Today's electric utilities are challenged by two main issues: rapidly emerging technology and the impending retirement of many of their veteran linemen. To stay competitive and boost reliability, companies must invest in the latest tools and technology, create and implement new work procedures and methods, and train their workforce. In addition, companies are tasked with finding qualified linemen to replace the waves of experienced workers who soon will be leaving the industry.
To help meet these challenges, utilities can turn to the Transmission and Distribution Maintenance Management Association (TDMMA). Started in the mid-1970s by Trent Meacham of Salt River Project, the association aims to connect crew chiefs and managers to allow them the opportunity for sharing work practices and strategies.
Bringing Managers Together
Forty years ago, Meacham was facing the challenge of developing procedures, work measurement systems and computer programs to implement a master maintenance plan for transmission and distribution work at Salt River Project. He then asked peers at other utilities how they were addressing similar challenges and opportunities. From there, the utilities expressed interest in having a formalized open discussion. In October 1976, utility professionals who managed and supervised transmission and distribution work for electric utilities decided to meet. This initial meeting was so beneficial that they decided to do it again the next year. This led to the birth of the TDMMA conference and association.
Over time, other participating utilities volunteered to host the meeting. By moving the conference across North America, utilities from all regions would have the opportunity to participate. By 1982, Ontario Hydro (now Hydro One) became the first Canadian utility to host the conference. This fall, Manitoba Hydro will serve as the host utility for the conference.
For utility managers, it can be lonely at the top. While linemen in the field often have the opportunity to ask their peers or crew leaders for help, supervisors often feel like they're on an island and on their own. In their supervisory positions, they may not have a peer to turn to at their own utility when they need support or have a problem to solve. Through the TDMMA, however, crew chiefs and leaders can call upon others who are facing the same challenges of managing line crews and walking down the same paths in their careers.
For example, Santee Cooper managers first attended the conference back in 1983. At that time, the utility was just developing the lineman training program. Through contacts and networking with other utilities at the conference, the utility's managers were able to gain insight into different training methods and diverse training aids. As a result, they could pull from the experience of other participating utilities rather than completely reinventing the wheel.
Utilities at the TDMMA conference have the ability to share work methods and new technologies, whether they are for underground distribution or the development of the live-line work method using helicopters. By participating in the conference, they have the ability to take advantage of a wealth of information and resources as the industry grows, develops and faces new challenges.
One way that the participants are able to share resources is through the open forums for transmission, distribution and substation. These forums allow the participants to ask questions, share experiences and survey their peers about anything involving the construction, operation or maintenance of those facilities.
Tackling Technical Issues
Another way that the TDMMA conference educates its attendees is through a yearly technical tour. During the first day of the conference, the host utility has the flexibility of showing off their training yards or demonstrating some of their new tools or work methods. This gives the participants the opportunity to see inside of another utility and gain even more knowledge about the inner workings of other utilities.
By bringing crew chiefs together, TDMMA is helping utilities to face the problems of the labor shortage and new technology adoption head-on. Rather than only depending on internal resources, companies can achieve better results by sharing in the experiences of other utilities facing the same issues, challenges and opportunities.
George Patrick (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the TDMMA. He is the central area transmission lines supervisor for Santee Cooper in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. His utility will serve as the host company for the 2013 TDMMA conference.
Editor's note: The 2012 TDMMA conference will be held Sept. 10-13 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. For more information, visit www.tdmm.com.