With PHMSA amending the Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations that govern the use of plastic piping systems in the transportation of natural and other gas, tracking assets has become more critical than ever. While there is a significant importance to implementing tracking and traceability practices to meet these new guidelines, it also presents an opportunity to develop an asset management program that goes above and beyond the standard, increasing safety and improving operational efficiency. The use of barcode scanners has proven to be highly successfully in decoding against the ASTM Standard, including attributes such as pipe manufacturer, size, lot and production date.
CHALLENGES IN MEETING THE ASTM STANDARD
Meeting regulatory requirements is not an easy task. Whether it’s going from paper to digital or integrating existing disparate systems, a clear understanding of the organizational goals as it relates to asset management is a good starting point. Organizing a meeting with key stakeholders in the asset management process is a logical starting point to lay the framework for the desired outcome of the program. Be sure to work with a vendor who can facilitate this process and serve as a resource when making decisions. Each department will have needs and perceived priorities and coming to an understanding on prioritizing those needs will ensure that the team doesn’t get in over their head trying to do too much too soon. Rome wasn’t built in a day and an asset management solution won’t be either.
ADVANTAGES IN MEETING THE ASTM STANDARD
The most obvious advantage to meeting the ASTM Standard is achieving regulatory compliance. Federal tracking and traceability regulations require gas utilities to provide information on who installed the assets, where they were installed, how they installed it and what was installed. However, there are many advantages to looking beyond the required information to include workflows that can improve operational efficiency and safety, such as identifying blacklisted material before and after it gets installed and ensuring that employees are meeting occupational qualification requirements. It is important to note that the ASTM Standard is currently a document and not an actual database. When using a software solution for scanning barcodes on plastic pipes and fittings, you should be sure that your solution provider can supply this data to allow for decoding out in the field. While the ASTM information is only updated approximately once every year, manufacturing IDs are updated more frequently. Choosing an asset management solution that updates the information for the manufacturing IDs regularly is crucial to data integrity.
TAKING BARCODING TO THE NEXT LEVEL WITH MANAGING MATERIAL BLACKLISTS
Using the information provided from barcode scanning on plastic pipes can be helpful in managing material blacklists. In the event of a material recall, gas utility companies can easily identify which assets were involved in that recall. This includes both material that has not been installed as well as material that has already been installed. In the instance of blacklisted material prior to installation, utilities typically choose a few different methods for identifying the blacklisted material. One option is to scan the material prior to taking it out in the field for installation. When the barcode information is pulled into the digital asset management software, the user is automatically notified if the scanned material is blacklisted. This method ensures that blacklisted material doesn’t even make it to the installation site. Other utility companies choose to scan their assets out in the field as they are being installed. Both are effective methods of managing blacklisted materials and the utility company should decide what integrates best with existing workflows. In the case of material that has already been installed, the data that is in the system can be used to create a report that shows where the recalled buried assets are located, and an action plan can be made for replacement.
USING BARCODE TECHNOLOGY FOR OCCUPATIONAL QUALIFICATION
An important component to tracking and traceability is knowing who installed the asset and how it was installed. Verifying the occupational qualification of employees installing assets out in the field can be easily achieved by scanning the employee’s ID badge or inputting an ID manually.
Some utilities choose to put the onus on their OQ provider, relying on the provider to assign only qualified individuals to perform asset installation. While this method is generally effective, pulling the information from the OQ provider’s database gives the utility company the ability to verify qualifications both out in the field and in the back office. When implementing a digital asset management solution, utilities need to be prepared to integrate their online contract manager database provider. Information relevant to the job function being performed is then filtered from the database to make a determination on whether or not the employee or contractor is qualified to do the assigned task. For example, if an asset installation requires welding, the employee or contractor must be qualified to do so. Information regarding the expiration date of the qualification can also be pulled from the contract manager’s database. The designation of an OQ pass or fail can be viewed both out in the field and in the back office using a workflow manager tool.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN EMPLOYEE OR CONTRACTOR FAILS OCCUPATIONAL QUALIFICATION?
Ultimately, the process for managing an OQ fail is up to the utility company and is typically handled on a case-by-case basis. When an OQ fail happens out in the field, in some cases, the employee or contractor will have documentation on hand supporting a different story. It is possible that information from the online contractor manager is not up to date, especially in circumstances where qualifications are new or have just renewed. In these instances, the field supervisor has the option to photograph the documentation and attach it to the install, allowing the back office users to verify the documentation provided after the data is uploaded into the system. If an asset is installed without the proper Occupational Qualification, back office users will receive a notification of the failure and handle the situation appropriately. If it is found that the contractor or employee was not qualified to perform the task, the asset may need to be reinstalled by an individual with the appropriate credentials.
“An important component to tracking and traceability is knowing who installed the asset and how it was installed.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
In a world of complex workflows and strict regulations like the utility industry, technology is a critical component to managing assets. Although a move to a digital platform can take some advanced planning, the work put in on the front end will result in a measurable increase in operational efficiency and, most importantly, enhance the safety of utility employees and the community.
Theresa Chavez is Business Development Manager for CartoPac International. Theresa has more than 20 years of experience in software development. She can be reached at Theresa.firstname.lastname@example.org.