Coal, Gas

Going Paperless Improves Performance at Texas Power Plant

Issue 11 and Volume 118.

By Chris Wacker, Laserfiche

A 472-MW power plant depends just as much on the flow of information to workers as the flow of fuel to its generators, particularly when that information includes the maintenance manuals and repair records for thousands of pieces of equipment.

So it was with those records that Texas Municipal Power Agency (TMPA) IT Director Jeff Keys undertook an ambitious project two years ago that is now turning piles of paperwork throughout the facility into a seamless flow of information emanating from a centralized electronic records repository accessible through the PCs, tablets and smartphones of the plant staff who depend on them.

The Texas Municipal Power Agency provides power via the coal-fired Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station to four municipalities in central Texas with a total population of about 500,000. Photo courtesy: Laserfiche
The Texas Municipal Power Agency provides power via the coal-fired Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station to four municipalities in central Texas with a total population of about 500,000. Photo courtesy: Laserfiche

TMPA runs a 32-year-old coal-fired power plant comprised largely of components it cannot operate without. Some of those components, like the turbines, date back to the plant’s construction and have maintenance histories hundreds of pages long. Most of those components also have manufacturer-issued maintenance manuals that are frequently updated and reprinted. Add on the records involved in complying with six different federal agencies and legislative acts regulating public power companies, and you begin to appreciate the paperwork problems TMPA faced.

Along with the equipment maintenance manuals and repair records, TMPA had personnel files, certification reports, inspection reports, and technical drawings filling file cabinets and computer hard drives throughout the dozens of buildings comprising the plant. Employees tended to collect their own copies of documents and keep them in cubbies within their departments for fear of not being able to find those records when needed. As a result, vital records were being used throughout the plant without knowing if they were the most up-to-date and accurate.

Several years ago TMPA had a records management system, but it was better suited to a small office rather than a large enterprise like a power plant. Keys wanted to get a high capacity records management system, particularly one that would allow its engineers to access the maintenance manuals and the repair records through one source. He also wanted a system that would allow TMPA to expand over time to meet the records management needs of other departments. It also had to work with AutoCAD documents in a way that allowed staff to easily make changes to those documents. With the help of a recommendation from one of TMPA’s client cities Bryan, TX, Keys opted for a Laserfiche enterprise content management system to be the foundation of a new records management system he is building at TMPA.

Job one for the new system was getting the plant equipment maintenance manuals into the new records system and then tying those manuals back to the equipment maintenance histories stored in the plant’s computerized asset management program. Some of the equipment is unique, and there may only be one or two in the entire plant. With other plant equipment, like the pumps, there may be many of the same models in use. For those pieces of equipment there may be many more copies of the same maintenance manual in use. The challenge was finding the latest version of those manuals and scanning them into the new records system while eliminating the duplicates and older versions.

Every time a staff member locates a plant equipment file in the asset management program which has no manual associated with it in the new records system, the staffer locates the manual, verifies it, and then scans it in. A software module within Laserfiche called Workflow automatically matches that manual to any other identical equipment in the asset management program files.

Most plant equipment files in the asset management program now also have documentation available in Laserfiche, but there are still some without manuals. To encourage staff to take time out of their regular jobs to locate and scan those manuals into the new records management system, TMPA designed a special competition. Every time a staff member locates an equipment file in the asset management program and associates it with a verified manual, he is assigned a certain number of points. So if a staffer finds an equipment file in the asset management program with no associated manual he finds the correct manual, scans it in, and if Workflow matches that manual with five other identical turbines, the staffer will be assigned 50 points. Points earn staffers bragging rights and recognition from management.

While everyone enjoyed the friendly competition, it is the improvements to operational efficiency making the greatest impression on plant staff. That is making it much easier for the IT department to approach other departments to get involved in Keys’ project. Expanding the new repository to include the Accounts Payable department provided TMPA with perhaps the greatest benefit realized since undertaking this project: automated indexing.

In the process of scanning the equipment maintenance manuals into the new records repository it became clear that if TMPA was going to expand the system substantially, properly indexing the records would be vital to easily finding them at a later date, particularly as the size of the repository grew. Indexing involves pulling identifying bits of information from each record as it is scanned in and then using those bits of information to more easily locate that record at a later date.

Working with the staff in AP, the IT department decided which identifying bits of information are most useful for indexing records specific to that department, and Laserfiche now automatically pulls those pieces of information from each document as it is scanned in. TMPA is now able to store and automatically index all shapes and sizes of documents including AutoCAD drawings, voluminous regulatory reports, vendor invoices, disbursement records, and construction project turnover packages. Whereas such previously existed in numerous locations, they are now in a central, easily searched repository that yields far greater user accessibility.

When TMPA is being audited, providing the documents is just a matter of anyone with proper authorization searching for the record type requested using the indexing information selected. The more indexing information used, the easier it is to find a particular record, but even without indexing, any document can be retrieved from Laserfiche using words or numerals contained in it. The indexing just helps narrow the search. Previously the worker in charge of the records being searched needed to be tracked down and, on those occasions when that person could not be tracked down, it was difficult to locate requested records. Utilities are heavily regulated facilities which are frequently asked for historic documents. The inability to produce these documents can translate into fines.

It’s hard to put a value on the improvement in operational efficiency TMPA is seeing with its new records management system, but the anecdotes are everywhere. In AP, cash coding, vouchers, and journal entries were all done manually by an accounting temp who worked 20 hours a week with an input error rate of four to ten percent. Today that whole process has been automated and catches errors before documents are committed to the repository. By consistently naming and filing documents through automated indexing, it gives TMPA staff confidence that they can easily recall important documents at a moment’s notice.

As TMPA continues to deploy automated indexing and build more workflows, it improves the flow of information to an ever-expanding network of offices and departments. That insures the flow of electricity to the ever-expanding network of customers.


Chris Wacker is executive vice president at Laserfiche, a provider of electronic records management and enterprise content management software solutions.

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