A quicker outage

Live Outage is designed to be a weatherproof, touchscreen-based, digitized platform that replaces a paper-based approach. The goal is to reduce the risk of mistakes or rework, which speeds up the outage process for customers, helping them get back in business more quickly

(Editor’s note: This appeared first in the April-June issue of Diesel & Gas Turbine Worldwide magazine.)

By Jack Burke

GE’s Jeremiah Smedra pointed to a stack of thick binders full of paper sitting on a table at the company’s Greenville, South Carolina gas turbine facility.

Those books detailed the step-by-step process of taking a turbine through an outage. But Smedra, Value Stream Projects executive director for FieldCore, a GE company, noted a significant drawback.

“They look like the tax code,” Smedra said. “Nobody wants to read the tax code.”

When most people today rely on smartphones and tablets to get information, using reams of paper to provide information just doesn’t make a lot of sense, Smedra said.

“Today, nobody really wants to read a manual,” Smedra said. “What do they do? They pick up a phone and watch a YouTube video.”

Replacing print with digital is just one of the ways GE has reimagined its outage process. From developing ready-to-install material packaging to improved training for field staff, GE said it is on the way to reducing cycle time by up to 30%.

The new process, dubbed Live Outage, was rolled out in the fall of 2021 with 30 pilot outages. Up to 120 more Live Outage events are planned for 2022.

A fresh approach

From GE’s perspective, Live Outage is designed to be a weatherproof, touchscreen-based, digitized platform that replaces a paper-based approach. The goal is to reduce the risk of mistakes or rework, which speeds up the outage process for customers, helping them get back in business more quickly.

Live Outage is currently available at select 7F locations and will be rolled out to all other GE technologies. Full rollout will take 3 to 5 years, Smedra estimated, given the amount of information that needs to be added to the system. The company plans on adding D and A class steam turbines, B & E class turbines and Alstom legacy products to the mix.

“If you have an F class going into outage in the next year, you’re definitely going to see it,” Smedra said.

Jeremiah Smedra: “When we talk about Live Outage, it’s more than a digital platform…it became something much bigger. It became a transformation of the entire outage experience.”

Feedback from the field

Smedra said that many of the improvements came from field observations as the company strives to find value for its customers. As part of a “lean” mindset, the company’s Gemba walks (visit to actual work sites) helped the company understand what is happening in the field. What was obvious was that there was a lack of standardization around service outage execution.

The old process required workers to use different physical workbooks and documentation from site to site to account for even minute differences in hardware.

The first key was to digitize that information and make it easily accessible to the field.

Each Live Outage “kit” includes a large kiosk with a video screen and tablets that can be used directly at the point of work. The tablets even have magnetized grips that can be positioned on the work surface.

But Live Outage is more than digitalization, he said.

“When we talk about Live Outage, it’s more than a digital platform…it became something much bigger,” Smedra said. “It became a transformation of the entire outage experience.”

The Lean process used by GE forced it to look at all of the information (“the inputs”) involved in an outage and reconsider each one.

“As you begin to document every step at the worker level, you begin to see the waste very clearly,” Smedra said.

Something as basic as packaging material was updated. For instance, the turbine shroud crate size was reduced from 32 to 8 shrouds per crate. That allows for on-deck staging, which saves time and effort. The shrouds are also organized in the order they need to be installed on the turbine, which also saves time and reduces the risk of error.

Cordless tools were introduced to the process, which reduced the need for thousands of feet of pneumatic hoses. Feedback from field workers led to other improvements, including a custom “monorail” support for the turbine case that reduces manual effort when removing components.

The outage fieldworkers are now assigned to core teams, working and traveling together from job to job in order to create a repeatable customer experience.

“It’s about being centered around the worker,” Smedra said. “That’s where the magic is.”

Massive change

There’s always been process improvement implemented in outages, but it’s generally been at the margins, Smedra said. And those improvements have been difficult to share with a global workforce.

“When you take a step back and you take a look at the proliferation of touch screens, the proliferation of connectivity, should this be a problem? Shouldn’t we be able to solve this in 2022?,” Smedra said.

Achieving digitalization that had to be available around the world and around the clock brought security concerns. No one wants a power plant vulnerable to cyber attacks, so GE’s IT team had to come up with a solution that was both accessible and safe. The company decided to invest in Amazon Web Services, an evolving cloud computing platform, that will allow GE to scale computing resources that offer high levels of security.

“The GE security team thinks this is one of its banner projects,” Smedra said of the system.

Since many of the outages take place in remote locations, GE’s IT team helped design a Peplink solution, which allows simultaneous coverage from multiple providers over a scalable WIFI network.

Live Outage also helps to deliver total transparency and feedback to customers during service outages. The application timestamps and documents suggestions, quality hold-points, observations, deviations, stop-works, and progress, so customers can monitor every aspect of the outage and streamline reviews. The process helps eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth conversations about vague details by putting everything in writing and on display for everyone to view.

Basically, Live Outage changes how everything is done during an outage, which is a huge undertaking and will take years roll across all of GE’s turbines.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re committed and all in,” Smedra.

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