New developments in IT, outsourcing, customer information systems, and customer relationship management are challenging long held notions about utilities’ essential operations.
Wireless systems are improving front-line processes.
performance engineer, for example, may set an operating temperature limit for steam turbines. If the temperature alarm is triggered, he or she may log-in for a quick look at present and historical operating data. If immediate attention is required, the system will provide the name and cell-phone number of the maintenance employee responsible for that particular turbine.
The program started with eight users, ranging from a vice president to field technicians. In 2007, another 16 were added and there are currently requests for another half dozen. Each was issued a cell phone with Internet access and Windows Mobile 6 software. The idea, Ragone says, is first to introduce the program to key decision makers throughout the organization.
“We want to see which applications get us the greatest bang for the buck. The only way to do that is apply it throughout the organization and determine which roles derive the greatest benefit,” he says.
So far, the utility has captured gains by changing many two-person tasks to one-person tasks. Other financial benefits are expected to come through enhanced system monitoring, improved reliability and environmental performance, and fewer unplanned outages.
“All we’re doing is leveraging the investment we’ve already made,” Ragone says. “We’ve been using OSIsoft PI for ten years to bring in data to monitor operations and generate reports, so we already have the data in our servers. Anyone using PI, or any other data historian, can get the same value out of their investment.”
Earlier this year, FirstEnergy Corp. introduced what’s called a Circuit Reliability Coordinator (CRC) program designed to improve reliability and reduce costs by streamlining the way the utility monitors and maintains its distribution system assets.
About 65 CRC professionals within FirstEnergy’s seven operating companies employ mobile application technology to schedule site visits, and then record, store and analyze the health and maintenance needs for a variety of system assets.
Using laptops fitted with Autodesk software, the coordinators collect inspection data in the field and upload it to a central database for internal evaluation and maintenance planning.
Each CRC is responsible for keeping tabs on a specific circuit within the utility’s 36,000 square-mile distribution system. The CRC begins the day by calling up a color-coded map delivered by Autodesk’s GISView software, which illustrates the location of each asset and whether it’s due for an examination.
Once on-site, the coordinator selects the asset icon—for example, a pole-mounted transformer—and then selects an electronic assessment form. Using drop-down menus, the coordinator records his or her findings and flags those items requiring maintenance or replacement. Once the assessment is complete, the form immediately is uploaded to a central database accessible by the utility’s engineering and operations groups, which use it to ascertain and prioritize future capital expenditures and maintenance activities across each operating-company system.
The goals, explains Tony Hurley, FirstEnergy’s director of energy delivery asset management, are to standardize the reporting and analysis, strategically evaluate the overall condition of FirstEnergy’s distribution assets and implement targeted improvement plans that enhance reliability and performance.
“The coordinators are dedicated to the assessment program only. They