Quality Blog

Project Blog Introduction


EPR’s project management, restructuring, and consulting experience is highly varied, often very technical, but always deeply immersive.  These formative experiences, on top of our traditional project management expertise, have resulted in a unique industry perspective.  

Poorly managed construction may exhibit problems such as safety, schedule, and escalated cost.  However, plant quality is the most significant determinant of the forward asset (plant) value.

This blog is not intended to be a deep technical reference but rather a discussion-level view.  However, our intention is to bring a real-world perspective of how construction quality impacts an owner, with enough technical content to provide context.  It is assumed the more technical reader will understand the basis for these observations.

Additionally, some posts deal with ‘case studies’ of projects EPR evaluated where poorly conceived execution strategy prior to mobilization created enormous realized construction risk and soured the asset with enduring bad quality.  EPR believes a poor execution strategy places an owner’s team at a severe disadvantage often preventing plant delivery commensurate with the contractor agreement.

All the problems identified in this Blog could have easily been avoided with skilled proactive oversight at minimal or no incremental cost.  If your project is near COD or early in construction and exhibiting some of these (or other) concerns, EPR can help.

To discuss your project needs, please contact EPR

Grounding


Along with a few other items, grounding is almost universally abused in developing region heavy industrial construction.  Worse, it is usually not addressed in commissioning, or by construction QC.

Part of the problem stems from ignorance by craftsmen about the importance of grounding.  This is compounded with the fact that proper exothermic welding and crimping tools are often not provided.  Perhaps supervision is also unaware of the details involved, or perhaps uninvolved.  Whatever the reason, this is an important concern and engaged oversight by a qualified owner’s representatives should easily spot and improve this condition early.  That said, on every one of the projects in thee pictures, an OE was at the site and well-staffed, so that really leaves competence or a lack of leadership support as the possible issues.

Regarding the defects.  A plant and its equipment that is not properly grounded is unsafe.  Often ghost operational events (think trips) occur without a concrete root cause ever being identified.  Obviously, it can be a personnel risk issue.  In plants that have... Read more

Contractor Savings

None.

Repair Costs

Repair cost can be moderate in systemic cases.  However, real cost is in equipment damage, loss of production, or personnel injury.

Trip To Work


For owners building plants, it is important to have a team that is engaging in construction oversight at the field level.

These are a few examples of a problem that we see often, which should not exist.  Further, at least for electrical components (think conduit) it is a code violation to obstruct walkways and traffic areas.  OSHA also addresses the issue with regulations.  If this is not enough, it should be understood by most anyone, that plant workers need to be protected and nearly every power asset owner has a corporate statement of commitment to health and safety practices.

If labor is not knowledgeable enough to understand this concern in developing regions primarily (but not exclusively), then certainly contractor supervision or quality control should intervene before the work is complete. 

In these photos, the plants are past COD, in a few cases over 18 months.  These are also high traffic areas.

As a stopgap, O&M groups should walk the plant and add these items to an active punchlist to be sure they get resolved. 

At EPR, this is an example of an item our... Read more

Contractor Savings

None, or perhaps a small savings.

Repair Costs

Usually not large but can be left unresolved and an accident can occur.  Accidents have two aspects; financial cost and a moral cost.

"Old School" Steam Drains


Keep in mind, this is a new plant in operation about one year, in a location where quality plants are built routinely...  Yes, this is a NEW plant built to contemporary codes and standards by a large international EPC contractor.

During EPR's review of the Facility, this system is perhaps the single most compelling example of inferior design in the plant.  While not the most cost intensive, the effects are broad reaching.  The open trench design belches hot condensate on steel, electrical hardware, and other equipment leaving the plant to look ready for decommissioning.  O&M personnel are left to perhaps unknowingly assume that facility condition is not important to the owners; how could it be, look at this?  In so many ways this is not consistent with the Facility purchased.

The condensate collection system of trenches and transfer sumps has experienced critical deterioration. Serious failures in the concrete infrastructure include trench through-cracks, cementitious erosion, advanced concrete spalling and scaling, sub-grade undermining, differential settlement, and accelerated... Read more

Contractor Savings

Perhaps $500k.

Repair Costs

Unknowable, but very significant.  Violates Environmental permit, among other problems.

CEMS Tubing Damage


At a multi-unit facility, it was observed that most of the certified emissions monitoring system sample tubing heating circuits indicated open continuity. The heating circuits are important to maintain transported sample temperature needed for CEMS accuracy (emissions compliance).

After a brief investigation it became clear that the installation was performed by construction personnel that did not understand the sensitive nature of the tubing assemblies.

Engineering properly cascaded the OEM requirements of not less than a 20.5 inch bend radius into the construction drawings.  The OEM information was also available to the Contractor staff.  However, the sample tubing was observed to be strained by being conformed to tight radius cable tray, pulled taught over edges of grating, and in some cases poorly tied with nylon ties that broke leaving the tubing to move with the wind.

All these visible defects were in addition to the probability that the equipment was mishandled during installation.  All of the sample lines at each CEMS installation have bend radius below 20.5 inches in... Read more

Contractor Savings

Minimal to no cost savings by performing an unsupervised installation.

Repair Costs

Owner: Difficulty with CEMS certification and continued compliance. Contractor: $50,000/unit to replace.

Tray Fill


While the subject of this post is specifically cable tray fill, the volume of defects is almost limitless in the photos.  As a side note, these are new plants and, in some cases, not to COD.

To start, cable trays are usually limited to 40% of cross-sectional area as the maximum allowable cable fill.  There are exceptions to this requirement, but those exceptions did not pertain to the subject plants.  There are heat dissipation and overloading concerns with trays that have excess fill.

In one of the plants indicated in these photos a 5kV cable tray collapsed during final stretch of commissioning a power block which caused a 3-4 months setback to the block COD schedule.  This is a real example where excess load played a factor in a materially costly event.

In addition, the photos show instances where supports are also missing according to NEMA VE-2, which compounds an overloading condition.  Further, there are cables hanging over tray rails, missing and defective grounding, bent and sagging tray rungs, no voltage separation, cable transitions with no drop-out fittings, no code... Read more

Contractor Savings

Minimal cost but takes some planning and trained crews.

Repair Costs

In many cases this condition cannot be repaired short of removing all the cables and starting over.

Faked Electrical Ductbank


There are several important reasons to concrete encase underground raceway (rigid and PVC conduit) that carry power and control cables.

At a newly completed powerplant, the EPC Contract clearly stated: “All underground cables are installed in underground duct bank consisting of concrete encased duct: Hard polyethylene or rigid galvanized steel conduits as per ANSI C 80.1.” It goes further with detail but does not allow direct bury cables and articulates a minimum depth of cover. Engineering understood the implications and cascaded the contract/code requirements into the construction drawing details, which were available to the construction team.

Upon casual observation, the ductbank risers (concrete exposed above grade) did not appear "correct".  Detailed investigation revealed there was effectively no ductbank.  In some cases, rigid conduit was inserted into soil, perhaps 24” deep and then simply ended, leaving a direct bury cable condition.  In other cases, groups of conduit were encased in concrete risers, giving the “impression” a ductbank existed.  However, upon removing 6” of adjacent... Read more

Contractor Savings

Certainly, some marginal cost was saved, as well as, sometime early in the project. Almost certainly not a critical path activity (No LD savings).

Repair Costs

Owner: Unpredictable unit operation. At ~$35,000/day finding/repairing cable problems is costly. Contractor: Full remedy would cost millions.

Dirt... and Fuel Gas


As background, one critical system in a power plant is fuel gas.  Typically, every system is cleaned to a condition that is nearly spotless.  This is especially true of fuel gas because it feeds the turbines and duct burners.  EPR evaluated a plant that was physically very large.  The fuel gas header was 1.5+ miles long, inside the plant downstream of the supplier custody-filters.  The system changed elevations, had countless fittings, and pipe size changes.  Clearly, this is a difficult system configuration to clean well for an inexperienced crew.

Prior to EPR being involved, roughly 50 warranty claims were raised against the EPC contractor that enumerated roughly 300+ failures of valves, flame scanners, regulators, and really anything in the system with a seat or rubber O-ring.  The EPC contractor refused to address the issue on-the-whole with a proper RCA (root-cause analysis), instead dealing with each item as if unrelated.

The attached photographs tell the story.  This system is so full of dirt and contamination that it's not defensible to indicate proper, or perhaps any, commissioning... Read more

Contractor Savings

No Savings.  Contractor went through "motions" of cleaning system, just didn't!

Repair Costs

Just in terms of Owner down-time for needless repairs this is millions of $'s.  Parts, labor, etc...

Pillars of Salt & Sand (and Plastic)...


Piers are structural. This necessitates that they are installed correctly with every detail.

As with most construction defects, this is a simple problem of unskilled and unsupervised workers. The problem is compounded by a contractor culture that allows a QC program to run as a "paper" generating endeavor completely disassociated from the facts of field performance. In many cases, it's evident that there is no inspection. This is such a case...

Grout must be installed where to concrete conditions conform to the manufacturers recommendations to assure a strong bond between the materials (concrete and grout).  Typically, this involves a rough surface, clear of debris, and free of any existing concrete surface coating, and similar.

Well, in this case, it's hard to imagine how these piers ended up with plastic trash being embedded at the bonding joint, among other concerns.

One certainty, there was no engaged contractor QC or owner involvement.

Contractor Savings

Essentially none...

Repair Costs

In the future, the piers will need to be re-grouted as routine maintenance.  Unknown cost.

Electrical Zip(less) Ties


Recently EPR evaluated a facility, which among other difficulty, suffered from a condition that is unusual but serious in that essentially all the nylon cable (zip) ties were defective.  While the zip tie is a wonderful time saving and usually effective component widely used to affix electrical cables, it must remain unaffected by its environment to remain durable over time.

In this instance, the plant was less than two years old and located in a high UV zone.  This defect was so severe that gently touching the installed tie would cause a brittle failure.  The plant was littered with failed zip ties that had fallen from tray systems and cable installations.

One supplier used by the contractor indicated in the technical literature that the ties are compliant with NEC, meaning Nylon, UV, weather, seawater, and oil resistant type from Panduit /T&B or equivalent.  However, those ties have failed almost universally.  While some cursory research was performed on the ties, it is not clear exactly why the ties were brittle and failing, but they certainly all needed replacing.  The real... Read more

Contractor Savings

Negligible material savings.

Repair Costs

Contractor: Somewhat time consuming, especially in an operational plant.  Owner: Outage events and unpredicatablity are hard to quantify, but even a single lost generation day is expensive.

Tickle Me Raw


A new greenfield plant was reviewed by EPR, 12 months post COD.  The problems related to improper commissioning were extensive and will shorten the life cycle of all the major equipment, some of which was already apparent this early in operation.

One problem that seemed to vex the O&M staff was continual failures of some safety valves.

What was eventually discovered by EPR with the aid of a borescope was debris in the piping that upon disassembly would fall far enough back inside to be difficult to see.  During operation, this debris would rub against the safety valve disks and erode a hole.

The objective of commissioning piping systems is to be certain, with verification, that no debris, mill-scale, or other contamination remains that can damage components.  In this instance, the foreign matter was wire that was not flushed or blown out during cleaning. 

The records created by commissioning for this system indicated all the proper steps and procedures were followed and verified.  However, the reality was clearly different, and it was easy to conclude with certainty this... Read more

Contractor Savings

No cost, but perhaps a day or two of schedule.

Repair Costs

Unknown.  Replacement disks will need to be stocked and replaced until the systems can be cleaned up.

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