Company: Logan Generating
Industry: Power Generation. NAICS Code is 221112
Task: Cleaning the Back Pass of an electricity generating station's pulverized coal boiler
Employees: 16 people directly affected by the change and 37 employees on site.
The Backpass Buddy was developed to improve the process for cleaning and inspecting the boiler backpass system.
Boilers at power plants must be inspected on a regular basis, usually twice per year. Interior portions of the boiler must be cleaned of fly ash so the metal structures are clearly visible. The cleaning process used to involve an employee crawling into this confined space wearing a supplied air respirator, Tyvek, and extraction harness. The employee then would wash the parts down by hand. As can be seen in Picture 1 and 2, the spaces are tight and employees must crawl in and work while lying on their sides. This operation requires the use of awkward postures such as extending the arm in many directions while exerting force to support and operate heavy equipment. Because of cleaning water splashing, the employees often were cold and wet, and as a result had to change out clothing on a frequent basis. While there currently are no injuries related to performing this task, it represents a source of ergonomic concern because of the force exerted in restricted and awkward postures. Further, the process required additional personnel to act as confined space attendants and provide other support. Additionally, the process often had to be done twice because the structures were not clean enough the first time to adequately inspect all the areas.
Employees brainstormed ways to improve this process. They employees blended multiple ideas together to develop an unmanned sled equipped with a spraying system. One of the employees borrowed a "Cellar Nozzle" from a local fire department which turned out to be the critical part of the winning design. Picture 3 shows an early test of concept of the nozzel. With the full support of management, the employees developed a prototype for the cleaning sled, incorporating the cleaning nozzel as can be seen in Picture 4. The employees tested the design in the spring of 2017. After a few adjustments, employees deemed the design to be a complete success and implemented its use as standard operating procedure.
Employees are no longer required to enter a confined space and work in cramped and awkward postures. The possibility of musculoskeletal injuries from the cleaning process has been eliminated. In addition, personnel no longer need to be present to act as attendants for confined space entry. From a quality of operation standpoint, this process produced such a thorough cleaning that it requires only a single pass, saving time and manpower. Completion of this job used to require 3- 4 men per shift for approximately four 12 hour shifts. The changes to the operation reduced manpower resources to 3 men working for approximately one 12 hour shift. The inspection teams stated they were able to more easily inspect areas of the boiler which they often had difficulty inspecting. The improved cleanliness of the boiler reduced the chance that employees could overlook a problem. At a total cost of about $1000, this device has become the crew's best buddy for performing this cleaning task. As a result of the device's success, it is being introduced to other locations throughout the company.