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Salt River Project’s Integrated Calibration Odyssey

How one public power company took small steps for a big evolution

Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 16:34

For more than a century, Salt River Project (SRP) has produced power and delivered water to meet the needs of its customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. Today, as one of the nation’s largest public power utilities, SRP provides reliable electricity and water to more than 1 million customers and employs about 4,500 people.

In order to produce power, including generation, transmission, and distribution, to this 2,900 square-mile service area, SRP uses a combination of production methods including hydro, gas turbine, coal-fired, nuclear, solar, geothermal, and wind-generation.

Furthermore, SRP is the largest water supplier in the Phoenix metropolitan area, responsible for water transmission and distribution for a 375 square-mile service area while managing a 13,000 square-mile watershed. This water production, transmission, and distribution includes an extensive system of reservoirs, wells, canals, and irrigation laterals.

SRP’s calibration history

Jody Damron, a business analyst at SRP’s corporate headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, has been serving the company for more than 36 years. In 1986, he first began working as instrument calibration technician at the Navajo Generating Station, a three-unit, 2,400-megawatt, super-critical generating station that went live with the first unit in 1974. The calibration documentation process consisted of a hard copy, index card, paper process. At the time, technicians would take paper cards out into the field and record their findings when they returned. They soon encountered several issues, including lost data, no data security, no reporting, and difficulty creating an audit trail.

Damron recalls when a state auditor visited the plant and the cards were misplaced. He was responsible for explaining to the state inspector why they didn’t have cards readily available. “It’s a very discomforting place to be when you’re right in the middle of an audit,” he recalls. However, at the time, the Navajo Generating Station didn’t have the technology to help with this process.

By the early 1990s, Microsoft Excel had been released, and Damron was the lead to get all of the information from SRP’s calibration cards into an Excel file. This was a step in the right direction because it provided some data security. By the late 1990s, a new distributed control system was deployed at the Navajo Generating Station and plant personnel were able to document all of the instrument data for the control system, which were data that never existed before. Later on, the team at the Navajo Generating Station decided to improve the database by converting to a Microsoft Access database.

The Access database not only included calibration information, but all distributed control system instrument information as well. As one can imagine, this was a big undertaking, and it was the first time IT had to be involved in the process. The IT team took the time to learn about the business objectives and processes, which was a vital step. Damron also gained insight into how IT operated, interpreted information, and viewed objectives. Moreover, this effort resulted in Damron and the IT business analyst writing an International Society of Automation technical report titled “TR77.70.01 Tracking and Reporting of Instrument and Control Data.” Overall, this phase brought more notable improvements to the process, including secure data and calibration reporting, which allowed easier compliance to state audit reports, links to drawings, and documented distributed control system points. But it was still an inefficient and difficult process that was costly and required continuous oversight.

Small steps for a big evolution

In 2005, Damron was a member of an International Society of Automation executive committee. While attending an International Society of Automation conference, he was introduced to Beamex’s calibration management software, CMX, during a technical how-to presentation. Damron recognized the importance of the increased functionality that calibration software offered over and beyond SRP’s current setup. By this time, he had become the instrument supervisor. He decided to take the information back to the site and ask his technicians to review it. He wanted them to help him make such an important decision. They too saw the value, and especially liked the user-friendliness along with the ability to capture more information than they could with Access. Together, they decided to begin using the standalone Beamex calibration management software.

Shortly thereafter, in 2008, there was a corporate initiative to remove standalone software applications. Damron, IT, and a contractor were tasked with replicating all of the Access application functions along with instrument and control data into the corporate work management system, Maximo. It was a difficult project, but the team was able to duplicate most of the functionality SRP employees used in Access. Major accomplishments included more secure data, improved calibration reporting capabilities, less stressful state audit reports, links to drawings, documented distributed control system points, asset data comparison, a better governance process, and more detailed instrument meter data. However, there were still inefficiencies, costs were high, and significant manual oversight was required.

In 2012, Damron became the generation business unit representative responsible for leading the generation team and interfacing with IT to implement Maximo and SAP. This project partnered the instrument shop’s valuable experience with the IT developers to meet business requirements. Maximo was upgraded from version 5.2 to 7.5, which included a new “built-in” calibration module. The technicians tried using the Maximo calibration system, but they pushed for CMX to be integrated into Maximo because they needed a calibration software that offered more comprehensive features.

Determining the needs of the entire business

By then, Damron had progressed to business analyst, and the job of implementing a calibration process change landed on his desk. He was asked to recommend whether CMX could integrate into Maximo 7.5, as it needed to function to meet the business requirements. Damron knew he couldn’t make this decision without some thorough investigation, and he couldn’t make it alone.

Damron began by researching IT integration projects. He was so amazed to discover the mind-boggling number of failed projects, costing companies up into the trillions of dollars. He read about major failures where no progress was made, even situations in which companies were forced to go back to the original way after failed attempts. He declared, right then and there, that “failure is not an option.”

Through a preliminary analysis, he concluded that this integration project would require a substantial amount of planning and input from a team of internal departmental experts to ensure that it functioned appropriately for all parties involved. He also knew the external parties, or vendors, would be just as vital to their success.

It was important that he put together a quality team (see figure 1) that he trusted, because he had to rely on everyone’s input and expertise. 

Figure 1: The project team

During this process, Damron learned important lessons about building a successful team. He discovered how each party tended to speak different technical languages as well as have different goals and ideologies. He determined that communication was going to be the key to success. “The business will say they need an apple cut in six pieces, and the IT side will hear, ‘Cut a watermelon in half,’” says Damron. “Technical, cultural, and language communication barriers are real challenges that needed full attention.”

He knew they would run into many implementation roadblocks if the team didn’t work together during the entire process. The team stayed focused on the detailed requirements and met often to review the business expectations.

Responsibilities of vendors and customer

As important as it is for the entire project team to understand everyone’s roles and responsibilities to ensure efforts weren’t duplicated or missed altogether, it was also essential to define the vendors’ roles and establish clear operation guidelines. The chart in figure 2 defines responsibilities along with brief descriptions for some of the sector’s key duties:

Figure 2: Team roles and responsibilities

• Business: Data integrity is an important and an ongoing process. For SRP, it has never stopped since it first began in 1974. It’s a time-consuming but important process—one which can go south in a short period of time if it’s not continually monitored. SRP put a lot of man hours into ensuring clean data.
• CMX: SRP relied on Beamex’s expertise. Beamex acted as a consultant and was quick to communicate how the integration could work most efficiently and made no empty promises.
• Maximo: The Maximo team worked hand in hand with SRP technicians to meet business expectations and functionality requirements.
• Integration: It was imperative to make sure the right data were transferred back and forth between systems in the correct manner.

After analyzing all of these factors and gathering information from the project team, risks had to be considered so that Damron could be 100-percent confident that the integration would be successful. After all, failure wasn’t an option.

How it works today

Upon completion of in-depth analysis by the team, Damron determined that the integration could be completed to meet both the business and IT needs. As he succinctly puts it, “It’s extremely simple, if you think of how complicated it could be.”

These are the basic rules used to form SRP’s system:
• CMX is the calibration system of record that stores the detailed calibration information.
• Maximo tracks all plant assets and is the master of scheduling.
• As for calibration, the only information Maximo needs is if an instrument passed or failed during the calibration event.
• In Maximo, there are two types of instrument assets. The first is regular instrument assets that are never calibrated; for example, an orifice plate. Second, there are calibratable assets; for example, a transmitter.
• For a Maximo asset to be transferred into CMX, the asset must be defined as a calibratable asset. Out of 28,000 instruments, there are 7,700 assets that require calibration and meet the calibratable-asset criteria.
• If a Maximo work order is written or automatically generated by the preventive maintenance application for a calibratable asset, it automatically flows into CMX. This is critical because the rules create a built-in method of security that doesn’t allow “garbage” data to be transferred back and forth. This ensures good data integrity for both software platforms.
• If a work order is not for a calibratable asset, it doesn’t go to CMX.
• Work orders are generated by a planner. Technicians will pick them up and calibrate them without using paper. This paperless process allows field personnel to work only within CMX. Not dealing with work orders in Maximo saves time, money, and frustration.

For example, during a typical unit overhaul, many of the site’s 7,700 calibratable instrument assets must be tested. Work orders are planned, put into progress, the information is automatically transferred to CMX, and the technician is alerted by the planner via email. The technician can then download the asset test information to an MC6 documenting calibrator and perform the necessary work. Because the MC6 is a multifunction, documenting calibrator, the entire calibration process is automated because the results are stored in the calibrator’s memory. When the technician returns to the shop, she uploads results into CMX. When a calibration test passes, an automatic notification is sent back into Maximo that closes the work order and documents who performed the work and when it was done. A failure requires the initiation of a follow-up work order.

Project review

Throughout this process, Damron notes some key factors he recommends to keep in mind when implementing a calibration process change:
• Do not compromise data integrity.
• Build a solid team.
• Set realistic timelines.
• Set expectations and interpretation guidelines.
• Document the business process.
• Build a governance process.
• Support the new process.

Summary and results

SRP’s calibration processes have evolved tremendously during the past 40 years. As new technology solutions were developed, leaders such as Damron demonstrated key insights to embrace the advancements while balancing the necessary changes to create tailored work processes for SRP’s business needs. SRP has not only benefited from investing in quality solutions, but also from doing its due diligence to carefully plan out the implementation of new processes.

Close attention to detail and building a trusted, quality-project team (both internally and with its vendors) were crucial factors to SRP’s many successes. As a result, as Damron explains, “With this software integration project, we were able to realize a significant return on investment during the first unit overhaul. It’s unusual, since ROI on software projects is usually nonexistent at first.”

The most significant impact overall is that SRP has been able to save about 30 minutes per calibration using an automated approach. This equates up to 1,000 man hours in the previously cited unit overhaul example. Further savings are anticipated as history analysis will confirm that extended calibration intervals are recommended. It’s important to note that SRP’s work-order history for calibration is 100-percent automated, and technicians never work in Maximo. Other major benefits of the automated calibration system include:
• System oversight has been minimized.
• Audits are easy to perform and are less stressful.
• Defined calibration procedures provide a corporate “best practices” approach to calibration.
• Better decision making is possible because of accurate data. In the simplest terms, the new Beamex/Maximo calibration system gives back time to the people working in the field.


About The Author

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Beamex is a leading, worldwide producer of calibration solutions that meet even the most demanding requirements of process instrumentation. The company offers a comprehensive range of products and services—from portable calibrators to workstations, calibration accessories, calibration software, industry-specific solutions, and pofessional services. Through Beamex’s subsidiaries, branch offices, and extensive network of independent distributors, the company’s products and services are available in more than 130 countries. Beamex has more than 12,000 customers worldwide.