Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

Once upon a time in a land far far away, I was transitioning from an engineering manager to a maintenance manager. It was a tradition in our company for an outage; all the engineers would come from all the other plants and perform inspections. I came into the company as an engineer and it always seemed strange to me that the engineers would run around while the plant maintenance would run the outage. This was my first outage as a newly made maintenance manager, so I figured let’s just roll with it.

To depict the scope, I made up inspection plans and graphics for myself and my engineering team. I distributed these out to the other engineers and assigned them areas that they were responsible for. While it’s true that I have an engineering degree and I had designed a thing or two, and have even run my fair share of calculations, I do not think of myself as an “engineer”. I’m always impressed when I work with true engineers; the process and the deliberation that most engineers go through is laudable. l however, do not have those bones. I much prefer to gather all the information, look at “it” (whatever “it” maybe,) make a decision and move on. But, I digress. So there we all are, at the beginning of our first major outage as a new and improved plant, gung-ho and ready to make changes and show the company how we were going to be moving forward.

The outage started: Blasting. – Complete. Dance Floor-In. Scaffold-Up. Sandblasting-Done. Inspections Started. –

The engineers started inspecting the superheaters on Sunday day shift. By Monday morning we had zero scope, we had held off the contractors working in the area and gave the engineers a well scaffolded and lit area to inspect. Yet, still after 16 hours we had no scope, not good, So off I went to find out what the deal was.

For those of you who don’t know me, you should hold the following image of me in your mind. Although wickedly handsome, and wise in the face with a peter pan-esk twinkle in the eyes, the body is somewhere between Shrek and an averaged size grizzly bear. Just a few more details to add to the picture, a full face respirator, hood and size 4X Tyvek (soon to be shreaded).

So there I was, squeezing in the boiler door (I would later change them out for larger ones in a later outages) while literally buffing all of the superheat panels with my body as I made my way through the pass of the boiler. I found the engineers with their slag picks, UT meters and paint in hand. When I started talking to them, they showed me all the things they found on the panel that we were next to. To my horror they were only about 20% through the pass. This outage could not be held up for another 64 hours while they picked and tested each tube in the pass.

I was conflicted, as an engineer, I understood the need to dissect everything and be absolutely sure that the unit was sound before it came up from an outage as it was too often that the units came down for something missed during a main outage. But I had to get things going for the outage to have any hope of coming in on time and on budget.

Wedged as I was in between the panels, I stared to look at all the markings on the panels. I realized that on the particular panel that I was pressed up against there had to be at least a hundred different marks made by the engineers in the span of maybe 5 feet. Suddenly, it dawned on me the engineers where playing the game like they had to prove their recommendations beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Feeling pressure in the pocket, I channeled my inner Johnny Unitas and huddled the engineers together. I explained to them that the panels are 15’ long, so if they felt a panel was bad just mark the top and the bottom of the corrosion. With these new marching orders the engineers finished the pass in about 4 hours. They then brought their recommendations to me and we reviewed them. There were some panels that were no brainers and some that were marginal. We went back in and checked the marginal panels and made a game-time decision then. Long story short, by the end of the day Monday we finally had a work scope and started the demo.

Moral of the Story:

An outage is a group effort. It takes many disciplines and many more opinions and viewpoints to execute a great outage. If any member or group of the team is working in a vacuum the entire outage suffers. This is a difficult dance. Power plant people are well….Hardheaded! You need to be! None of this is easy! A great outage finds a way for everyone to contribute without a lot of talking and a bunch of “Cover Your Ass” bull.

Rule of Thumb:

An outage is like a big PIT stop in NASCAR. The fueler, jack man and tire changer needs to know when to come in and most importantly when to leave. Everyone in the plant plays a role like this during an outage. Success is derived from that understanding of roles.

3 thoughts on “Engineers, Engineers Everywhere and Not a Scope to Execute

  1. Chris Ivory

    Nice case study and point well made. Same issues in design, Engineers, from the perspective of management, always want it ‘gold plated’, whereas managers, from the perspective of engineers, are always looking at the ‘bottom line’ and trading off safety and quality against that. Good management, your case study shows, can achieve both by instigating better processes.


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