Coal, Emissions

Mobile Tool Crib Increases Jobsite Efficiency

Issue 9 and Volume 112.

By Dale Alberts, Snap-on Industrial

It’s easy to assume that a company that designs and manufactures hundreds of gas and steam turbines throughout North America isn’t all that concerned with the whereabouts of a little 19 mm socket wrench.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. For Alstom Power Inc., a manufacturer of integrated power plants, air quality control systems and a power production services provider, the ability to pinpoint the location of a tool and the person using it is not only critical to managing an outage efficiently, but important to ensuring a tool hasn’t been lost or misplaced.

Alstom’s tool management program at times, however, fell short of those goals. Its tool program traditionally involved buying any necessary tools from outside vendors, and then deploying the tools to job sites in fully loaded “tool cribs.” Despite its efforts to manage the tools, Alstom had difficulty controlling the crib’s inventory once it was delivered to the job site.

“Something had to be done to improve tool deployment and jobsite control,” said Felix Voser, manager of technical support, gas turbines, for Alstom Power.

A New Approach

Voser said the need to analyze the tool situation was important enough to management that Alstom Power incorporated it into the company’s Six Sigma program (a common business strategy program used by many industry sectors). The study recommended that the company look to an outside source to help develop and manage its tooling program from start to finish. Alstom Power chose Snap-on Industrial.

Snap-on Industrial has addressed issues like those of Alstom’s for many global customers by incorporating new tool-control technologies into its mobile tool cribs. The concept of tools cribs is nothing new of course. However, well-organized tool cribs that offer a totally controlled environment to increase jobsite productivity while reducing costs are new. They’re also becoming more mobile, following workers out to the jobsite for added efficiency. These next-generation mobile tool cribs come with the latest technical advances and asset management software to reduce tool replacement costs while increasing jobsite output.

When managed properly, the mobile tool crib is an integral component of a jobsite, especially at larger sites or sites in remote locations. Customers traditionally face the challenge of losing control over their tool inventory as soon as the crib hits the ground. No one knows what tools are available, who’s using them or if they’ve been returned. Technology today has helped design a mobile tool crib that addresses those issues and provides value to customers.

Software that delivers complete tool management to a jobsite is fundamental to a more efficient mobile tool crib. It allows each customer to have a custom-built turnkey mobile tool crib that operates from start to finish within a controlled environment. All tools are accounted for and the customer always knows who has a particular tool, when it was checked out and when it was returned, which reduces tool loss.


Alstom Power’s tool crib includes more than 1,500 tools for servicing turbine power generation facilities. Foam-cut drawer layouts, like the one pictured here, show if a tool is missing.
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Mobile tool cribs are also becoming just that—more mobile. Instead of having workers go back and forth to a tool crib, which is often in an existing facility quite a distance from the actual jobsite, tool cribs are now coming to the workers. Mobile tool cribs can be customized and set up directly on a jobsite to best meet the needs of customers. Modular in design, mobile tool cribs include storage and control systems, cabinets and shelving, along with electrical components, lighting, air conditioning and electronic keyless entry systems. In Alstom Power’s case, Snap-on supplied trained tool crib attendants to manage the mobile tool crib on site.

But a mobile tool crib is effective in increasing productivity only if the right tools are stocked. For Alstom Power, that meant setting up a mobile tool crib with more than 1,700 tools at a power plant outage in Milford, Conn. Other sites in Burgin and Trapp, Ky., and McKittrick, Calif., soon followed. With two separate mobile tool cribs operating on different Alstom Power jobsites, the company began to see improved return and accountability rates for its tools.

“Using an outside resource to set up our mobile tool cribs was a complete departure from how we managed our tools,” Alstom’s Voser said. “They (Snap-on) were in charge of the project from start to finish, and came up with a lot of good ideas. What we learned is a well-run tool management process is absolutely necessary.”


In Alstom Power’s case, Snap-on supplied trained attendants to manage the mobile tool crib on site. Here, Linda Willems gets a tool for Howard Bird, millwright.
Click here to enlarge image

When a new mobile tool crib is set up on a jobsite, the first thing the attendant must do is enter each worker into the tool tracking software and assign each of them a barcode. A quick scan of the employee’s barcode by the attendant, followed by a scan of the tool, will accurately keep track of the equipment that left the crib and who’s responsible for it. Keeping accurate tabs of tools and equipment has traditionally been a difficult task for many companies.

For example, if a worker gets the tools he needs for a particular job, but gets called over to help with another job, the tools could be left at his previous location because he intends to go back at some point. However, he needs tools at the new location, too. And soon enough the tool crib is empty and tools are scattered all across the jobsite. This scenario directly affects productivity.

Responding to market demands for increased tool accountability on jobsites, Snap-on Industrial, as well as other suppliers, is expanding its mobile tool crib program to include new asset management software for tool tracking, and other advancements for the power generation industry. Asset management software keeps track of the tools and also enables the tool room attendant to track usage trends, output valuable management reports and provide a clear indication of what truly is available in inventory. When new tools are added, the tool crib attendant assigns them a bar code and updates the system to reflect an accurate count.

When the job is finished, mobile tool cribs are loaded onto a tractor trailer for delivery to the next jobsite. The customer also receives a printout of what tools need to be replaced, recalibrated or recertified before the mobile tool crib moves on.

Voser said having mobile tool cribs has also enhanced Alstom Power’s safety program, because accurate safety records can be kept for equipment such as rigging. It also alleviates the company’s concerns when it comes to measurements and calibration because Alstom Power can now determine if its measuring tools have been calibrated at scheduled intervals.

Author: Dale Alberts is the director of business development for Snap-on Industrial, a supplier of tools, equipment and mobile tool cribs for the power generation market.


Duct Balloons for Use in FGD Maintenance

In order to provide a safe working environment during maintenance of a plant’s flue gas desulphurization (FGD) system, many units are equipped with isolation dampers used to isolate various system components and areas of ductwork. Over time, these isolation dampers can lose their ability to seal properly or the dampers may not be located in areas where they can usefully isolate areas where maintenance activities are needed. Additionally, conflicting needs for maintenance work and schedule optimization often require innovative solutions.

In order to provide some additional sealing capabilities to leaky dampers or add isolation where no damper exists, many plants have erected temporary barriers to perform various maintenance activities like duct work inspections, sand blasting, anti-corrosive coatings or weld repairs. In cases of leaky dampers, the temporary barrier is usually installed upstream of the existing dampers. These temporary barriers take time and labor to install, adding cost and construction safety risks to the outage. Many parts of these temporary barriers are also discarded at the end of the outage.


Duct balloons provide added sealing capabilities to leaky dampers. They also can add isolation where no dampers exist.
Click here to enlarge image

Once a traditional barrier is installed, an access door and/or ports are often required. Plant personnel may be required to pass through these access doors at one time or another. In addition to plant personnel, other items may be required to pass through the wall, including hand tools, ventilation hoses, lighting and sand blasting or spraying equipment. The need to provide for access increases the time required for erecting traditionally constructed barriers during an outage.

AES Somerset LLC in Barker, N.Y., was seeking an innovative solution to isolate an area requiring coating replacement in the FGD common outlet duct during an upcoming outage. AES Somerset had used plywood and stud barriers in the past during inspections and maintenance of the FGD duct work, but the plant holds to a compressed outage schedule to increase market availability. As a result, schedule constraints led the plant to always seek schedule improvement opportunities to shorten the outage critical path.

During the last five years, inflatable duct balloons have been used successfully during outages on a variety of applications. Duct balloons are inflatable walls made by Scherba Industries Inc. and distributed by G. R. Werth & Associates Inc. AES personnel contacted Werth in January 2008 to discuss their project and the possibility of supplying a specially made duct balloon for use in their FGD system duct work during their spring outage. Their ductwork measured 25’4” wide x 12’0” tall. The project scope involved a need to perform welding repairs and a time-intensive coating replacement in a common area of the duct that had no damper to separate fumes and sources of ignition.

Sample materials were provided to the plant so they could determine which ones would hold up the best for their application. Scott Halleran, the FGD operations leader, said that the duct interior surfaces were coated with a corrosive paste-like material when normal operational deposits are subjected to atmospheric moisture. The corrosive nature of these deposits required caution in selecting the most suitable material for the duct balloon.

After selecting the standard denier nylon material, which has been used on more than 100 projects, the project team turned to providing an access door that measured 6’8” high x 3’0” wide in the center of the duct balloon. The concept was to install two pre-hung doors purchased from the local home center to provide an airlock for normal access while controlling vapors released by the coating process. The plant used a plywood- framed liner around the opening’s inside perimeter that would help protect the walls of the door opening in the duct balloon while it was installed inside the duct. Three 12-inch diameter openings with Velcro closures were also provided so that ventilation, compressed air and vacuum hoses could pass through the duct balloon.

Because the area where the duct balloon was to be installed was at the bottom of a sloped run of duct and was subject to the natural draft from the stack, the plant erected a simple scaffold support on both sides of the wall to ensure it would stay in place. Often, the duct balloon can be used without such external supports, held in place simply by friction at the wall contact areas and its own natural stiffness due to the internal air pressure.

The duct balloon is typically provided with a 120V blower that operates at 8” w.g. and must remain on at all times to keep the balloon fully inflated. In this case, an additional 120V blower provided redundancy in the event the primary blower should lose power. Because the duct balloon is designed to vent off small amounts of air at the seams, it can’t become over-pressurized. This means both blowers can remain on at all times.

Once the scaffolding was erected, the duct balloon was placed between the two sections and inflated. A duct balloon of this size weighs less than 75 lbs. and inflates in less than three minutes. Grab handles can be used to help position the balloon during the inflation process. Corner anchor rings are also provided and can be used as tie-down points to the scaffolding, if required. Removal from the duct work can also be accomplished very quickly. Each duct balloon comes with a large deflation zipper, so once the blower is turned off, the air inside the balloon’s internal chambers can quickly escape.

In addition to FGD systems, duct balloons have been used successfully on selective catalytic reduction systems, gas turbines with heat recovery steam generators, primary air ducts in coal pulverizers and other situations.