining this level of priority is absolutely critical.

Power plant managers should have a long-range plan and vision for the business. There is equipment that they look at once every ten years, but without a capital portfolio and budgetary commitments in place for a 5- to 10-year period, it will be very difficult to go on a year-over-year cycle, trying to justify and improve performance.

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