Guarantee Electrical Company recently completed a substantial upgrade of the electrical distribution systems at Procter & Gamble’s St. Louis Plant located on the Near North Side of the City at 168 E. Grand. P & G’s operations are largely dedicated to the manufacture of a range of cleaning products form Cascade to Febreeze, Comet and Tide. However, the 90 year old plant, of necessity, is subject to periodic overhaul to keep its operations as up-to-date and competitive as possible. In this case, the upgrade involved expansion of much of the plant’s electrical infrastructure. Some of its equipment had reached the point of needing replacement with newer more efficient control panels and switches. And as the company regularly contemplates new product lines and processes, there was a need to have room for expansion and sufficient additional power to handle virtually any growth scenario.
It was believed that this modernization effort would have to include most of the equipment and much the circuitry extending from the Ameren substation all the way to the plant’s multitude of localized switchgear setups. The scope therefore involved a substantial update an aging system together with additional capacity for various future projects under consideration.
And because the circuitry involved extended across the facility, the work had been originally estimated to require something close to a seven-day shutdown of most of the plant. This would include running 24 new feeders to 8 different distribution sections located throughout the plant. Medium voltage cables were to be placed, pulled, tested, and energized in order to feed 2 new 15KV substations. Many of the plant’s control panels needed their conduits intercepted with new custom-made cable termination box-installed so that new cables could be spliced onto existing cables.
As it happened, the original week-long timeframe was deemed too excessive given the plant’s current production throughput; nor could plant management assure that they could produce enough of stockpile of cleaning products to keep the customer’s supply chain satisfied. Hence, the contracting team elected a more aggressive, accelerated remediation plan so as to dramatically reduce the required outage time. The new plan entailed a complete review of all the equipment and the installation sequence required to optimally stage the upgrade effort, before the first switch was thrown to start the shutdown. In sum, the new approach called for installing as much equipment, conduit, wire, and ancillary components well in advance of any shutdown.
Proctor & Gamble engineers, Bilfinger construction managers, and Guarantee supervision logged substantial hours studying the sequences of the tasks normally performed, looking for ways to do as much advance work as possible to minimize impacts on any specific production departments, looking as well to streamline workflows with the aim of optimizing performance overall but most importantly to reduce the original timeframe for the outage period. The plan they arrived at reduced the shutdown period from seven days to three—roughly the duration of a long weekend. The outline itself was simple enough, calling for ordering equipment, and for staging and pre-installing as much of the conduit and system components for the distribution design—and most of this work to be completed or at least roughed in well ahead of the shut down, now scheduled to be conducted over the Easter weekend starting on Good Friday, April 10th.
Then COVID-19 Hit.
The onset of the pandemic in early March transformed the Proctor & Gamble workplace—changing virtually every aspect of work in the spaces allocated in ways no one could have anticipated, much as it did across the world. Given the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, strict protocols had to be established to minimize spread, especially in places where employees could expect to operate in some form of proximity. Often, work-rules were based on locations in the plant where the density of operations involving direct access by workers along with the frequency and duration of tasks performed in them. Additional factors addressed the size of the spaces involved and how well they were currently ventilated—often involving enhancing air exchange wherever practical. Other steps were more universal: body temperatures taken daily targeting all personnel entering the facility; screening questionnaires were issued to all, and cloth masks and related personal protective equipment (PPE such as gloves, caps, gowns, etc.) became mandatory. As the team became increasingly aware of the many variables, including the uncertain availability of the necessary PPE, they began to doubt that the Easter weekend could offer the team sufficient lead time to complete the many pre-installation tasks involved, and the shutdown was cancelled.
Meanwhile, Guarantee’s workforce continued with the pre-installations. Cable tray was installed, distribution equipment set and tested, cabling pulled and tested for the stresses they would be placed under. This process continued for months. Finally, a new shutdown date was set, the long Fourth of July weekend.
Guarantee’s supervisory team working with the Bilfinger managers, determined that in order to accomplish the transference of all the necessary components in the new timeframe, a total of 87 electricians would need to work around the clock in two twelve hour shifts in order to accomplish the Herculean task. This would require bringing in additional workers and supervision who had no prior working knowledge of either the plant itself or the systems parts and pieces that had been previously installed or needed to be installed during the shutdown. In order to give the additional manpower an idea of the task ahead of them, the team was bought in a few days before the shutdown for an intensive orientation around safety practices, and Covid-era plant rules and procedures, and finally lists of tasks before them. Supervisors were brought in for a full day prior to the shutdown in order to be acquainted with locations and sequencing the tasks they were to be charged with and the space they’d have to work in.
Guarantee proved to be up to the task; the shutdown was completed ahead of schedule. The new equipment was tested and deemed fully functional nearly a day ahead of schedule. General foreman Jeff Werner led his supervision team in an extraordinary effort to assure the success of a complicated project with a host of moving parts in an incredibly compressed time frame. Moreover, in spite of the radically compressed schedule, there were no injuries or lost-time incidents, and no one caught the dangerous coronavirus.