EKPC Removes Guesswork Out of Maintaining Assets

East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) was looking for a way to plan long-term and short-term repairs for boilers in their largest power plant out of Maysville, KY; Spurlock Station. While the mission to keep Spurlock Station sustaining four of the cleanest coal power generating units with cutting-edge, environmental controls weighs heavily on plant decisions, the team at EKPC quickly realized they needed a tool that would allow them to completely survey boilers from top to bottom in a shorter timeframe than the conventional hand-held testing techniques. For the speed, accuracy, and overall safety of the technology, EKPC chose Gecko Robotics – a robotic, industrial inspection firm – to perform an inspection at a crucial time for their plant. Since partnering with Gecko Robotics in 2017, East Kentucky Power Cooperative has been able to take the guesswork out of maintaining their units by targeting specific wear patterns and degradation rates.


At East Kentucky Power Cooperative, their mission to provide safe, reliable, and affordable electric power to over 530,000 homes and businesses, heavily depends on whether their units are up and running. With 87 counties relying on EKPC’s service, the health of their assets, in all four major power plants, is a big deal to operating efficiently and reliably.

As an industry standard, tube thickness readings are taken every 7-10 feet of boiler tube length, usually corresponding with scaffolding elevations. And by 2017, the boiler walls at EKPC power plant, Spurlock Station, were being surveyed on every 5th tube at 5 foot; ultimately inspecting less than 1% of the tubing.

Forced Outage by OD Wastage

That February, Spurlock Station had a tube leak in the lower furnace “coutant” slope of their 550 MW, CE, tangentially fired, pulverized coal boiler, Spurlock 2. The failure mechanism: outer-diameter wastage due to slag/ash erosion where the slope bends upward to form the front wall. The team at Spurlock Station had a manual Ultrasonic Test (UT) survey completed on the front and rear walls, in order to get a baseline measurement of the tube condition.

Spurlock 2 was back online within a couple of days after the manual UT inspection, till it had another tube leak in the coutant slope are, in March of 2017; just under a month after the first leak had occurred.

At this point, Logan Pickrell, Senior Engineer at East Kentucky Power Cooperative, knew the pressures associated with unit reliability and was in full data-collection mode. Pickrell had already planned for a robotic technology to perform their UT inspection on the future, planned outages for Spurlock Unit 3 and Unit 4, and had decided to bring them in early to inspect Unit 2 during this time. This technology could inspect every inch of every boiler tube with the use of a wall-climbing robot, and at a fraction of the time.

"The Gecko Vision map made it possible
to define a clear scope of work.We [were]
able to use the map to justify an entire
slope replacement for the fall of 2017."

-Logan Pickrell, Senior Engineer

Robotic Inspection and Technology

With high hopes, and without having used them before, Pickrell, and a team of personnel, acted quickly in choosing Gecko Robotics to inspect the lower coutant slope of Spurlock 2 during the leak repair; the coutant slope would be a litmus test to see if the results that Gecko Robotics’ technology could help EKPC define a solution.

Three days after the leak, two inspectors and one robot were deployed to Spurlock Station, ready to act as soon as the workday ended for EKPC employees. Once Pickrell, and the rest of the Spurlock crew were out the door for the night, the Gecko team entered Spurlock 2 and began inspecting the front and rear walls of the coutant slope with their wall-climbing robot, Toka 3.

Gecko’s Toka 3 robot, equipped with 8 ultrasonic transducers and an HD visual inspection camera, moved quickly, inspecting 12 inches per second, throughout the night. This allowed for over 2 million inspection points between the front and rear walls, versus roughly 500 points checked manually in the past.

As Pickrell walked back into the building the next morning, a deliverable, showing 99.6% more data than the manual survey, was available for him and the management team to determine a scope of work for short-term and long-term repairs. Spurlock 2 was able to come back online while EKPC continued to study the Gecko Vision map, and as executives directed the team to make the necessary repairs to get them through the PJM transmission grid’s summer peak.

Pickrell, and team, were able to have several short tube panels fabricated, delivered, and installed in less than 2 weeks; “The Gecko Vision map made it possible to define a clear scope of work. We [were] able to use the map to justify an entire slope replacement for the fall of 2017.”

Results From Day One

Spurlock Station saw the benefits of the robotic inspection immediately, and in just six months, were able to obtain information that allowed them to baseline their units, due to the amount of data collected. According to Pickrell, “the robotic UT inspections have assisted the plant with making short- and long-term decisions about local and global wear areas…when we experienced a rash of tube failures on the bottom Coutant Slope of our Unit 2 pulverized coal boiler, the UT survey was pivotal to understanding the extent of the total damage. This information supported a short-term repair scope that permitted the unit to operate up to the fall outage when the slopes were replaced. The inspection data allows us to control the total coverage and cost.”

“Planning work in a power plant is a difficult challenge,” Pickrell explains when describing the flexibility and speed of Gecko’s technology. “We live in a society and culture where everything is at [our] fingertips by the click of a button, whether it be on a computer or smart phone. Ultimately, the speed at which [Gecko Robotics’] technology can acquire data, along with having the inspection information displayed on a user-friendly portal, allows us to quickly interrogate the data and gain confidence when making run/repair/replace decisions.”

Since March 2017, EKPC Spurlock Station proceeded to work with Gecko Robotics for all four of their boiler units, as well as two limestone silos. Because of the amount of information gathered and presented, decisions and overall preventative maintenance are now more seamless in the Kentucky power plant.

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