By Mike McMahon
|A site foreman provides safety training to two craft employees prior to a refueling outage. Photo courtesy: Day & Zimmermann|
It’s a continuing priority for power plant managers to execute maintenance outages as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. One day of additional outage work can cost plants millions of dollars in lost energy production – at both fossil and nuclear operating plants. Even as average outage durations have been optimized during the last decade, demand for plants to minimize outage duration and find new efficiencies remains high.
During outages, when the manpower required to meet goals significantly increases, plant managers rely on outside contractors and partners to do the job, and provide value to the process. Achieving efficiency and performance goals is only possible with a high level of collaboration and accountability. There are six areas in which maintenance partners must demonstrate excellence in order to create true value to plant managers.
Effective partnership between contractors and plant managers requires buy-in and trust on both sides. Alliance contracts are one way to provide a favorable environment to build trust, but no contract can mandate true partnership. One way to build a partnership mindset is for owners to involve contractors in the early stages of the planning process. With a seat at the table and skin in the game, the owner and contractor can develop metrics that focus on continuous improvement and increased plant performance.
Once initial performance objectives and goals are established, owners and contractors in an alliance partnership should set periodic review milestones to review progress. This requires regular and meaningful communication between leadership from both sides. These sessions should be used to celebrate successes, discuss lessons learned and identify potential problem areas. Both parties must also take a hands-on approach to building collaboration and coordination in the field. Above all, successful relationships require a commitment, not just for one outage or one year, but for multiple years and multiple outages and projects. A long-term alliance contract provides the best opportunities for value creation over time.
An old project management adage says to “plan the work and work the plan.” It’s a simple phrase, but a difficult practice. Building an effective outage plan takes months of effort, collaboration and coordination between owners and contractors. Executing effectively is just as challenging. It requires years of experience and the proper resources to ensure work stays on schedule and under budget.
As contractors and owners collaborate on planning, scope and schedule clarity is essential for successful execution. Experienced contractors can help owners in the pre-outage planning phase to ensure that tasks are managed and set with precision. A skilled maintenance contractor should have extensive readiness tools and assessments in place before work begins. Contractors can add more value to the outage in the pre-planning and planning stages if they are thorough and can map out predictable work plans.
Finding talent has become an increasing challenge for both contractors and plant managers in the last decade, as thousands of baby boomers begin to retire. Maintenance contractors with a proven record of identifying and effectively placing talent can support plant managers in this area. Not every contractor is up for this task. Leading contractors have tools, systems, and databases in place to find the talent, and they are working on innovative solutions to optimize talent.
Contractors with a national presence are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the transient nature of the energy workforce. While local contractors and plant managers themselves are typically limited to the local labor pool, contractors with a national reach can identify top talent from across the country. In addition, these contractors can optimize the flow and placement of talent using “blueprinting” strategies. With blueprinting, a contractor can provide future employment opportunities to their workers based on the multitude of projects they are working on at any given time. This creates increased loyalty between the contractor and the worker and ultimately that benefit is passed on to the utility in the form of a well-trained and engaged workforce.
Experience cannot be taught. Contractors often bring experiences from a wide variety of worksites to the plant where they have an active project or alliance. But the value of that experience is only realized by the utility if the contractor can turn that experience into tangible tools, processes and programs.
Particularly in the areas of safety and planning, contractors should have programs and tools that are built on their prior experiences and lessons learned. These tools should provide real-time reporting and analysis that allows them to react quickly in the event of issue or incident. Plant managers can benefit greatly from these tools when they are integrated seamlessly into existing operations and when contractors can share these tools with the plant to drive efficiencies.
Preventative Safety Culture
Contractors must demonstrate an understanding that a strong safety culture works to prevent injuries, not react to them. This mindset must be apparent both in the field and at the executive level. At the field level, safety begins long before a worker enters a plant. Contractors must establish a strong set of safety values which are made clear to every employee within an organization from day one. These values drive awareness and should be reinforced with tangible actions such as daily safety meetings and the integration of safety topics in every meeting that takes place. When combined, these practices lead to higher levels of accountability and awareness for each individual.
At the highest levels of a contractor organization, safety programs and strategies should be built on identifying leading indicators along with lagging indicators to maintain safety levels. While some contractors can claim favorable past performance in safety, real value is derived from contractors that are more focused on preventing the next injury than celebrating their past successes.
Not all of the value derived from a contractor relationship happens during the outage itself. There are still benefits to be realized once the work is complete. Imagine a world where no one ever took the time to figure out “why” something worked. In this scenario, success and failure would be a random act of chance, rather than a repeatable process.
Once the work is complete, contractors and utilities should be able to review the agreed upon key performance indicators and goals of the outage to determine what worked and what didn’t. By reviewing this information together both parties will gain a considerable advantage when they work together again. Even if the outage was delivered on time and under budget, a contractor unwilling to engage in this collaborative process and provide counsel and insight is doing a disservice to itself and its partners.
In many cases, the value that is derived from effective maintenance partners is easily overlooked. That’s because it is not always apparent upon the immediate completion of a project. It is only over time and multiple projects that their true value is realized. But when excellence is achieved in these six areas of plant performance it drives a set of even more important “P’s” than the ones outlined above- performance, productivity, profitability, and predictability.
Michael McMahon is President of Day & Zimmermann’s Engineering, Construction and Maintenance Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in all phases of maintenance and construction project execution.