The Dalles Dam updates its as-built drawings

The Dalles Dam electrician Dale Rollins traces each wire in this electric cabinet to ensure an accurate baseline drawing is complete.   Lack of accurate drawings can cause many hours of lost time as workers must have accurate as-built drawings before starting any new job on equipment at the dam. (Corps of Engineers photo)

The Dalles Dam electrician Dale Rollins traces each wire in this electric cabinet to ensure an accurate baseline drawing is complete. Lack of accurate drawings can cause many hours of lost time as workers must have accurate as-built drawings before starting any new job on equipment at the dam. (Corps of Engineers photo)

How past actions help inform future needs

By Diana Fredlund, Public Affairs Office

Keeping a hydropower dam operating efficiently requires workers to monitor its systems, troubleshoot problems and make repairs when they’re needed. But what happens if the record of past modifications can’t be found?  How does that affect future upgrades and repairs? How does it affect safety?

Accurate design drawings are vital to keep maintenance costs down. Paul Ronning, far left, Roger James, center and Shelly Coleman review updated as-built drawings at The Dalles Lock and Dam on the Columbia River. Dam managers were committed to updating the drawings, finishing the powerhouse turbines and generators in 2014. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Accurate design drawings are vital to keep maintenance costs down. Paul Ronning, far left, Roger James, center and Shelly Coleman review updated as-built drawings at The Dalles Lock and Dam on the Columbia River. Dam managers were committed to updating the drawings, finishing the powerhouse turbines and generators in 2014. (Corps of Engineers photo)

“Any time we work on equipment either to diagnose problems, or to integrate new devices, we refer to the drawings. It is very important that these drawings are accurate, reflecting any changes that have been made over the years,” said Mike Colesar, chief of engineering at The Dalles Lock and Dam. “Inaccurate drawings create potentially hazardous situations and can delay any work we do.”

When The Dalles Dam began operating in 1958, there was an accurate set of drawings for all the electrical, mechanical and structural systems. For many years, there was a process followed to keep drawings maintained and the right people were there to do the work.

“By the late 1980s, we seemed to have lost the ability to keep the drawings up-to-date,” Colesar said. “Positions devoted to maintaining records industry-wide were eliminated. Contract cost overruns and schedule delays created by inaccurate drawings increased.”

By the early 2000s, after Bonneville Power Administration began funding major hydropower capital improvement projects, engineers realized the lack of up-to-date drawings were significantly increasing costs.  For example, when The Dalles Dam began a $20 million station service project in 2002 to replace internal electrical equipment and batteries, engineers found the as-built drawings so badly out of date that they couldn’t complete the project’s design.

“A significant amount of time and effort was needed to just learn the baseline,” Colesar said.  By the end of the Station Service Project, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on design inefficiencies and contract modifications caused by bad drawings. “That was a wake-up call – it was clear we needed to address this problem.”

The Dalles Dam engineering technician Paul Ronning, right, discusses design drawings with engineer Ron Brumbaugh. Workers at The Dalles Lock and Dam, 110 miles east of Portland, Oregon, found out-of-date drawings caused cost overruns and contractor delays. Dam workers finished updating the drawings for the powerhouse turbines and generators in 2014. (Corps of Engineers photo)

The Dalles Dam engineering technician Paul Ronning, right, discusses design drawings with engineer Ron Brumbaugh. Workers at The Dalles Lock and Dam, 110 miles east of Portland, Oregon, found out-of-date drawings caused cost overruns and contractor delays. Dam workers finished updating the drawings for the powerhouse turbines and generators in 2014. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Detroit Dam experienced a debilitating electrical fire in 2007, causing several million dollars in damage. Colesar was the investigating team leader, charged with determining the cause.  Most of the damage was caused by avoidable fault propagation in the circuit breakers. Protection against this type of escalation had been inadvertently disabled because the plant drawings were inaccurate and confusing, Colesar said. “The Detroit Dam fire will stick with me the rest of my career as an example of why good drawings are important.”

The Dalles Dam needed someone to create order from the chaos left by years of inattention.  Roger James, an engineering technician, was initially selected to head the effort at The Dalles and later for the Portland District As-Built Program.  “Roger began working with us in 2006,” Colesar said. “He brought energy, persistence and an attention to detail that was vital to our success.”  The Dalles Dam managers made a commitment to immediately improve the as-built drawings and develop a sustainable process to keep them accurate. BPA direct funding allowed The Dalles Dam to add additional drafting and electrician positions to make this possible.

“Each new design project relies on accurate drawings. Without them, designers are working in the dark and too often deliver designs with errors.  When contractors encounter site conditions that don’t agree with the contract drawings, contract modifications and schedule delays result.” James said. “Updating the as-built drawings has been a monumental task, but over the years we were able to design a process to systematically bring most of the equipment up to date.”

The first as-built drawing upgrade occurred during a major overhaul on main unit 15 in The Dalles Dam powerhouse. The process involved the complete electrical system of interconnected generator drawings. Two electricians traced thousands of wires, hand over hand, end to end – a job that took nearly eight weeks. That was followed by weeks of updates to the electronic versions and numerous reviews.   “When the work was completed, crews commented that for the first time in their careers, they had an accurate set of drawings to work from,” James said.

Building on the success of main unit 15, senior management agreed to continue this effort for every main unit during major overhauls in years to come.  The first opportunity to leverage accurate drawings came when the dam undertook the Digital Governor Upgrade project in 2010. This complicated electrical project replaced the mechanical governors on the turbines with digital governors. This time The Dalles Dam was ready. With much planning and hard work, accurate drawings were made available – first to designers and then to the construction contractors.

“Accurate drawings made it possible to design the new governors accurately. Because site conditions didn’t differ much from design, the contractor marched through the installation ahead of schedule,” Colesar said.  “We were able to take those accurate as-built drawings, note any changes made during the work and provide them immediately to Operations and Maintenance staff after each unit was completed.”

As-built drawings are important for all kinds of equipment at The Dalles Dam. While the first priority was updating the powerhouse drawings, workers are now in the habit of updating the as-built drawings for the navigation lock and fish passage equipment, too.

Accurate design drawings are vital to keep maintenance costs down. Electrician Ron Brumbaugh traces each wire in an electric cabinet to ensure the drawings accurately reflect current layouts at The Dalles Dam powerhouse. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Accurate design drawings are vital to keep maintenance costs down. Electrician Ron Brumbaugh traces each wire in an electric cabinet to ensure the drawings accurately reflect current layouts at The Dalles Dam powerhouse. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Today, computers are the sole source for up-to-date as-built drawings at The Dalles Dam.  The monumental task of updating the generator as-built drawings has been completed.  Crews now are focusing on other key areas of the powerhouse, including mechanical and structural features.  It is important to note that even though hundreds of critical drawings have been “as-built,” there are still many that remain untouched.  “When work begins, a copy of the latest version of drawings for the system being worked on is printed.  If it is marked ‘as-built’ the engineers and craft workers know this is accurate information they can rely on,” Colesar said. “As they modify any system, they mark it on the paper copy.  After they’re finished they turn in the paper copy so we can update the computerized original.”

Accurate as-built drawings are important to contractors and other agencies, too.  The BPA large capitalization program requires that as-built drawings be reviewed and created if necessary before the design phase begins.  Projects cannot be closed out until the as-built drawings are accepted by the operating project.

Maintaining the as-built drawings works only if everyone recognizes it’s important to keep them accurate. “We need to make sure everyone understands why this is important.  This includes senior management, project managers, designers, maintenance engineers, technicians, and craftspersons, ” James said. “It does take more effort, but we’ve seen what happens if we let it slide. The Digital Governor project proved it is possible to be successful.”

The education is paying off, according to Colesar. “We’re seeing fewer contract modifications, which means fewer cost and time overruns. That’s good for everyone. Accurate drawings make for a safer workplace and supports more informed decision making.”

Without accurate as-built drawings, maintaining and repairing equipment at Portland District operating projects means lost time and money while contractors bring the equipment documentation up to date. Thanks to a huge and continued effort by a team of management, technicians, engineers and craftspersons, as-built drawings are up-to-date and ready for the next project.

“We’re planning several capital investment projects, including a complete upgrade of our control systems at The Dalles,” Colesar said.  “With good drawings, we can begin the design phase knowing we have accurate information we can depend on. That’s a good feeling.”