Author: Jason Ballentine, VP of Engineering for ARMS Reliability

High Season Means Higher Stakes

bigstock--134880761This summer, the heat is shattering records around the United States—in Arizona, 119°F (48°C) days mean dozens of plane flights have been grounded and air conditioners are demanding an unprecedented number of megawatts from utilities. With average temperatures rising every summer and energy demand following suit, utilities have recognized the need to be more proactive about reducing their risk of outages.

Recently, the Chief Operating Officer of one energy generation company sought our help to fend off any issues that could result in a summer outage. Not only would an outage mean unhappy customers, but it would also mean financial losses if the utility couldn’t run at maximum capacity during its most lucrative season.

Throughout the winter, this utility saw a few small issues here and there. While nothing too dramatic happened, the COO recognized that he wouldn’t be able to afford something bigger going wrong during the busy season. He approached us to conduct a Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA) that would help identify his company’s most critical issues and reduce the likelihood of a service interruption.

*A VAA can be conducted on any type of operation in any industry. Learn more

Shedding Light on Potential Vulnerabilities

The analysis began with one power plant. This utility was like many other operations—they had several vulnerabilities on their radar in some form but no central repository for tracking them all. There might be a machine operator who knew about one issue, there might be an email chain about another issue, a few deferred work orders hanging around, but no way of making all issues known to all parties.

We began collecting information about the plant’s vulnerabilities—conducting individual interviews and brainstorming sessions with small groups of engineering and operating staff. We also reviewed event logs and work order histories to determine whether past events were likely to reoccur. We wanted to know: what issues had they been living with for a while? Where were they deferring maintenance? What spare parts were they missing? What workarounds were in place? Over the course of about a week, we reviewed all the vulnerabilities that could slow down or stop production on 40,000 pieces of equipment.

Concentrating on the Critical

Blank checklist on whiteboard with businessman hand drawing a reOut of this process, about 200 vulnerabilities were identified. Next, we scored each vulnerability in terms of likelihood and consequence and then ranked them “low,” “medium,” or “high” according to the corporate risk matrix. While there were about 25 vulnerabilities that we identified as being in the “high” category, we determined that 16 of them comprised approximately 80 percent of the risk to production.

If the utility focused on resolving these 16 issues first, they would see the greatest results in the shortest amount of time. We were also able to show the utility which type of vulnerability was most prevalent (wear and tear) and which systems were most in need of attention.

The final step was to assign a high-level action to each of the most critical vulnerabilities (examples might be “order spare parts” or “seek approval for design change from fire marshal”). Now the utility had a clear plan for which vulnerabilities to address first, where to begin resolving each vulnerability, who was responsible for each action item, and a recommended time frame for taking action.

Conclusion

Like most organizations, this utility wasn’t surprised by the vulnerabilities we identified. Chances are, these issues had been looming in the background making everyone somewhat uneasy due to the lack of clear prioritization or path to resolution.

Over the course of just three weeks, our Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis captured all the potential vulnerabilities, prioritized them according to criticality, and provided a clear path of action. By following this plan, the utility could dramatically reduce the chances of a catastrophic slow down or stoppage, eliminating much of the stress that usually accompanies the high season.

The utility’s COO was so pleased with the results at the first plant that he immediately scheduled a Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis for the next power plant, with plans to eventually cover them all.

It’s important to conduct a Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis before a period of high production, but it’s also a useful process in advance of a scheduled work stoppage. This way any fixes that are identified can be completed without incurring additional downtime.

Find out more about our Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis process.

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