Lab Background Helps Peterson in Latest Alabama Power Role

Paul V. Arnold

James “Pete” Peterson, a senior condition-based maintenance specialist at Alabama Power Company’s Gorgas Steam Plant in Parrish, Ala., is our other “Get to Know ...” subject. He has worked 32 years at Alabama Power (a subsidiary of the Southern Company), first starting in 1978 as a chemical technician. He also has been a laboratory foreman (from 1983 to 1994), a special projects coordinator (1994-1995) and a training team leader/employee development coordinator (1996-2002). Let’s get to know Pete.

Tell us a bit about your educational background: I earned a bachelor’s of science degree in biology/math from the University of Alabama (1969). Afterward, I was a research technician (1972-1976) and laboratory coordinator (1976-1977) in the university system. Years later, I became Level II certified in lubrication through the Southern Company.

When did you get your start in machinery lubrication, and how did it happen?: In 2002, I was asked by management to return to technical work at the plant. I had been the training team leader at Gorgas since 1996, and as they were looking to expand the site’s condition-based maintenance team, they felt that my previous work experience would serve me well as a lubrication specialist.

What’s a normal work day like for you?: I like to plan my work by the week, with Tuesdays being my normal “sample collection” day. I prepare on Monday by labeling bottles, getting my equipment ready, etc. As I normally sample, test, analyze and report on 175 to 200 samples per month, it takes most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday to finish testing the samples and writing my reports. On Friday, I do rechecks and work on oil-related issues that we are having with the equipment. When I include motors, which occurs every four months, it doubles my workload.

What is the amount and range of equipment that you help service through lubrication/oil analysis tasks?: We have the type of equipment – turbines, fans, pumps, pulverizers and associated motors – that you’d expect to find in a coal-fired power plant. We have five units and more than 250 pieces of critical equipment. Each piece of critical equipment has multiple – usually four to five – sample points.

What lubrication-related projects are you currently working on?: We are currently investigating the use of permanently placed filtration equipment on our smaller boiler feed pumps; we have vacuum dehydrators on our large-unit versions. Also, we are attempting to upgrade the plant’s oil storage facilities, which is necessary considering Gorgas is the oldest coal-fired plant in Alabama Power’s fleet.

What have been some of the biggest project successes for which you’ve played a part?: It would be getting our newer operations folks trained and helping to educate them as to the critical role that they have in taking our lubrication program to the next level.

How does your company view machinery lubrication?: The entire Southern Company has demonstrated a renewed commitment to a fully functional CBM program, encompassing the use of vibration monitoring, motor diagnostics, infrared, ultrasonics and machinery lubrication. That has really been exciting. Management is on board with the cost savings that can be realized, both at the plant level and system-wide, through the use of things like cost benefit analysis (CBA). The company facilitates sharing of best practices among the plants, which has enabled us to help each other learn and grow.

What do you see as some of the more important trends taking place in the lubrication and analysis field?: Though I’m relatively new to lubrication, it seems to me that this field is gaining in importance as it relates to the overall strategy to operate any industrial plant at peak efficiency. Whether you monitor oil condition in-house or have a commercial lab do it, the oil that flows through your machines must be attended to properly if you wish to be successful.

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