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Power plants and railcars rely on welders

by on April 18, 2013
The nearly 400 welders who work for AEP at its power plants, for the Regional Service Organization and at the Alliance Railcar Facility are highly skilled professionals who are trained to make repairs and alterations to critical pieces of equipment.

(Story by Tom Holliday)

Editor’s Note: This article is the second of three that AEP  will publish this month to recognize and highlight the contributions of AEP’s professional welders during National Welding Month. Today’s article features the welding activities in Generation and at the Alliance Railcar Facility.

Generation

The 350 welders who work for AEP at the power plants and in the Regional Service Organization (RSO) are highly skilled professionals who are trained to make repairs and alterations to critical pressure parts to the boilers and piping in our power plants.

Ron Young, director – Quality Assurance Services in Generation’s Engineering Services organization, says AEP’s in-house welders help reduce the overall cost of running and maintaining the generation fleet.

“By utilizing our in-house staff, we make boiler repairs more quickly with higher quality and less rework, returning the unit to service at a lower cost than if we were dependent on outside contractors,” he explained. “That improves the fleet’s overall performance and ensures that the plants are ready and able to generate electricity for our customers.”

AEP’s employment of in-house welders also moderates the effect of “boom and bust” cycles that external contractors face when workloads shift due to changing economic conditions. AEP closely monitors the amount of work projected in the future and supplements its needs through its close connection to local building trade organizations throughout its service area.

Dave Negler has been working as a welder in Generation’s Southern RSO for 35 years. He says he got into welding shortly after leaving high school. “I didn’t really care for school and I didn’t want to go to college,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do until I sort of stumbled into an evening class on welding. I learned a little about it and found that I liked it. I just stuck with it after that.”

AEP’s Generation welders are all highly trained and are certified to perform welding work under the company’s Fossil Plant “R Stamp” program. The R Stamp program (and in some jurisdictions an owner-user program) is required by law in states in which we operate in order to self–perform repairs to boilers, pressure vessels and certain piping. That type of work is done in accordance with the requirements of the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors R Stamp certification. The AEP R Stamp program is linked to the approximately 550 separate welding procedures developed by staff welding engineers for use within the Generation organization. Each welding procedure was evaluated, tested and approved under strict adherence to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code.

AEP also certifies welders under a separate ASME “S Stamp” program that allows the company to manufacture certain boiler pressure parts for installation by company employees or by third parties. To maintain their certifications, AEP’s welding professionals must demonstrate continued competence on a regular basis. Periodically, they are required to maintain their “welder continuity” by making an actual production weld or by producing a weld in a test booth.

Randy Duncan also works in the Southern RSO. He says he’s seen a lot changes in the work over the 36 years that he’s been with the company, including a greater emphasis on safety.

“There’s been a lot of changes in the equipment we use, the types of procedures we do. And it’s a lot safer. We now wear respirators, protective coveralls and our PAPR (powered air purifying respirator) helmets. All of that’s made the job a lot safer,” he said.

In fact, AEP began a study several years ago to try and quantify the risks associated with breathing fumes from different types of welding. Over a two-to-three-year period, the Industrial Hygiene organization collected 555 welding samples representing welder’s breathing zone exposures to fumes.

“The effort turned out to be the largest single welding study we could find in literature,” said Lou Hosek, manager – Industrial Hygiene. “What we found was that it was difficult to predict a welder’s exposure by type of welding and length of time welding, but that the exposure was often significant enough to warrant the use of some routine control measures when we perform welding at AEP.”

The company formally adopted a policy in October 2011 designed to control welders’ exposure to potentially harmful fumes through the use of forced ventilation and respiratory protection. “We strive to control our welders’ exposure to ensure that it’s below any level that could have a negative impact on their health, either short term or long term,” Hosek said. According to Hosek, AEP’s policy is the most protective of any policy in use by other electric companies in the United States.

This year marks the 36th anniversary of the creation of “roving maintenance crews” that eventually grew into the RSO structure. The group started with 27 employees in 1977. The RSO now has 270 employees. From 1996 (when they began to keep records) through the end of 2012, the RSO calculates that the group has made 66,561 welds. And the rejection rate for welds that must pass x-ray examination is 1.54% — one of the lowest rates in the industry.

AEP also employs hundreds — even thousands — of welders on a temporary or contract basis for our construction projects, environmental retrofit programs and to supplement our own welding work force as needed. During the peak construction years of 2006-2008 when AEP had numerous retrofit and new construction projects under way, the company employed as many as 3,000 contract welders to complete the work. 

“The individuals who perform welding for AEP are extremely skilled and talented and take a tremendous amount of pride in their work,” said Young.

Alliance Railcar Facility

The Alliance Railcar Facility in Alliance, Neb., is an Association of American Railroads (AAR) certified facility. That certification is a requirement for any business involved in maintaining or repairing railcars. And any business involved in repairing railcars needs certified welders.

The Alliance Railcar Facility in Alliance, Neb., has 18 AEP certified welders on staff.

“We have 18 AEP certified welders at this facility. Our welders must be able to repair the coal cars that arrive at our facility for maintenance and their skills are certified by the AWS (American Welding Society),” said Tom Lore, manager of the facility.

Roger Hansen has worked at the Alliance facility as a welder for 30 years and enjoys the solitude of the work.

“Most people don’t want to be around welding because of the sparks and flame,” he said. “But it suits me since I kind of like the fact that when you’re welding, you get into your own little place, your own little world. It’s something I’ve always liked and still like to do.”

According to Hansen, he does a lot more work on aluminum then he did when he first started with the company and that’s changed the type of welding he does. “We do a lot more air arcing (air-carbon arc cutting and welding) because of all the aluminum parts we work on,” he said. Air-carbon arc welding is more suited to welding aluminum and involves a process in which metals are melted by the heat of a carbon arc and the molten metal is removed by a blast of air. The process is widely used for preparing joints and removing defective metal. “It’s very noisy and almost sounds like a jet engine,” said Hansen.

Like all the welders at Alliance, Hansen had to pass a welding test when he joined the company before he could work on railcars.

“We have the welders prepare two test plates; one vertical test and one overhead test,” Lore explained. “The 3/4″ thick test plates when welded together are sent out to a third party vendor that x-rays the plates looking for impurities and other defects. Our welders also run a few test plates that requires a ‘bend test’ that we can perform at our shop to satisfy requirements for the various compositions in different metals. If the test plates meet the requirements of the AWS Railroad Welding Specifications for Cars and Locomotives, then our employees are qualified to weld on the railroad cars.”

The welders must document at least one inch of weld every six months in order to maintain their qualification. All of the Alliance welders are qualified to weld carbon steel as well as stainless steel.

Hansen speaks highly of the tools and equipment utilized at the railcar facility. “I really think we’re a top-notch shop,” he said. “I don’t know how you could make it any better.

The final installment of our series celebrating National Welding Month will focus on the welding operations at AEP River Operations.

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