Exelon’s e-work package16 December 2015
Moving work packages from paper to iPads is helping the USA’s largest nuclear utility to cut operating costs and improve productivity.
Exelon Generation's Clinton power station made US nuclear industry history in July 2014, when a work package was completed electronically, from start to finish, for the first time at a commercial nuclear power plant. That milestone was the culmination of nearly two years of study, testing and design that resulted in the creation of Exelon's Electronic Work Package (eWP), a mobile work process that uses electronic work orders and supporting documents to manage nuclear workers performing maintenance activities.
The eWP is part of Exelon's effort to establish a culture of innovation, targeting opportunities to deploy new technologies that optimise operations and improve process efficiency.
Prior to the eWP, workers would take a physical work package, which consisted of a large, three-ring binder packed with forms, diagrams and documents necessary to complete a job, into the field. "We realised there had to be a better way," said Exelon nuclear corporate maintenance business lead Dale Shaw. He said, "Our goal was to create a mobile tablet, user-friendly solution for workers that would provide performance improvement opportunities while meeting our industry's stringent regulatory and safety requirements."
The eWP uses Apple iPads distributed to plant maintenance crews and is the first shift of a commercial nuclear power plant from paper-based work packages to a completely digital solution, from planning through closeout.
The eWP modernises the workflow and enables electronic execution in the field. It reduces costs and improves the efficiency of the entire work flow process by:
- streamlining the process for handling and archiving work packages;
- reducing the administrative burden for field workers and increasing wrench time;
- improving control of work packages from initiation to closeout;
- reducing in-field work package revision time;
- improving work package closeout process for first line supervisors; and
- reducing material costs associated with the assembly of traditional work packages.
The eWP project was led by a cross-functional team of employees from Exelon's Nuclear Maintenance organisation, Information Technology and from the Clinton plant in Illinois, where the pilot for the eWP was conducted.
The core team consisted of Shaw, IT project lead Pete Muller, nuclear maintenance director Jim Domitrovich, Clinton station maintenance planner Tom Massey and Clinton maintenance group leader Mark Tippet.
The process to develop the eWP was collaborative. The team solicited site input, selected a vendor to develop the software to Exelon's design, and tested the program to ensure compliance with current processes and design criteria. Insights from representatives of all aspects of work package development, work execution and record retention from across the Exelon nuclear fleet, including managers, supervisors and workers, were critical in designing the eWP. The application meets all of Exelon's nuclear and corporate security requirements, passing all of the company's vulnerability assessments.
How the eWP works
The eWP program electronically manages the generation and assembly of work packages, including all procedures and referenced documents required to perform work, and is utilised through the entire process. Once all work is completed, the program creates a final quality assurance record for central file record retention and writes all required data back to PassPort.
The work package is loaded onto an electronic tablet, in the eWP's case an Apple iPad, and can be updated by WiFi; but, a WiFi connection is not required when using the tablet in the field. The work package on the tablet is very similar in structure and format to hardcopy work packages and includes tabs, collected documents and required forms and checklists. Placekeeping, signatures, as-found data and other work records are made and captured on the tablet. The camera and other features of the iPad allow workers to capture information for future use or to forward it electronically to others to support the work activity.
Prior to deployment of eWP at each site, workers had formal role-specific classroom training, which included a practical exercise to demonstrate competence. Training was provided for planner, approver, supervisor, technician and records keeper.
The eWP was piloted Clinton during the summer of 2014. A single unit 1065MW boiling water reactor, Clinton went into commercial operation in 1987, and is about 160 miles southwest of Chicago. A 'dry run' of 15 work packages was completed before the eWP officially went live on in August 2014.
Being the first to implement such technology was a risk due to the unknown challenges and hurdles that could arise, but the organisation was prepared with backup plans for every scenario. "The pilot went well," said Shaw. "The ability to communicate digitally, using colour, highlighting, pictures and video, takes work execution to a whole new level. Everyone is excited about this technology."
A collaborative approach
Throughout the development of the eWP, Exelon collaborated with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), based in San Jose, California, to help develop guidance for implementing a mobile work management system. A representative from Clinton attended an EPRI benchmarking trip to the US Department of Energy's Savannah River site to witness field use of a similar process and document the lessons learned.
As part of the guidance document development process, Dale Shaw worked with the EPRI Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which is composed of nuclear utilities considering various forms of mobile work management. Exelon provided early lessons learned from the development of the new technology and valuable input into guidelines that validated the EPRI approach. EPRI's mobile work management guidance can now transfer this technology across the entire nuclear industry to:
- Improve worker productivity - An automated electronic work package reduces redundancy and includes controlled document validation, electronic task assignment check-in and check-out, remote authorisations, automated task status updates, single-point data entries, and digital imaging and video capture to better document field conditions.
- Improve work quality - Electronic platforms provide access to electronic references and resources that previously were not readily available.
- Reduce costs - Paperless processes can save on various resources, including printing, assembly and managing paper binders.
- Implementation across Exelon
Since the four-month pilot, the eWP has been implemented at Exelon's five other nuclear plants in Illinois, Braidwood, Byron, Dresden, LaSalle and Quad Cities, and the company plans to continue rolling out the tool to all 14 of its nuclear fleet.
Lessons learned have proven to be a crucial aspect of the rollouts. From the pilot and beyond, each site to receive eWP has also left its mark and contributed feedback to help refine the eWP.
One of the key functions of the eWP is that when a user logs on to the eWP, the system knows if the user is a maintenance technician, an electrical engineer, a work planner, etc. Through user feedback, search data fields have been customised for each particular functional area, and now they have their own search screen tailored to their needs.
Some jobs may require the same form to be used at different stages of work. For example, a component may need to be disassembled, worked on and then reassembled. After feedback, the eWP has been enhanced to allow for easier transfer of forms that may be started at one point for a job and are needed at a different stage.
Central to the eWP is its ability to remotely access large documents, drawings and forms for field workers. As a result of user feedback, a team was formed, comprising employees from IT, nuclear and an external vendor, to find faster ways for the eWP to access servers and download data to improve the eWP user experience.
"The feedback we've received from every site has been tremendously helpful to improve eWP functionality," said Shaw. "From the start, our goal has been to make sure the workers and the business have what they need to get the job done."
“This has been a very exciting project," said Jim Meister, vice president of operations support for Exelon Nuclear. "The eWP provides us with tremendous process advancements in work package development efficiencies, human performance enhancements, work execution efficiencies, and electronic document retention. This is a major change in the way nuclear does business and has made a very positive impact where it has been implemented."
The eWP has also been recognised as an important milestone across the nuclear industry.
Dale Shaw received an EPRI Technology Transfer Award for his work on eWP. In addition to leading Exelon's efforts, he was also recognised for collaborating with EPRI to benchmark mobile work management practices in other industries and contributing heavily to the development of EPRI's mobile work management guidance document.
Exelon's eWP team was honoured with the B. Ralph Sylvia Best of the Best Top Industry Practice (TIP) Award was presented at the Nuclear Energy Institute's (NEI) annual meeting in May 2015. The TIP Awards recognise achievements in 12 categories -- four reactor vendor awards and eight process awards for innovation to improve safety, efficiency and nuclear plant performance -- as well as an award for vision, leadership and ingenuity. The eWP was Exelon's first Best of the Best award. The eWP team also received the NEI Process Award for the eWP.