Kansas City Power & Light's (KCP&L) Asset Management and Reliability Team is midway through a three-year project to survey and inventory its entire overhead distribution assets. Part of the project's success can be attributed to the common sense, knowledge and experience of the journeymen linemen.

Field techs can identify insulator types and verify wire sizes, but making judgments about the condition of the system requires workers who are seasoned, respected, aggressive and able to communicate appropriately to different groups within the organization. For this reason, both KCP&L (Kansas City, Missouri) and contractor Utility Data Contractors (Castle Rock, Colorado) hired a journeyman lineman to serve as the data-acceptance technician. The lineman, who has 22 years of experience at KCP&L, is responsible for governing the quality of the project's field work performed by Utility Data Contractors.

John Midgett, director of field operations for Utility Data Contractors, is also a journeyman lineman. He spent seven years climbing poles, going on trouble calls and responding to major storm outages in Texas. Midgett's group is responsible for verifying KCP&L's overhead assets pole by pole, as well as gathering additional information on the associated assets to each pole.

Quality Control

To ensure that the data being collected by the linemen is as accurate as possible, accuracy reports are built into the data-collection program. The data-acceptance technician is responsible for following up on Utility Data Contractors' completed work. About two weeks behind the survey crews, the technician makes random checks in the field on the accuracy of the data being reported. Using a Panasonic CF-18 tablet PC and the same software platform, he notes any errors or oversights. The system can quickly calculate the percentage of accuracy and items overlooked, for example, a crossarm on a pole that was not captured or an error in pole or conductor size.

Incentives are in place that if the contractor's field technicians' overall delivery falls below 95% in accuracy, the delivery must be reworked without additional pay to the contractor. To date, Utility Data Contractors has maintained a 98% to 99% accuracy rate throughout the project.

Inspection Features

The most rewarding part of the job, and one of the instant paybacks of the project, are the notes that require immediate attention. The field technicians call these “inspection features.” When they identify and enter a location where facilities are damaged, for example, they link an inspection feature to the pole (number) where the problem is located. A picture showing the damage also is linked to the inspection feature. The data-acceptance technician runs a query to find these features and determine the appropriate next step.

The number of items that require critical attention has been minimal, but KCP&L's work ethic states, “The system is only as strong as its weakest link.” From a lineman's perspective, the inspection features are red flags for outages, regardless of the frequency of occurrences. Whether it's a broken insulator or a missing wildlife guard, there is a potential for an intermittent or unpredictable outage at an inopportune time. Some of the inspection features that have been addressed so far fall into three broad categories: equipment, wildlife and lightning protection, and vegetation management.

Failure-Prone Equipment

A good example of an equipment inspection feature pertains to fuse cutout holders and deadend insulators that have had higher-than-expected failure rates in very cold weather. In severe cases, these devices show heavy signs of cracking or badly cracked porcelain.

Another is where the service line was either pulled loose or was not supported at the pole or at the house. These severe cases, gone undetected, could have resulted in an outage. Techs also found a “floating” primary that is energized at 7200 V. It needed to be re-anchored to the insulator before wind or other circumstances caused damage to the conductor or caused a power outage.

Wildlife and Lightning Protection

Another common inspection feature has been backbone primary equipment bushing connections that were not covered with wildlife protective guards. Squirrels or birds could come in contact with the bushing. The grounding event could damage the equipment and cause a power outage. Less common has been lightning damage. In one case, techs discovered a regulator bank that had been struck by lightning. The lightning protection and primary bushing were damaged. The strike also burned a hole in the regulator tank and oil was leaking.

Vegetation Encroachments

KCP&L's Vegetation Management's Forestry Group keeps a close eye on vegetation growth. Where many companies simply apply a footage clearance to their trimming standards, KCP&L's trim cycle is based on a species database and reliability criteria. All personnel in the field are also trained to report potential vegetation issues. During the overhead inventory project, the field techs have sighted some overgrowth, mostly of limbs that may affect equipment and reliability. A good example of this that recently warranted attention was when an open-wire secondary had old insulation that was starting to deteriorate. The trees were pushing the wires together, causing potential power outages and further damage to equipment.

Corrective Action Requests

The data-acceptance technician's experience as a first-responder lineman has been invaluable in responding to the items that need immediate attention. As a fellow lineman, he has earned the respect of all the field crews and can get immediate action. When he determines that an inspection feature needs immediate attention, he contacts the shift supervisors at the local work center. These supervisors then create a work order and dispatch a trouble worker. If an item needs prompt, but not immediate, attention, he completes a “patrol sheet,” which is turned over to a clerk at the work center.

A clerk then creates a corrective action request in the system. The request is scheduled to be completed by a lineman in that area when his workload has room. The data-acceptance technician also has good rapport with the engineering group and asset management team, who initiated the project. For structures with nonemergency stability concerns, the standards engineering group investigates the situation.

One District at a Time

KCP&L's service territory covers 4600 sq miles. The initial plan was to start north of the Missouri River in the Northland service center district and cross over into downtown Kansas City and the Front & Manchester service center districts in the spring. Once those sections were completed, the crews moved into the Dodson service center district southeast of downtown. Inventory in those districts has been completed.

Johnson County, a predominately subdivided residential district, and the east district were scheduled to begin this summer and fall, respectively, with plans to finish up in 2009 in the south district of Paola and Garnett on the Kansas side, which are rural. However, since Johnson County is primarily an upper-income residential area with lots of trees, it would be better to work that section in the winter when the leaves are off the trees and city people are less likely to come out and ask questions. Therefore, Utility Data Contractors crews are now working the south district and will move into the east district next while the dirt roads are dry, finishing up in Johnson County in 2009.

Critical Information

After a pilot program in 2005 and 2006, Utility Data Contractors began the exhaustive study in August 2007, collecting and confirming existing information on every pole, conductor and equipment. The utility has documented more than 150,000 poles.

The data being collected will become invaluable to KCP&L. An immediate benefit is achieved by the verification of map accuracy, including how customer meters are electronically linked to circuit components. This is critical to proper operation of KCP&L's outage management system and outage restoration processes. However, the real gems are in having vast amounts of data about the types, designs, configurations, location and condition of distribution equipment — and all in a common database and format. This data will be analyzed and correlated to performance (outage or failure) data. This will turn the data into information. The anticipated result will be improved maintenance and reliability programs, improved standard equipment and designs, and identification of the best-performing line configurations.

All this will be based on real-world field data. A well-planned and prioritized program of work will be identified to make repairs, replace equipment and rebuild certain areas or equipment, and the utility will have the ability to monitor in-field inventory in the future. This enables a proactive approach, rather than reacting after the equipment has failed.

Certain inventory data may not generate action initially, but will prove useful as the system ages. As equipment ages or common-mode failures arise, knowing the location and quantity of this equipment will drive future maintenance or reliability programs.

A Reliability Investment

The other main benefit of the inventory project is to sustain high levels of reliable service for KCP&L customers. The proactive approach to asset repair and replacement keeps costs lower as well. Work can be done in a planned and scheduled environment, rather than under more costly emergency conditions.

It is difficult to put a dollar figure on reliability, but when a light flickers during prime time for thousands of customers watching their favorite TV program or an intermittent outage occurs that turns off a home computer, a trouble man must find the tree limb brushing the conductor or the loose bolt on a pole-top insulator. It can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

KCP&L prides itself in being proactive and having a “caring utility family who looks after their house” in the field every day, and trouble workers who work around the clock to find outage causes and to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Leroy Garman began his career as a journeyman lineman more than 34 years ago. Twenty-two of those years have been with Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy. Prior to his assignment as data-acceptance technician on the asset management inventory project, he was a troubleshooter for 17 years based at the Dobson Service Center in the southeast district of KCP&L. Leroy.Garman@kcpl.com

GOING HIGH-TECH

KCP&L has taken a high-tech approach to its comprehensive plan, which involves verifying enormous amounts of information and entering thousands of pieces of new information. GIS mapping, GPS documentation and tablet PCs with digital pens and touch-screen capabilities are central to the facilities inventory project.

Three quality-control technicians, employed by Utility Data Contractors, oversee a group of seven field technicians each. These field techs input data on all of the utility's overhead distribution assets into their Fujitsu ST5031D tablet PCs.

Each field tech is given a work unit of about 200 to 500 poles, which can be completed in about a week. Poles either owned by KCP&L or carrying KCP&L conductors are tagged with a number. Using the electronic pen and touch-screen tablets, 30 field technicians update information linked to the pole number in Utility Data Contractors' software program.

This proprietary software features hundreds of menus with drop-down lists developed by Utility Data Contractors for quick pen-to-tablet capturing and verification of the data on each pole in the field. Information is stored by pole number in the database and downloaded to the master file at the operations center.

KCP&L WINS AWARDS

In 2007, Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L; Kansas City, Missouri) was honored with two national awards. The Edison Electric Institute recognized KCP&L with the prestigious Edison Award and PA Consulting Group presented the utility with The ReliabilityOne National Reliability Excellence Award for 2007. These awards speak loudly of KCP&L's strong utility family that looks after its “house.”

The criteria for these awards was based on such factors as superior performance over time; leadership in outage data processing; superior preparation and response to major events; and, as the PA award describes it, “an organizational and cultural focus on reliability.” Consistent with these accolades, KCP&L's Inventory and Asset Assessment Project will further enhance system management, collecting more accurate system data that can be used by all levels of the organization.