Times change and technology changes with them. That is why the electrical protection technicians in Rio Tinto’s Testing and Analysis group, led by Louis Paradis, and the engineers who work with them, have had to adapt in their assignments for local plants and company facilities (the power stations and the Power Operations network).
Electromechanical technology, which required frequent maintenance and adjustments, has given way to lower maintenance digital technology. So, the technicians now needed another outlet for their maintenance expertise. This led to the idea of broadening the range of tasks that technicians perform, by involving them in the design and implementation of protection systems.
In January 2022, Marc-André Gagné, Manager of Energy Production, Power Operations, challenged the team to design and implement a system to protect the line that supplies Resolute Forest Products in Mistassini. “The protection system that we had in place was outdated, and this was causing problems. So, it had to be replaced,” he explains. All of the work was done in-house, without any outside help.
“Normally, our Testing and Analysis technicians commission the protection panels,” Gagné adds. “In this case, we asked them to completely engineer the new panel, including selecting the components, as an engineering firm would. Our technicians have the necessary training to do this, but not the experience.”
The other challenge was that, to keep production on track, the client requested that the system be installed in less than 16 hours during a plant shutdown. Usually, it takes several days to complete this type of work.
The twofold challenge was met brilliantly and at a lower cost than similar projects in the past. Stéphane Gagnon and Mathieu Brassard, unionised workers at Testing and Analysis, prepared several weeks in advance for the task.
“Teamwork and preparation were key to the project’s success,” says Brassard. “We were able to speak to each other directly, without any go-betweens, which meant that we could get things done quickly at every stage. Good communication made it easier to move the project forward.”
He adds, “Because we were so well prepared, we were able to see the problems coming and have solutions ready so that, when the time came, we could respond quickly. Once on site, we managed to fix several problems that we had anticipated during the preliminary workshop tests.”
Gagnon says, “We worked as a team with the people at the Isle-Maligne Power Station. Everyone understood their role and did their job exactly when they were supposed to. The skills of our in-house staff were put to good use. It’s motivating and rewarding to take a project from start to finish and get such good results.”
“The time constraint was a great challenge,” Brassard notes. “Sixteen hours is a short time to implement something new and complete the different functional tests. We were not familiar with the client’s plant, and the success of the shutdown rested on our shoulders, because without power, the next day’s schedule would have fallen apart.”
The team was able to rely on the expertise of Loana Soucy, Protection Engineer, and Jean-Sébastien Gaudreault, Project Manager. Other workers, including the electricians at the Isle-Maligne Power Station, joined the team on 24 April 2022, the day of the job.
Everyone, including Power Operations Manager Stéphane Larouche, agrees that the Testing and Analysis group is professional, competent, and essential. “I know the people at Test and Analysis well, and I had no doubt that they would hit a home run with this challenge! We should definitely take on this type of initiative again.”