Successfully operating and maintaining power plants is an ongoing challenge, but Dan Gray has accomplished this since 1972 in dozens of plants, both as a full-timer and consultant, because he remains committed to principles that still hold true - even in today's changing industry environment.
Gray, 59, Director of Operations - Generation, for Rosebud Operating Services, Inc., oversees operation and maintenance for two fossil fuel power plants in Montana. He will participate in two sessions at the marcus evans Power Plant Operations & Maintenance Excellence Conference, January 23-24, 2013, at the Crowne Plaza Dallas Market Center in Dallas, TX.
Though Gray has seen the industry trending toward predictive maintenance for years, he says complacency too often exists among upper management to simply think short-term and only act when breakdowns occur. He calls it an "archaic mentality" that exists for a variety of reasons: lack of funds, lack of knowledge, pressure to produce to maintain profits, and more. In his 10 years as a consultant, Gray was sometimes amazed at the poor quality of some operations.
"It's a mentality that's difficult for me to accept," he says. "I've been to places where it looked like a bomb went off because they didn't take care of their equipment. They'd say they didn't have the money, the time, the manpower, the support."
In other instances, a company would run a redundant piece of equipment to failure because they knew they had a backup, then only when the backup failed would they repair that one. Other companies, due to lack of funds, would focus only upon the more critical pieces of equipment like the turbine generator, and do nothing about the other equipment. Running an efficient, reliable power plant takes a concerted effort on many levels - a price too many are unwilling to pay, according to Gray.
"Do you want to be chasing your tail all your life?" he asks. "But if you do the reliability-
However, implementing predictive maintenance does not guarantee equipment failure will not occur, according to Gray. What it will do, though, is control the damage.
"You will have failures," he says, "but the question is: How catastrophic do you want the failures to be? In predictive maintenance, you will have indicators that a failure is on the horizon, whether through oil samples or whatever, but you can minimize how much damage will occur. If you run it to failure, maybe you're able to rebuild the equipment - maybe not - because the internals are severely damaged. You're never going to get away from a very expensive incident if you don't try to control your failures. You can't prevent them all, but you can mitigate them, minimize them."
Gray recognizes how cost-driven the industry is, particularly due to higher health insurance premiums, unemployment insurance, environmental regulations and more, but sacrificing predictive maintenance cannot be an option. Ensuring operations are 100 percent reliable is crucial so companies are ready to profit during peak times. Because higher costs impose limitations, it becomes a matter of remaining engaged, anticipating what can go wrong, constantly researching and staying abreast of developments.
"You want to be always looking for the new and improved mousetrap," he says. "Are you looking or are you happy with the status quo? Personally, I don't fear equipment breakdowns. We don't have a lot of money, but we're very efficient at what we do, cutting in the right places. It's all about utilization, maximizing your assets and resources."
Part of that is maintaining a strong relationship between the operations and maintenance departments. Gray combats the historic divisions between them, developing "buy-in" from everyone, involving all in the decision-making process. Thus, the ones aware of equipment condition are clearly conveying the need for repairs. Also, Gray reviews results to correct any weaknesses or breakdowns in communication. It is a must to embrace input from workers in the field because it is both good for their morale and crucial for operations.
"Sometimes they give ideas we've never thought of," he says. "I tell people 95 percent of the good ideas I've had came from other people. Listening is the best thing I can do. I've never learned anything with my mouth going."
Tougher economic times necessitate finding better ways to run plants more efficiently for less, according to Gray. Thus, departments must adjust to such changes as increasing automation or management bringing in contract labor for limited periods. However, sometimes employees are unwilling to train them because they fear eventual downsizing or wage cuts. They may also resist cross-training for these same reasons.
As Gray contemplates the industry's future, his most urgent concern is the retirement of the Baby Boomers in the next 10 to 15 years and the resulting loss of talent, knowledge, and commitment. Another concern is competing against subsidized green energy and remaining profitable in the face of changing environmental rules.
"We have lost a significant amount of our income to environmental rules," he says, "and equipment we've had to install. We support this, but when you have to spend on these other things, you have to look at ways to be more efficient, cutting in the right places."
Dan Gray will participate in a panel discussion "Managing the Aging Workforce Through Training Methods and Human Performance Modeling," and a post-conference workshop "Reviewing and Implementing a Predictive Maintenance Program to Accelerate Operations and Maintenance Performance,"
For more information regarding this conference, please contact Kara Drapala at 312.540.3000 x6491, or Karad@marcusevansch.com.
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