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

Failed Expansion Bellows

At a new plant with large-scale desalination operations a recurring failure was noted.  Dozens, probably hundreds, of failures of 24” rubber expansion bellows occurred due to incorrect installation.

The summary conclusion in this case is that the contractor provided no training or oversight to piping personnel responsible for installing this engineered device.

Operation of the systems created continuous piping vibration (normal levels) and the environment was quite hot, even the working fluid (seawater) was quite warm so the bellows was probably incrementally more relaxed.  However, failure was certainly due to flange-to-flange dimension busts, misalignment of bolt holes, out of square flanges, and an assortment of creative abuse.

Where flange-to-flange distances were not to specification (narrow) the bellows nearly universally failed due to bolting impinging on the rubber outer layer of the bellows.

This defect could have easily been spotted by engaged contractor supervision, or by an owner’s representative, but neither addressed the problem which is easy to see.  The... Read more

Contractor Savings


Repair Costs

Unknown.  Device mortality will be a continual O&M cost for the life of the plant, unless piping changes are made during outages.

GRP Joint Fail

EPR evaluated a very large facility that had one of the world’s largest desalination operations at around 250,000,000 gallons per day.  An extraordinary facility in terms of scale and elegance of design.  But separately, there were quality concerns.  The photos are about 12 months after COD, so the plant was effectively new.  For context, the seawater and freshwater ‘loops’ in this plant were miles long and complex configuration of GRP (glass reinforced plastic) commonly known as fiberglass.

GRP is an excellent product but requires attention to detail when installed.  Joints need to be ‘layed up’ with a carefully proportioned two-part resin over a clean and prepared substrate.

In this plant, chunks of GRP started to appear in the process screens.  On further evaluation inside drained circuits and elsewhere via borescope inspection evidence of GRP delamination and shedding at the joints was discovered.  If there were a few instances of the problem, it would have been noted and dismissed, but this condition appeared in varying degrees in all the units and interconnecting piping.

The... Read more

Contractor Savings


Repair Costs

Unknown.  Consider the primary revenue for this plant is water production and a unit outage costs several $X0,000/day.  This could get expensive.

Piers, Sort of

Sometimes people ask us how new plants end up completing so badly.  EPR is not typically engaged to develop a well-studied opinion about the details of execution failure, so we tend to stay away from speculation and focus on the task of Verification of Mechanical Completion.  However, we can suggest with a high degree of confidence that plants that exit construction/commissioning in poor condition are almost never resulting from engineering failures.  Yes, sometimes there are oversights and errors in the plans and specifications, but it is rare enough and usually minor enough to allow us to broadly conclude execution problems are at the site.

This is one example.  The drawings indicated a pier design with a spread footing to effectively keep the pier in a fixed position when loaded from pipe stress. However, the site decided to precast piers with a greatly reduced footing area, which contravened the design. 

This has resulted in about 300 piers that have settled and been pushed out of plumb by piping forces.  Further, the depth of cover is not suitable (<250mm) compared with the original... Read more

Contractor Savings

Some, but relatively minor.  ~$25,000.

Repair Costs

The cost of replacement is small compared to the damage to rotating equipment and other components.

Rope Hangers

Piping, particularly hot services (Steam, Feedwater, Condensate), are engineered systems.  The stresses induced on the piping, fittings, and valves are controlled through purposeful routing, hanger locations, and hangar properties.  This is very important to the longevity of system components.  Thermal cycles and other transients accumulate stress-induced damage with time leading to failure, if incorrectly installed.  Plant reliability and personnel safety are dependent on proper implementation of the engineer's design.

Given their status as “engineered components” it is hard to reconcile the lack of attention-to-detail observed in the installation of supports/hangers in many recently inspected plants.  In some cases, the contractors have been so sloppy as to not even finish installing the required supports/hangers.
After a support/hanger is installed, the contractor must also follow up to assure it's correctly setup (commissioned).  Usually, this necessitates a QC step to assure the installation is correct, followed by documented verification of the “hot settings”, and then... Read more

Contractor Savings

Contractor:  No savings; hangers usually purchased; lost/not installed.

Repair Costs

Contractor: Usually not very costly.  Owner: Can be costly, because of the outages caused by even small piping failures/leaks.

Porous Pump Castings

One aspect of power plant construction that seems to be a recurring issue is the ineffectiveness of shop inspection by some of the larger international inspection firms.

In this instance, stainless pumps were procured for seawater service.  The usual shop inspection process was used, the reports sent and filed.  No issues…

However, after a short period of service, there was a rash of pump failures.  Keep in mind these pumps had been in service 18 months maximum.

Upon closer look, many of the pumps had casting defects that should have been caught by the manufacturer, or perhaps the supplier of the equipment that included the pumps.  If not then, certainly someone on site should have inspected them, but that didn’t happen either.

Once the pumps started to fail, it was easy to see it was a fatigue failure originating from flaws in the castings.

The pictures show several different units, including one that did fail resulting in a damaged pump casing.

Things like this do happen, but they happen less if an Owner actively reviews the inspector reports and questions the... Read more

Contractor Savings

None.  Should have forced supplier to deal with this issue at the factory.

Repair Costs

None in this case because it was a Warranty item.  However, these pumps are costly and from a foreign supplier.  Dealing with this as an O&M group is not cheap or easy.

Hollowed Out...

A facility EPR inspected had a location with an environment that was hot, humid, salt laden, and highly polluted.  This reality was addressed as such in the EPC contract with strict coatings requirements.

In the process of performing coating inspections it was discovered that most, perhaps all, of the supports in one portion of the facility were fabricated from pipe but had open ends and are under severe corrosive attack. 

As a comparison, a similar design was used for base supports of related equipment, but with the ends capped.  So, while it is assumed there are no internal coatings, corrosion would eventually occur and then be arrested and not progress.

In the attached photos the problem can be observed.  While identification of the issue is relatively easy, fixing this problem took special technical consideration and analysis by the involved parties.  The difficulty was obtaining a proper surface preparation inside the pipe and then properly applying a coating.  Another option was to cap the ends after dealing with some surface preparation to remove excess contamination thereby... Read more

Contractor Savings

Little to none.

Repair Costs

In Situ repair costs were comparatively high.

Galvanized Hardware (Or Not)

When a plant is built in a moist, heavily polluted, and/or salt laden environment, corrosion protection is a serious consideration.  At a minimum, hot dipped galvanized hardware (nuts, bolts, washers, clips, etc.) is usually specified for outdoor service.

In a recently visited new facility, aggressive corrosion was exhibited almost universally on the hardware.  What was discovered is that wherever galvanized was specified, electro-galvanized, electroplated zinc, or zinc plated, (different terms, same thing) was substituted by the contractor.  This results in a 3 to 12 micron coating that gives it a much lower degree of corrosion protection than hot dipped galvanized with an 85 to 90 micron layer of zinc. IEC indicates these coatings degrade (in this environment) at 4-8 microns/year.  It's then easy to see why there is so much aggressive corrosion and advancing stages of metal loss after only a couple years.

In the rare cases where hot dipped galvanized was provided, it seemed to perform well.

Contractor Savings

Marginal material cost savings; No labor savings.

Repair Costs

Contractor: Substantial cost (Labor/Material) to replace fasteners in bulk.  Owner: Fasteners failing is significant.  Electrical system risks increase over time. 

Rupture Disk Vent Safety

During a plant final completion punchlist walkdown, the EPR team observed a serious condition with steam rupture disk vent stack locations. The discharge point was face-high at an operator's platform.

These disks relieve pressure from a very large "reservoir" LP header at about 800F and perhaps 250psig. At some prior point, during early operations or commissioning these disks activated. The energy from this release had ripped insulation and metal jacketing from the above cold-reheat piping which was later partially repaired. However, the insulation is still imbedded in structural steel and other equipment in the area from the force of the release.

It is a serious safety concern when a standard design platform for personnel access is above the vent stack. If any personnel would have been located on the platform during this release, they would have no doubt been seriously injured or a possible fatality would have occurred.

Contractor Savings

Minimal savings...

Repair Costs

Minimal.  However, potential Owner risk is significant if a fatality occurs.

Piping Protection

In this instance, the facility was combination of power and desalination on a scale that made it one of the largest in the world.  It was routine for staff to use vehicles during the normal course of business due to its size.

In many plants fire systems are usually the subject of some scrutiny related to protection from vehicle damage.  However, in this facility there was an extensive amount of process piping and dozens or perhaps hundreds of locations where underground piping emerged near roads to interconnect to above ground processes.  This piping was glass reinforced plastic (GRP), or fiberglass.  While a great material, it is fragile when subjected to impacts.

After a couple instances of non-destructive damage, the issue of protection was evaluated.  In this case the piping was designed to ASME B31.3 and with some additional EPC contract language, it became clear bollards or other means of protection needed to be installed.

B31.3 refers to safety inherent in the piping by virtue of the materials of construction, methods of joining, and history of service reliability.  Further,... Read more

Contractor Savings

Some savings, perhaps on the order for $250,000.

Repair Costs

For plants where these processes are a material part of revenue, piping damage can take down a whole block for many days.  In this instance one block outage (desalination) costs about $350,000/dy.

Pipe Insulation

Piping insulation installation activity unfortunately occurs when crews are under a great deal of pressure to finish.  Piping is almost always at or near critical path for any industrial power project.  It gets rushed.

While that explanation is a hat tip to reality, it is not an excuse for the extraordinary poor quality exhibited in many new facilities.  In these photos, the plants are not more than one year into COD and look 15 years old.  Over time, these plants will get worse.

For owners, quick deterioration of piping insulation can cause several problems.  Heat loss, safety, and general sense by O&M staff that the plant is not worth maintaining because it certainly doesn’t look like anyone ever cared.  Many overlook this point, but O&M culture affects a plant, and a plant delivered in poor condition can also work against new management trying to instill a culture of personal ownership with new crews.

So, what about heat loss.  Consider technically, a few inches of open insulation on steam piping allows as much heat loss as maybe a hundred feet of properly insulated pipe (... Read more

Contractor Savings

None, or perhaps a small savings.

Repair Costs

High, though unknowable.  Suggest it’s many millions of USD.  The cost of thermal drag might be as high over time.