The Importance of Verifying Metals Used in Power Generation Plants
One year ago, Indonesia experienced one of its worst power outages which impacted more than 100 million people in Jakarta and its neighbouring provinces West Java and Banten. One news agency reported that this 9-hour power blackout during August 2019 forced the temporary closure of its new mass rapid transit system and caused sporadic disruptions in mobile phone services and some traffic lights, aggravating the capital’s notorious congestion, while some buildings were left in the dark.1
There are many causes of power failures in an electricity network. Examples of these causes include faults at power plants, damage to electric transmission lines, substations or other parts of the distribution system, a short circuit, cascading failure, fuse or circuit breaker operation.2
Historically, power outages occurred when the power generator in the power plant had been damaged or temporarily halted due to a safety consideration. Inside a power generator, the counterweight, a critical component, relies on long bolts to connect it to its rotating parts. If just one these bolts breaks, the power generator will be disrupted or may even be damaged which could either take a long time to be repaired, or worse, require a replacement. Why did the bolt break? Could it have been made of the wrong metal or alloy?
Available throughout the industry are cloned bolts or non-genuine OEM components that are inferior to those of the genuine components. These cloned bolts look just like the original components but have different material composition. As such, these cloned bolts may have much shorter and unpredictable lifespan than the bolts specified in the documentation provided by the power generator manufacturer. The use of the cloned bolt past its lifespan could potentially damage the power generator device or cause accidents and endanger the lives of plant operators.
The best way to mitigate risks of power outage is for a power plant personnel to verify that the composition of materials used in the power generator, including bolts and fasteners, matches the specification given by the power generator’s manufacturer. Fasteners are such a universal component of so many machines and assemblies used on a daily basis that we tend to take them for granted, until something goes wrong. Fasteners, particularly those used in mission-critical situations, must be designed, fabricated, inspected, and installed properly or lives can be put at risk. For this reason, it is imperative to ensure that fasteners for these critical applications are made from the precise metal alloy called for in the design specifications.
One power plant operator in Indonesia has deployed a “trust but verify” program using positive material identification (PMI) to validate the incoming spare bolts or components and to ensure that these are not cloned bolts or bolts of lower quality. This process has been made easy with the aid of handheld XRF analysis, a spectrometer which enables power plant operators to conduct on-site elemental analysis of the spare parts, assess material remaining lifespan, as well as verify material coating thickness.
The inspection team was able to rapidly verify the authenticity of incoming materials against the company’s purchase order and the certificate of conformity. Following the inspection, materials that do not fulfil the standard requirements would be rejected. This helped the team at the power plant to provide fast, accurate and reliable PMI of parts for the power generator, reducing the potential risk of unexpected downtime from low-quality OEM components.