3 Pillars of Quality Assurance: Part 1- Codes, Standards and Specifications
As engineers and asset managers in the electric utility industry, we all understand the importance of a reliable and resilient grid. Steel poles and towers are the backbone of that power delivery system, and while we have made great strides to optimize and modernize these structures from a design perspective, we have also seen a marked uptick in premature structural failures. Because Exo is often asked to forensically investigate many of these failures, we have seen enough catastrophic failures with fabrication defects as the root cause to recognize an increasing trend. We believe there are a few factors working together to drive this trend.
The first major factor is changing design practices. With the adoption of newer engineering and design software solutions, engineers can optimize structures by designing them right up to the limit of their needed capacity. This means that the safety factors which in the past would make up for or “hide” certain quality defects from becoming bigger issues in the field are no longer present.
Additionally, the materials (mainly steel) that we use to manufacture poles and lattice towers have changed over time. With more and more recycled material being used in the mills that supply our steel, Exo has observed incidents where yield strengths of steel have approached 100ksi, which is much higher than the minimum 65 ksi we typically design for. The key point here, however, is that the fabricator must follow an entirely different set of parameters (of which they are not) when welding and forming to ensure defect free product.
And finally, we have seen great change in our workforce. Notably, a significant amount of experience and tribal knowledge has left the industry through retirement. This trend, coupled with a very large expansion of the manufacturing footprint for steel poles and lattice towers over the last 2 decades, has led to a generally less experienced and less qualified workforce responsible for supplying our critical transmission structures.
When you combine all of these factors together, you get a “perfect storm” that is clearly leading to more quality issues coming from our plants, and sadly, leading to more failures that could and should have been avoided.
Quality Assurance: Codes, Standards, Specifications
Robust quality assurance is the key to reversing this alarming trend, and there are three primary pillars of a solid QA program that deserve equal attention. Codes, standards, and specifications are the foundation to any program that seeks to eliminate defects from their assets. They are the blueprint for how to properly design, fabricate, inspect, and install our structures so that they will perform as intended and expected. The second and third pillars, to be discussed later in this series, are vendor audits and 3rd party in-plant inspection. Audits help an owner evaluate and select the most qualified and quality driven vendor available, while in plant inspections ensure all of the best practices established by your standards and observed during the audits are indeed followed and executed when it comes time to actually fabricate your structures.
Like a three legged stool, the absence of any one of the elements can cause a QA program to fail. And without robust quality assurance, your risk increases dramatically.
Why Perform a Spec Review?
For the reasons outlined above, owners and engineers must re-evaluate the standards they have in place to ensure structurally secure and reliable assets. So much has changed recently and despite the increased awareness within the industry specific to certain issues, Exo continues to see failures caused by fabrication defects. When it comes to the manufacturing of steel poles in particular, you need a great “recipe” to ensure that your asset is designed and built to last. We recommend that engineering and standards departments conduct a thorough review of their standards every 5 years to make sure that the latest codes are applied, and that standards and specs are accounting for specific challenges that we know are leading to failures.
With those best practices firmly in place, along with the expert knowledge supporting those new standards, you can hold your vendors accountable and significantly reduce your risk for failure. We will take a closer look at the second pillar, Vendor Audits, in the next part of our quality assurance series, and explain how you can begin to trust, BUT VERIFY your long time supply partners.
Remember, when a project starts stronger, the product lasts longer!
Trust the Exo Difference
If you want to avoid the safety risk of a pole failure, quality assurance services are the only option for comprehensive project monitoring that can help you rest easily knowing that all necessary safety measures are taken.
This is certainly not something you want to leave to chance. You may end up with a safety risk and a big bill to pay. With services like Exo’s Ex-Tend asset management program, we strategize the best ways to approach lifecycle management and to protect your assets while saving you money.
Whether it is through lifecycle management, field service and repair, or vendor audits and surveillance, Exo is uniquely prepared to serve your company’s needs and continue providing the asset management services vital to all of your operations.
At Exo, we don’t wait for problems to arise before we take action. Stop problems like the ones in this photo before they occur by calling today to talk with the Exo experts. Phone us at 281-259-7000 or contact us online for a free consultation to see how Exo can protect your assets.