By Barry Ungles, Alltech Electrical Service, and Len Sisk, BP Jayhawk Gas PlantBP'S JAYHAWK
natural gas plant in Ulysses, Kan., processes gas from its own wells and those of several other companies. To move gas from these wells to the plant, BP uses compressor stations to boost the gas’ pipeline pressure after it flows from the ground. At the plant, several processes strip waste products from the gas, verify that the refined natural gas meets the proper BTU contents for distribution, and produce helium, nitrogen and propane byproducts. Finally, the company delivers the refined natural gas to a pipeline headed east.
One of the plant’s contractors, Alltech Instrumentation & Electrical Service, has long performed on-site electrical installation and service work for the main facility and its gas fields. Its routine work includes replacing electric motors, running conduit to automation controls, wiring air/fuel/ratio (AFR) controllers for the compressors, and helping field and plant technicians with repairs.
Recently, Alltech added thermal imaging to its electrical services. Until then, electrical and thermography were handled as two separate services. However, Alltech’s knowledge of the plant’s equipment, its daily presence, and electrical repair abilities combined to create a far more efficient, all-in-one service. Our plant is realizing significant cost savings just by doing more thermal imaging.User Usable Tools
Thermal imaging is ideal for examining electrical equipment, and this plant has plenty of it—approximately 115,000 kilowatts coming in. Until recently, the facility used a secondary contractor to conduct annual thermal imaging surveys of its key electrical equipment. This was a problem, however, because this thermographer was located 6.5 hours away, which was too long to wait for problem assessments, especially in downtime situations. Subsequently, new thermal imagers became available that were more affordable and easier to use than traditional models, but still powerful enough for facility maintenance. So, Alltech bought a Fluke Ti30 thermal imager, sent operations manager (and co-author) Barry Ungles to training, and began inspecting Jayhawk’s plant equipment.
||FIGURE 1: MR. WARMTH|
An engineer gathers thermal images of electrical components at the Jayhawk plant.
At first, we didn’t realize the full potential of having an in-house imager. However, within months, Alltech moved from just on-demand inspections to examining switchgear, junction boxes and other high-voltage systems; conducting regular inspections of field equipment; and taking over the annual thermal inspection contract (See Figure 1).
We’ve already found uses for the imager in vessel, pipe and valve inspections, and we plan to use thermography to inspect low-temperature cryogenic processes as well.
Our move to in-house thermal imaging made sense. The former, thermography-only contractors weren’t authorized to remove panel doors or make other electrical adjustments needed to get clear thermal images, which meant the facility’s electricians had to be involved. Alltech’s licensed electricians now do that work, interpret the electrical significance of the thermal images, sometimes proceed immediately to repairs, and even verify success with follow-up thermal images. Beyond Electrical Imaging
Each year, Alltech spends about three days scanning the Jayhawk plant for electrical problems. The two power control rooms are divided into sections, or buckets, which contain switchgear and breaker sources for power supply and distribution. The electricians monitor everything in the buckets, checking all the operating stations, and making thermal images of all the electrical connections, from relays to transformers. They also use the imager to look for loose connections, which is where major problems, such as meltdowns, often occur.
Because Ti30 can measure components to 0.25 degrees, we can find wire lugs that are loose, but only overheating slightly. This means that we can detect potential problems long before they become serious problems. In some cases, we can tighten lugs on the spot, if it’s safe to do it. For more serious problems or for equipment carrying very high voltages, we take a thermal image and a digital photo of the unit, and send a report to the supervising plant technician.
Besides monitoring electrical components, we also use thermal imaging to check the plant’s sludge catcher, which is a big vessel that collects waste from the natural gas. At one point, plant personnel weren’t sure their level indicators were working correctly, which meant they weren’t sure how much sludge was in the vessel. We made thermal images of this unit at the end of a hot day, when the vessel had begun to cool. Those images revealed the line between the heated sludge and the unrefined natural gas above it in the vessel, which had cooled faster. Thermography proved to be a failsafe backup to the level indicators. Using manual verification to determine the sludge depth would have required a major plant shutdown and an extremely dangerous vessel entry procedure. With thermal imaging, we were able to determine this depth for a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.FIGURE 2: PRETTY COLORS