Achieving Sustainable Performance Improvement

Well-organized operations and maintenance (O&M) and outage efforts enable power plants to reduce overall operating costs, improve equipment reliability, and increase long-term productivity. Experienced contractors can help plant staff maximize the success of their outages and O&M endeavors.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” goes a popular adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin. The absence of proper planning can detrimentally affect the success of outages and regular operations and maintenance (O&M) conducted at power plants. Contractors, such as Fluor, that specialize in such tasks can help ensure effective planning and execution.

“We try to help our clients define the scope of their outages by getting involved at the conceptual stage,” Rick Graves, senior vice president at the Fluor Power Group, told POWER in January. Fluor is a leading provider of outage planning and O&M services to U.S. power generation facilities and has experience providing these services in the areas of nuclear, gas, coal-fired, and hydro-electric power generation.

Early Involvement Is Key

When Fluor’s representatives interface with power plant managers, they can offer to provide O&M services ranging from operational readiness, asset performance improvement, and outage execution to total O&M support. In order to help clients, the company has developed tools that help to improve plant performance. For example, Fluor provides O&M services to Luminant’s fleet of fossil-fuel units, including the Oak Grove Power Plant. (For more information, see “Luminant’s Oak Grove Power Plant Earns POWER’ s Highest Honor,” in our August 2010 issue or online at http://www.powermag.com.)

By getting involved during the conceptual stage of the outage planning process with clients, the Fluor staff can use their benchmarking data to identify potential improvement opportunities in existing plant schedules and maintenance techniques (Figure 1). These opportunities can be realized through use of subject matter expertise and lean technologies, supplemental maintenance and contractor management, or total program management and execution. Graves pointed out that the planning phase also includes thorough inspections of the plants and equipment condition, which is key to reducing “discovery work” and unplanned activities.

1. A plan is the first structure. By getting involved during the conceptual stage of outage planning with its clients, Fluor maximizes the success of their efforts. Recently, Fluor completed an environmental improvement, construction, and small capital construction maintenance program for two units owned by a southeast U.S.-based utility. Courtesy: Fluor

“Every facility has its own outage planning process,” Graves said. “Whether it is an in-and-out job or a long term relationship such as Fluor’s ‘Alliance’ clients, full integration with our clients in order to provide a seamless process is the goal. The integration of planning is crucial.”

Fluor’s project team executes a scope of services with the plants it serves. That plan is executed in detail in order to maximize the efficiency of the work performed during an outage. Promoting efficiency is an important objective for Fluor because it helps clients optimize the cost of execution. Fluor has routinely experienced significant craft productivity improvements with this approach, resulting in substantial cost savings for its clients.

Putting Safety First

When it helps plant operators implement new outage management policies, Fluor emphasizes that the first goal should be to complete the outage in a safe manner. “The safety of all workers at the site is the top priority with our people,” Graves emphasized. “When our clients use our teams, it improves safety at their facilities.”

Fluor’s outage planning procedures include lockout/tagout procedures and other safety measures, which are built into the outage plan and schedule. Fluor also utilizes a formal lessons learned process for continuous improvement and incorporates those lessons into future outage planning.

Practice to Achieve Success

Graves explained how outage planning and management strategies can help power plants comply with environmental regulations. For starters, outage planning is important when dealing with environmental processes and equipment installation because the scope and execution of that planning will affect a facility’s future ability to comply with environmental regulations at the required levels. Fluor staff use detailed inspection of key equipment, among other techniques, to ensure that required equipment is able to meet or exceed its expected level of performance.

“The biggest thing that would help power plants save money is to reduce the learning curve of the outage craft workers (such as boilermakers, tube welders, and millwrights) and supervision as they go through the outages at their clients’ facilities,” he said. “Each time this group of outage craft workers and supervision goes through an outage, they learn to improve their performance through the execution of the plan and thereby lower the costs of the outages. These are incremental improvements because of the quality practices and experience that are put in place.”

Fluor has a number of clients with coal-fired and gas-fired power plants in the South and Southwest that have achieved notable improvement in their fleets (Figure 2), for example, with safety performance. Its clients also see significant improvements in reducing the costs of outages. Graves pointed out that these improvements are especially likely where teams do some types of work over and over again: “We have helped our clients achieve significant operating performance by lowering the incidence of rework. We also have a number of clients where we are incentivized to meet their reliability and operational metrics.”

2. Getting the job done. Fluor’s services range from operational readiness, asset performance improvement, and outage execution to total O&M support. The company has grown its ongoing O&M services Alliance program to cover all fossil units for this Southwest power generation provider. Courtesy: Fluor

Challenges Ahead for Outage Planning

“In the short term, during the next five years, the new environmental equipment that coal-fired and gas-fired plants must now have due to recent environmental regulations has expanded the volume of work related to outage planning and plant O&M,” Graves said. “This also changes the scope of our services that we provide to our clients.”

He emphasized that in the long term—with changes in equipment technology and environmental regulations—the skills needed by craft workers will continue to increase. “To continue our success as an outage service provider, our company and the industry need to improve our ability to attract new craft workers such as pipe fitters, boilermakers, tube welders, and electricians with high skill levels,” he said. “Unfortunately, the pool of resources for such skilled craft workers is dwindling, so we must recruit new workers and train them for the industry.”

Angela Neville, JD, is POWER’s senior editor.

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