Aging Utility Infrastructure: Automating Inspection and Maintenance Data Flows to Accelerate Field Assessments and Upgrades

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Joe Kostelnick's picture
National Account Manager - Water Arcos
  • Member since 2019
  • 1 items added with 3,876 views
  • May 30, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 industry report Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR 2015), stated that 70% of power transformers are 25 years of age or older, 60% of circuit breakers are 30 years or older, and 70% of transmission lines are 25 years or older. (Watch for QTR 2019 this year.)

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card stated that “Despite recent construction, a large percentage of higher-pressure natural gas transmission lines were installed before 1980.”

Reporting on the U.S. water infrastructure, EKU Online reports that “water pipes used in many cities across the United States were installed between 70 to 90 years ago,” and that “the American Society for Civil Engineers has given the United States a D+ grade for the poor state of its water infrastructure.”

It is clear from these reports that America’s electric, natural gas, and water utility infrastructures are aging out of their expected life cycles, and that inspection and maintenance efforts are urgently required.

Data-driven Aging Infrastructure Assessment

ARCOS believes that digitizing the infrastructure data acquisition and analysis process is a key factor in spurring inspection and maintenance activity. Data is being acquired through a new fleet of widely-dispersed, infrastructure-embedded digital IoT sensors, as well as through traditional, hands-on manual field inspection and asset assessment methods.

Therefore, asset data acquisition today is hybrid. SCADA systems are being heavily invested in by most utilities. Anything that can be remotely monitored is an option for the implementation of IoT sensors. But there are still a vast number of measurements that need to be done manually by a technician in the field. Manually-acquired data typically lags behind remote (digital) monitoring. It raises questions such as ‘how good is that data now’; ‘are we really doing the things we need to do’? This is where real-time data comes into the picture.

You're trying to get as much data out of infrastructure systems as possible in order to achieve accurate, timely decision-making on inspection and maintenance requirements and options. Utilities are looking at their field assets and thinking, ‘can we extend the life of this piece of equipment’; ‘can we accurately predict its failure time so we can properly plan to replace that specific piece of equipment’?

For the water utility that equipment could be a valve or an elaborate membrane filtration system. In the power industry it could be critical turbines at the plant. From a resource manager perspective, if the utility feels it's critical enough to monitor and do preventative maintenance on, or even to assess, then it's important to ARCOS to support that utility with our intelligent, integrated data acquisition and analysis platform, which we call the Mobile Workbench.

Digitizing Utility Data Acquisition and Analysis Processes to Increase Field Efficiencies

To bridge traditional manual field inspection data collection processes with remotely-acquired data, ARCOS digitalizes its client’s forms, tying real-time field data digitally into ARCOS’s back office analysis and crew callout systems, and with the utility’s OMS and GIS systems.

Through mobile and web field applications, the utility and ARCOS, in its support role, knows when field staff are at a specific location, how long they are there, and what their assessment is of equipment. We give them electronic (digitized) guided assessment forms to fill out on their note pads or phone. That data is then sent instantly back to the ARCOS back office, recorded, analyzed, and automatically generated into specified reports that can be integrated with our client’s SCADA system dashboards and preventive maintenance schedules. The reports can be processed alongside digital transmissions that they're acquiring from remote, real-time sensors. Comparing baseline asset performance metrics with real-time data reveals anomalies that may signal the need for closer inspection and preventative maintenance. Now you have a complete picture of the life expectancy, past changes, and real-time updates on what's happening with that asset in the field. Field techs and utilities now have data at their fingertips to move from a reactive approach to a predictive and preventative approach. This reduces system disruptions and improves CAIDI/SAIDI scores. That keeps regulators happy, commissioners happy, and customers and stakeholders happy. By automating processes, utilities can more easily manage their infrastructure inspection and maintenance activity, and project budgets out to the next 5, 10, or 15 years.

Automating Reports, Work Flows, and Records for Greater Efficiencies

When suspect issues are found with assets, work tickets are generated and can be automatically pushed out to the field. Tied into ARCOS crew callout software, utilities can automatically build the crews needed to do the work and take preventative actions quickly. Those are two touch points ARCOS provides that are unmatched in the industry.

Records generated by the ARCOS analytics platform are stored for audit and compliance purposes. Depending on the state in which the utility operates, records retention could be upwards of seven years. All that data has to be stored in case of an EPA, FERC, or other regulatory audit. Without those reports and data, large fines may ensue.

Another value to digital data storage in the cloud involves customer complaints. You want to make sure that your historical data is captured. But if you're doing it on manual logbooks and you brute force double typing it into Excel to save an entire file on your server, there could be data accuracy issues.

We take all that information, timestamp it, put it into the cloud to be stored for as long as the client needs it. You no longer have to worry about filing cabinets sitting outside the director's office that's taking up space, or a log book misplaced at a pump house. Get rid of all of that cumbersome file-keeping by digitizing data and securing it in cloud storage.

Once it's in the cloud it's accessible anywhere remotely with the mobile app. In one case study we did here in Ohio, the utility needed to average a certain turbidity over the course of a month in order to provide a monthly operating report to the EPA. Traditionally, they took their log book and manually tapped data into an Excel spreadsheet. We take all of that data, digitize it, map it and store it for future reference. There is no more double entry, no more calculating averages finding trends, all of that can be done now in real time. Automating the process and calculations now saves the utility many hours a week.

You can't perform effective field work without having a robust mobile application. It all ties to the back office processes that companies use, to the people and supervisors where they can get full awareness of their crews, asset assessments, and work flows.

The ARCOS automation platform assists those utilities and people by automating many of the formerly cumbersome communication and data processes. We believe automation frees up staff for more important tasks and helps utilities accelerate the important work of identifying and upgrading aging infrastructure.

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