Removing Guesswork at EKPC

Forced outages and planning for repairs were causing major issues for Spurlock Station, a 1300MW power plant located in Maysville, KY, owned by East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC). Like most plants, Spurlock Station has always used conventional hand-held, Non-Destructive Testing methods to prevent tube leaks. However, undetected wall-loss, causing critical boiler tube leaks, led to forced shutdowns all too often. These shutdowns caused Spurlock Station to re-think traditional hand-held maintenance methods; which often resembled looking for a needle in a haystack.

Spurlock Station reached out to Gecko Robotics hoping they could help take the guesswork out of their inspections. Since partnering in 2017, EKPC has been able to target specific wear patterns and degradation rates to predict and prevent forced outages.

99%
10X
50%
INCREASE IN DATA COLLECTION
FASTER
LESS INSPECTORS NEEDED

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.

What Happened: Tube Leaks

In February 2017, Spurlock Station had a tube leak in the lower furnace “coutant” slope of their 550MW, CE, tangentially fired, pulverized coal boiler, Spurlock 2. The failure mechanism was outer-diameter tube wastage due to slag/ash erosion where the slope bends upward (vertically) to form the front wall. The team at Spurlock Station hired a well-known, traditional Ultrasonic Testing (UT) company to survey the critical areas, in order to get a baseline measurement of tube conditions.

Spurlock 2 was back online within a couple of days after the manual UT inspection, but was down again due to tube leaks in March; just under a month after the first leak. The tube leaks occured in the same area.

At this point, Logan Pickrell, Senior Engineer at EKPC, knew the pressures associated with unit reliability and was in full data-collection mode. Pickrell had already scheduled Gecko Robotics to perform their UT inspection in an upcoming Spring planned outage. Knowing Gecko could be onsite in under 24 hours, he decided to bring them in for the Unit 2 forced outage.

"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

Within hours from Pickrell’s call to Gecko Robotics, two inspectors and one robot were deployed to Spurlock Station, ready to act as soon as the workday ended for Spurlock employees. Once in the boiler, and working at the boiler throat, Gecko’s robot climbed the slopes with 8 ultrasonic transducers and an HD visual inspection camera. The robot, TOKA 3, climbed the walls at 60 feet per minute all through the night shift. By the end of the shift, TOKA 3 captured over 2 million thickness readings; previous manual UT methods had only captured 500 thickness readings.

Results From Day One

As Pickrell walked back into the building the following morning, he was presented a deliverable showing 99.6% more data than the manual survey. Gecko’s deliverable revealed a large number of critical areas in need of short-term repairs. In addition to the immediate benefit of the vast data set, Spurlock Station was able to develop a plan of action for future repairs. With long lead times on parts and equipment, planning with Gecko’s deliverable was a huge advantage for future maintenance during planned outages.

Spurlock 2 was able to come back online while EKPC continued to study the Gecko deliverable, giving them further insights about unit maintenance and efficiencies. “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.” - Pickrell stated.

Since March 2017, EKPC Spurlock Station proceeded to work with Gecko Robotics for all four of their boiler units and other equipment around the plant. “The robotic UT survey was pivotal to understanding the extent of the total damage,” Pickrell commented. “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.”

Decisions and overall preventative maintenance are now more seamless in the Kentucky power plant. Information is power, and at Spurlock Station, data, speed, and forward thinking were the difference in millions of dollars saved.

“Planning work in a power plant is a difficult challenge,” Pickrell explains when describing the flexibility and speed of Gecko’s technology. “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.”

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