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Vanderbilt’s new power plant provided equipment upgrades that incorporated more automation, which required changes in duties for the plant operation staff of about 20 operators, who split their duties over three shifts. Additional staff members, like electricians, welders and support personnel, bring the total employee number in the plant to 30.
The first question Lampley typically hears about the new system concerns potential layoffs. But instead of layoffs, the department is recruiting four new employees.
“Traditionally, we have been undermanned,” he says. “A powerhouse the size of ours, in the off hours, we’ve had two people here. To me, that’s a skeleton crew, and at that point, if anything goes wrong, people have to rush in and help. I don’t expect the numbers to go down. My goal is for the number (of employees) to go up.” As the university reaches the final stages of the installation project, Lampley continues to organize a plan to shift priorities to the new, modern plant.
“There are still some things in the plant that need to be worked on from a steam valve and steam distribution standpoint,” Lampley says. “We did a lot of upgrades during the project, and there’s obviously always plenty to do in a powerhouse, but we’re seeing a lot of the load changing from our operators replacing a steam valve or digging out the coal-handling equipment so we can work on more controls issues and equipment issues.”
The new system also creates an opportunity to revamp the staff’s training and certification process. Traditionally, most training for new employees consisted of veteran operators sharing their experiences on system operation, though no uniform training processes were in place.
“I’d like to teach the operators the right way of doing things,” Lampley says. “Part of that problem is getting the right way on paper.”
“We had a week-long training class that we put our operators through, walked them through every system in the gas turbine, and it was good training,” Lampley says. “We had a four day class from the boiler manufacturer on how a boiler works. A lot of the guys said they know this information — they’ve been working on boilers their whole lives — but it never hurts to hear it again. It never hurts to hear how a boiler operates when you’re here in the middle of the night all by yourself.”
Lampley trusts his veteran staff to handle the upgraded boiler systems but prefers a uniform training method.
“We have two young operators who were put on a shift with two veterans and learned the university of hard knocks,” Lampley says. “But the one day you’re here by yourself or with one other person is going to be the day the makeup tank springs a leak and you don’t know if you have water in the tank or not.
“If you’ve not lived that, then you’re scratching your head, where if you’ve had a true qualification training program, you would have walked through most of those major incidents if not trained on them.”
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