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Indianapolis Power & Light Shares Its Formula for Outage Management Success

Hubbard stands before IPL’s Petersburg plant. Image courtesy of Indianapolis Power & Light.

Like cars, power stations require regular maintenance to ensure smooth operation. Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) schedules regular station downtimes (called outages) to allow crews to perform needed work. While other power companies do so as well, many of them experience frequent scheduling delays that end up costing the utility (and ultimately customers) money. IPL’s exceptional planning program prevents such delays 90 percent of the time. Debbie Hubbard is the Outage Management Scheduler at IPL; here she explains how her team operates and the secrets of its success.

Regular Maintenance

As IPL’s only Outage Management Scheduler, responsible for scheduling outage work for 17 units, Hubbard is in charge of scheduling each step of each planned outage. As of March 2019, she notes the current outage schedule stretches all the way to 2028, with the majority of work taking place in the spring and fall when electricity usage is lowest. Outage work includes opening equipment at the station, cleaning and inspecting it, and fixing anything broken. Each outage includes an extensive task list that Hubbard builds within these high-level categories. For example, says Hubbard, “Getting ready for the next outage, I have over 5,000 line items of things the crew will do, including parts replacement.”

Outages can last from just 10 days to up to 70. “We do major maintenance on each unit every 10 years, and minor tune-ups every two years or so,” explains Hubbard. Any delay in one part of one task can throw off the entire schedule. However, part of Hubbard’s expertise involves identifying delays as early as possible. “I usually know in the first week or two if there will be major problems. I can make adjustments to recover the schedule to ensure the full project still gets done on time,” she says.

A Proven Process

Coworkers at IPL are surprised when Hubbard mentions being behind schedule by a matter of hours. But, she explains, “My schedules are that granular because every hour that the crew is unproductive costs the company money.” To break tasks down to that level, Hubbard and the planning team she works with use a proven process:

Identify. Planners determine the scope of each outage project.

Plan. Starting about 24 months in advance of an outage, planners get CAPEX plans from the asset management team, and write work orders that include what and how much equipment, resources and manpower are expected to complete each portion of the work.

Schedule. Planners develop stepped out work orders, and Hubbard migrates them from the work management system into the Primavera project management application. She creates a master schedule to fit within the outage window (the amount of time the unit can be offline), including contingency time for unplanned work, and then confirms each piece with the contractor who will perform it. Contractor planned schedules are also migrated into the master schedule.

Execute. Once the work starts, Hubbard tracks it based on frequent updates from work crews. If needed, she makes adjustments to the schedule as the work proceeds.

Closeout. The “post-mortem” part of the process involves writing notes on work orders, including how many were planned versus completed. This critical step helps the team make constant improvements to its process. 

This level of planning ensures not just timely and cost-effective outages, but also safer ones since work crews know exactly what they need to accomplish their tasks.

Reliable Team, Consistent Results

Hubbard believes other utilities may not achieve the same level of outage maintenance success as IPL because, “they don’t break it down into small enough chunks.” Another contributing factor is that the planners at IPL, and Hubbard herself, are dedicated to scheduled outages and don’t have to deal with daily work. Additionally, “The planners are exceptional and they consistently follow the process,” states Hubbard. “Each team member respects the others, with the result of working together like a big machine.” Finally, upper management at IPL values and supports strong planning management.

The team and its process are being tested this year with two major challenges. First, it will transition from its current data management system to SAP. Hubbard comments, “We’ll use our project management best practices, pool our knowledge, and work together as a team. There is some anxiety about the process, but I know we’ll pull through.”

The second challenge is a new station having its first outage, with equipment the team has never dealt with before. The unit will require a brief outage at the same time the team is learning the SAP system. Again, Hubbard has every confidence in her team’s ability to prevail, stating, “I can’t say enough about how good our team is.”

With all this success, the team keeps trying to become even better. “We never stop trying to be a world-class planning team,” says Hubbard. “We’re very close to that goal, but we continue to try and improve every day.”

How does your utility plan for regular equipment maintenance? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on March 25, 2019

Such great insights! I really love this part:

Coworkers at IPL are surprised when Hubbard mentions being behind schedule by a matter of hours. But, she explains, “My schedules are that granular because every hour that the crew is unproductive costs the company money.”

This is a lesson to be applied everywhere, not just outages but across utilities and energy companies, and honestly companies in any sector

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on March 26, 2019

Agreed, Matt. Teams in any industry could benefit from the attention to detail evident in IPL's approach. 

SUDHAKAR TANDON's picture
SUDHAKAR TANDON on April 1, 2019

Very effective way of outage management by IPL. Along with a good approach, the deployment of approach, learning from the process and integration with other processes is also very visible. Thanks for sharing.

 

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on April 1, 2019

Thanks for your thoughts, Sudhakar. I think you're right, their approach is effective on many levels. 

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