Catching Things Early

Award-winning operator Bob Moore makes preventive maintenance the key to keeping his treatment plant running smoothly and effectively
Catching Things Early
Bob Moore makes maintenance a top priority at the South Coastal treatment facility.

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When Bob Moore was hired in 2006 as lead operator at the South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility in Delaware, the first thing he did was restructure the preventive maintenance program.

“Identifying problems early allows you to fix things before they become major,” says Moore, now assistant manager for Sussex County’s Bethany Beach Sewer District. He believes anything that prevents a crisis makes operators’ lives easier, and ensures high-quality, permit-compliant effluent.

Moore has been instrumental in improving the operation of the county’s largest wastewater treatment plant, according to a nomination form that led to his 2009 Operator of the Year Award from the Water Resources Division of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Heather Sheridan, director of Sussex County Environmental Services, and Loran George, district manager of the county Engineering Department, nominated Moore.

His focus on protecting water resources goes back to growing up on the water, and a conversation he had years ago when thinking about wastewater as a career. A friend happened to be an operator at a municipal treatment plant. “He made a comment that has stuck with me,” says Moore. “The same amount of water has been on this planet for millions of years, and it’s our job to clean it up and put it back the way we found it.”

Escalating attention

Before joining the South Coastal plant staff, Moore spent nine years in industrial wastewater. His goal on his new job was to give operators a schedule to prevent problems at the newly refurbished activated sludge facility with conventional aeration. Moore says treatment is achieved without chemical additives, except for chlorine disinfection of the effluent that is discharged through a deep ocean outfall.

“I was hired four months after a $21 million expansion,” he says. The work increased design flow from 6 mgd to 9 mgd with a 14 mgd peak flow. “Using preventive maintenance, we were able to work a lot of little bugs out of the system within a year and had very few breakdowns.” The plant has operated smoothly and effectively ever since and stays well within its permit requirements.

The district has a staff of 55 under district manager Loran George. Moore supervises five operators at South Coastal: Ann Hobbs, lab manager and Level 4 operator; Pat Rankin, lead operator and Level 4 operator; and Paul Hignutt, Fred Jester and Dave Drebing, Level 2 operators.

Preventive maintenance starts with getting to know the plant. “It’s understanding the basic feel, sounds, and smells of each part of the plant,” Moore says. That helps operators recognize if something has changed as they make their daily rounds.

“We have a daily preventive maintenance sheet,” Moore says. “As operators go through the plant, they take their time and check off each item as they’re inspecting the equipment. It’s mainly visual inspection to make sure equipment isn’t leaking and that nothing has shut down, along with cleaning equipment and picking up trash. ”

The weekly procedure gets a bit more detailed. “Certain equipment is taken out of service for inspection, and belts and oil levels are checked,” says Moore. “A lot of it is exercising gates and valves, cleaning floats and transducers, running backup generators, and cleaning things like lift stations and septage receiving equipment.”

The monthly maintenance list involves tasks like greasing and lubricating, changing belts and filters, washing down areas, checking spillways, cleaning pits and vaults, and inspecting fire extinguishers.

Twice a year, before and after the peak summer season, detailed work is done to get the facility in top form. “We go completely through the plant and check everything from screws in doors and cracked glass in windows, to chipped paint on handrails and right on through all the major equipment,” Moore says. “It also includes everything on the daily, weekly, and monthly lists.”

Developing a schedule

The daily task list is the easiest place to start a comprehensive maintenance schedule, notes Moore, because it’s just a matter of checking equipment while walking through the plant. Next is a close review of equipment manuals.

“Document manufacturers’ recommendations for monthly and weekly maintenance and just build on it from there,” he says. “If something is supposed to be done at 500 hours, I schedule it every 300 hours.”

Operating experience can also help in developing a schedule. Some lift stations and sumps may need cleaning more often than others, or a certain pump may require special attention. The schedule should be adjusted when unusual conditions are found to make sure the equipment gets proper attention before problems develop.

There are computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) programs available for purchase, but Moore uses a spreadsheet he developed. “There is a section on each PM sheet for notes,” he says. “If an operator finds a problem, it is written down, dated and initialed so I can follow up with the right person.” He then works with the maintenance group to create a work order for inspection, order parts, and schedule mechanics to complete the repair.

Getting results

The benefits of preventive maintenance showed up quickly. “The number of alarms steadily declined, and is still declining, because we’re able to spot potential problems before they actually happen,” says Moore. “We’ve had some equipment wear out, but we’ve had no major breakdowns.”

Thanks in part to the quality of preventive maintenance, the U.S. EPA presented the plant with the Regional Environmental Excellence Award for overall excellence in operations and maintenance in 2009. The plant also won that award in 2000.

Preventive maintenance has identified issues such as clogged air relief valves and worn belts that would have shut down vital equipment if they had failed. When such issues are found, they are shared among the operators in various ways.

“The operators on shift know what is happening because they’re all on the radio hearing about it,” Moore says. Issues are also discussed at daily meetings. “We meet every morning to discuss our plans for the day and to review project sheets and daily deliveries. Communication is a very important thing.”

Problems can also be used as learning experiences. When something happens, newer operators may go through the troubleshooting, diagnosis, and repair planning under the supervision of experienced operators. “That’s the best way to teach somebody,” Moore says.

Effective preventive maintenance not only protects the environment — it can have a positive economic impact on a plant. “I worked in a poultry plant for nine years in preventive maintenance, and we were probably the only department that saved money because we didn’t have equipment breakdowns,” Moore says.

“I even have a clipboard in my shed, and I track maintenance on all my cars and lawn mowers. I had a riding lawn mower that lasted 19 years.”

No hassles with sudden breakdowns, better operation, regulatory compliance, confidence in the equipment, fewer emergency purchases: Moore makes sure that preventive maintenance brings a sense of calm to his treatment plant.


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