Coal, Gas

Union Aligns Gas Turbine Training Program with Industry Needs

Issue 3 and Volume 108.

By: Brian K. Schimmoller, Managing Editor

Union members in various disciplines participate in the building, operation and maintenance of electric power plants. At times, the relationship between unions and power plant owners/developers can be less than ideal. With competition in the industry threatening union jobs in certain areas, however, some unions are proactively working to enhance their value to power plant owners and operators. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters, for example, is marketing itself to plant owners, EPC firms and maintenance contractors through its skilled workforce, its emphasis on training, and its commitment to aligning its practices with the customer’s goals.

A cornerstone of the UBC’s customer focus is its turbine training center in Las Vegas, which provides classroom and hands-on experience for millwrights to gain proficiency with turbine technology. The program has been so successful that power plant owners and maintenance contractors are beginning to specifically request union members who have completed this training.

Moving Forward

In 2001, the UBC made a difficult but momentous decision to develop a world-class turbine training center for its membership. “Before investing our members’ money in creating the program, we investigated not only what the industry wanted, but also where it is headed,” said Douglas McCarron, UBC General President. “From that came the UBC’s commitment to train 10,000 millwrights at the new facility, giving the Brotherhood a chance to prepare for jobs of the future. This job market continues to grow and is one of the fastest-growing crafts represented by the UBC.”

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The UBC began active development of the turbine training program in 1999. The decision to move forward was driven by several factors, most importantly the surge in the construction of gas-fired power plants. It was clear that this surge would drive demand for millwrights with specific training in turbine installation and maintenance. The UBC leadership initiated extensive discussions with key industry decision-makers, including plant owners and contractors like Atlantic Plant Maintenance (APM), General Electric, and Siemens Westinghouse, to determine what specific training would be required to meet the needs of a growing industry.

“While the market held tremendous opportunity for growth, and the UBC had both the financial and membership resources to take on the project, the cost would be very high and there was always the risk that after committing the funds we might not succeed in getting the work,” said training coordinator Dale Shoemaker, who helped develop the training program. “It was imperative that our training be the best available in the industry to maintain a competitive edge in the market.”

Regularly scheduled meetings with General Electric and Siemens Westinghouse provided critical input to UBC’s decision-making process. Held after each maintenance outage season, the UBC and company representatives review every project to identify problem areas and focus on training issues. These meetings helped provide the critical analysis that went into the development of the training curriculum.

“Looking at the future growth potential of the gas turbine industry, Atlantic Plant Maintenance and Siemens Westinghouse realized there was a potential shortfall of trained, experienced Gas Turbine Qualified Millwrights,” said Shoemaker. “We began curriculum development and facility planning in March 2001.”

Once approved, development proceeded along many fronts. In February 2002, the UBC closed on a deal to acquire a produce warehouse adjacent to the Brotherhood’s International Training Center in Las Vegas. Stripping and remodeling of the building began immediately to provide shop space for the turbines and to provide classrooms, office space and a break room for the attendees and instructional staff. Four 20-ton overhead cranes were installed to facilitate turbine handling and to teach proper rigging techniques.

In June 2002, disassembly of the two gas turbines destined for the training center began in Corpus Christi, Texas. Koch Industries donated the two General Electric Frame 5 gas turbines. The turbines, originally built in 1956, were first used by the Masonite Corp. in Laurel, Miss., then ended up at a Sun Petroleum plant in Corpus Christi. Although the Frame 5 turbines are not as large or complex as modern-day engines, “they have all the major components that you would see on a 2004 gas turbine,” according to Shoemaker. “They’re very representative of what our students will run into in the field.”

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Union and industry officials dedicated the yet-to-be-completed training center in August 2002. A pilot class for instructors took place in December, and the first class for rank-and-file millwrights occurred in January 2003.

Curriculum Development

As fancy and impressive as the hardware may be, however, it is next to useless without an effective training program. Shoemaker spent much of 2001 and 2002 crisscrossing the country, interviewing company officials and visiting job sites and local union shops to develop a curriculum that reflects the needs of gas turbine owners, manufacturers, and maintenance contractors. The curriculum focuses on the elements that repeatedly came to the forefront during Shoemaker’s travels: rigging, proper equipment handling, installation, and safe work practices.

“I discovered that every Superintendent, General Foreman, and Foreman had the same concerns,” said Shoemaker. “Safe, efficient rigging, using hydraulic torque wrenches, using stud-tensioning systems, re-make tube fitting connections, using precision optical level and bolt locking techniques — these were topics that could make or break a job. The goal of the program is to ensure our members have the highest skills in these areas so that every job is successful every time. The rank and file members are excited to have the opportunity to enhance their skills. Like all of our training programs, this program is focused on productivity and service to our customers — the contractors and owners.”

A key contributor to the development of the curriculum was Atlantic Plant Maintenance, which is the exclusive maintenance provider for GE gas turbine customers. “Everyone bellied up to the bar and provided what was needed,” says Bill Finley, manager of APM’s Ohio Valley region. “I worked with Dale through the cooperation of GE’s Power System University to develop the technical part of the training.”

The one-week gas turbine training class is designed for 40 individuals, ensuring everyone gets maximum hands-on exposure to the turbine and associated equipment. Two days are devoted to disassembly, one to inspection, and two to re-assembly. Most days begin at 7 a.m. with an hour of classroom instruction focused on the technologies, procedures and skills that will be covered that day. The rest of the day is spent in hands-on activities teaching or reinforcing techniques for safely operating and maintaining gas turbines.

The millwrights are split into teams, and each team member is responsible for specific tasks. The roles change during the week, and the person counting and cleaning bolts one day could be the foreman the next day.

Before heading to Las Vegas for the gas turbine training program, participants must complete a pre-training program to ensure each attendee is fully prepared for the requirements of the turbine training curriculum. The pre-training program consists of:

  • A three-day GE Gas Turbine Familiarization course,
  • A three-day Siemens Westinghouse Combustion Turbine Familiarization course,
  • A one-day Hytorc Bolting Qualification course,
  • A two-day millwright 16-hour safety course, and
  • A four-day Rigging Qualification.

Some of the pre-requisite classes can be combined. For example, a GE Familiarization/Siemens Westinghouse Familiarization/Hytorc combination equals five days.

The UBC Rigging Qualification Program is based on the ANSI A10.42-2000: Qualified Rigger Standard. The UBC was instrumental in developing the A10.42 standard and the union’s rigging training program meets or exceeds every requirement of that standard.

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To familiarize program attendees with specific equipment and tools encountered in the field, the UBC has teamed with several leading vendors. For example, Riverhawk stud tensioners are used on coupling bolts for both GE and Siemens Westinghouse gas turbines. If proper operating techniques are not used with the tensioner, the stud can be damaged, the tensioner can be damaged, and the user can potentially get hurt. During the training program, a digital animation and training prop designed by Riverhawk is used

to give each millwright hands-on experience with the Riverhawk Stud Tensioning system.

“Although other types of stud tensioners are used in the field, the Riverhawk model is one of the more complex, so millwrights leave here much more confident and proficient in the use of all makes and models,” said Shoemaker. Riverhawk reports that field problems with their tensioners have fallen 50% since the UBC training program began. Riverhawk traces the reduction to UBC’s training program and to the development of better operating instructions for the equipment.

Various other vendors are actively involved in the UBC training program. UBC contacted Hytorc through its website in late 2001, and within 72 hours, Hytorc had pledged its full support for bolting training and qualification. Garlock joined UBC’s training partnership in early 2002, supplying training materials, gasket samples and subject matter experts for the turbine training program. Parker came onboard in mid-2002, supplying training materials and subject matter experts related to its line of industrial tube fittings.

Finally, in conjunction with Unisorb, UBC millwrights receive training in the installation, adjustment and grouting of Unisorb Fixators to learn proper machinery alignment techniques.

Ongoing Support

To ensure the millwrights participating in the program are supported when they return to their local union shops, the UBC has developed a comprehensive, streamlined set of electronic reference materials. Each portion of the training class is catalogued electronically using an easy-to-navigate, consistent set of computer files: PowerPoint presentations, procedure lists, instruction manuals, etc.

Since its inception, more than 2,000 millwrights have completed the one-week gas turbine training course. Shoemaker admits that the UBC initially had doubts about their ability to schedule members into the workshop more than six weeks in advance, but those misgivings quickly evaporated. The turbine training class has been booked solid since February 2003, and is completely booked through October 2004; 115 of the possible 120 slots for November 2004 were booked by the end of January 2004.

To recognize individual achievement, each millwright who successfully completes the course gets his or her name put up on the training center’s wall and receives a special identification card. These cards are becoming highly prized in the field. “For now, we give preferential hiring to those who have this training,” says APM’s Finley. “At some point in time, however, we as a contractor will draw a line in the sand and say only people who have this training will be on our jobs.”

More than Gas Turbines

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ training regimen is not limited to gas turbines. A steam turbine is being added to the turbine training center and should be ready for a pilot course by mid-2004. Some of the additional skills that the Steam Turbine Qualification program will focus on are identification of steam turbine components, advanced rigging skills, and steam turbine valves.

The Steam Turbine Qualification program will be a “train the trainer” program for instructors who will then teach the program to millwrights at local training facilities. The UBC currently has 15 steam turbines in place at regional training centers, with two more coming on-line shortly

The Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas also offers instructor training in Machinery Alignment Procedures, Precision Optical Alignment, Forklift Operation, Aerial Lift Operation, AWS Certified Welding Inspector, Vibration Analysis, Confined Space, Fall Protection, First Aid/CPR, Motor Operated Valves, and Scaffold Erection. Aditionally, the UBC is developing extensive training on compressors, gear reducers, seals and valves used in both the power and petrochemical industry.