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— Design Process

Problem

The worldwide demand for energy will triple until 2050. Power Providers all over the world are facing major problems within the next years: The overall increasing energy consumption demands the constant expansion of the electrical grids. At the same time, older parts of the infrastructures suffer from aging. This two-front war is resource consuming and demands for more efficient inspection and maintenance processes.

Process

The conservative business lacks behind in adapting to modern processes and digital technology, which could help to optimize processes. As a result, Umea Energi asked us to conceptualize and design visionary solutions for the next generation of smart products to fulfill their daily tasks. Through our field research, we identified the process of transformer maintenance as the design opportunity with the highest relevance.
 

 Result

Chroma is our vision of how applied human-centered design could have a direct positive impact on our client’s business while improving the everyday work life of their employees. The holistic system simplifies maintenance procedures with a new hardware system and a digital platform which enables the possibility for more frequent inspections to gain an accurate diagnosis and a visualized prognosis without increasing the labor costs to reduce the economic pressure.

01 | Problem

Upcoming challenges

Power Providers all over the world are facing major challenges within the next years: The overall increasing energy consumption demands constant expansion of the electrical grids. At the same time, older parts of the infrastructures suffer from aging. This two-front war is resource consuming and demands for efficient
processes and effective resource management.

Grid Providers fighting in a two-front war to keep up with the growing demand while preserving the existing structures .

Old Equipment needs intensive care

The long life span of the equipment besides very high replacement costs leads to an extremely long usage time of 50 years +. The problem with old equipment is it has higher failure rates. This leads to higher inspection/ maintenance costs and further to repairing and restoration costs. To keep these components functional, regular maintenance is essential but cost intensive.

Through our field research, we identified the process of transformer maintenance as the design opportunity with the highest relevance.

Power transformer are crucial components for power distribution.

Power transformers step down the power voltage from a transmission level to a distribution level, so the energy can be used by consumers. Transformers are the most expensive, as well as some of the oldest components in the grid systems. They are difficult to replace and a disfunction or failure can cause a cascading effect, resulting in total blackouts, in wide areas of the grid.

Transformer are filled with oil as cooling medium and for insulation

Over time, the oil gets subjected to thermal, electrical and even mechanical stresses. These stresses can affect the chemistry of the dissolved gases within the oil. If not monitored and maintained correctly, the oil-gas mixture can become highly explosive. To prevent this and detect risks as early as possible, the oil needs to be tested on regular basis. The more frequently the testing is done, the more reliable the problem diagnosis & prognosis becomes.

Midsized Power Provider are in need for more efficient maintenance processes, to be able to overcome future challenges with their limited resources.

— Business need

This two-front war is resource consuming and demands for efficient processes and effective resource management. But the conservative business lacks behind and outdated tools and inefficient maintenance processes make it difficult to maintain older grid parts adequately, due to a high-cost pressure. As a result, Umea Energi asked us for conceptualizing and designing visionary solutions for the next generation of smart product solutions.

— Business relevance

— Field research

The current transformer inspection is outdated, time-consuming and error-prone.  

The current transformer inspection is outdated, time-consuming and error-prone.

Transformers are most of the time located in so-called substations, all over the grid. In northern Sweden for example, are more than 1000 of these substations, usual with 2 to 4 transformers on site.

Before maintenance engineers can enter the fenced sites and start their maintenance routine, they have to inform the command center via phone to partially reroute the electricity, for safety reasons. If forgotten this can become a serious health risk to the engineer’s life. The engineers unlock the site with a general key. A key that gives access to more than a thousand sites. If it gets lost, all locks have to be replaced for high costs.

The actual maintenance routine can be split into two parts:

At first, the engineer does a full visual inspection of the site and its components. All problems and saliences need to be written down in a paper-based inspection record. Damages need to be documented separately by the camera. Furthermore basic performance data of the equipment, like temperature, electric currency eg. need to be checked and noted. Later all gathered information has to be transcripted and digitalized manually. The engineers spend several hours daily on the transcription and filing of the records and documenting images. Often transcription mistakes happening and diminishing the information quality.

After the visual inspection is completed, the engineer takes samples of the transformer oil, to later analyze its gas chemistry in a gas chromatograph. To extract the oil, the engineer uses many incoherent tools:

A glass-syringe is attached via a hose to the outlet of the transformer’s oil tank. The outlet is often located underneath a cooling unit, so the engineer has to crawl underneath the unit. He has to stay in an uncomfortable position until the sample is fully taken. Before the sample can be extracted, the engineer has to drain several liters of oil to get rid of settled particles. The drained oil has to be disposed of later. While taking the sample the engineer has to ensure that no air bubbles get sucked in. Air would contaminate the sample and lead to false results in gas chromatography.

After the sample is taken, it is labeled with a sharpie marker to assign it to the right transformer. Often the writing gets rubbed off the oily outside of the glass-syringe and the sample can not be assigned properly anymore.

Back in the office, the samples get injected into the gas chromatograph. The analyzers usually used in the house, can only process one sample at a time. The analysis of a single sample takes roundabout one hour. Afterward, the whole system has to be cleaned meticulously by hand, before the next sample can be processed. If several samples need to be analyzed in a row, the engineer has to be present all the time, to ensure constant progress. Also, all other components, which got into contact with the oil during the extraction process, need to be cleaned manually.

After the gas chromatography is done, the results need to be manually transferred and filed in the company’s folder structures. The use of mainly PDF & Excel formats for documentation results in complex and confusing folder structures. Furthermore, the search for specific information becomes time-consuming and annoying.

Due to all these contributing factors, the overall process becomes time-consuming and cost-intensive. As a consequence it is done in minimum frequency, resulting in a small sample size. A small sample size makes accurate problem diagnosis & prognosis significantly harder.

We realized to create real improvement, which has a true impact on the client’s business, not a single product but a whole system solution is needed.

Manual tool cleaning

Tools that get in contact with the oil need to be cleaned by hand. Sometimes multiple times in a row, if several samples are processed.

Manual data digitalization

Inspection records are done analog on paper. All data needs afterward to be transcript and digitalized manually.

No analysis in batch

Currently used analyzers can not analyze multiple samples in a row. Operators need to be present the whole time.

Sample contamination

Due to the current sample taking procedure, samples often get contaminated by air bubbles. The cause is false analysis results.

Confusion of oil samples

Taken samples are labeled by writing on the glass syringe. Often the written label gets rubbed off and the sample can not be used for analysis.

Environmental risks

Before oil samples can be taken, few liters of oil need to be drained to get rid of particles. A lot of oil is wasted that way and spillages can end up in the environment and harm the nature.

Manual data filing of results

Analysis results are filed manually in complex folder structures on different platforms. Searching for specific information becomes slow, problematic and there is a lack of overview.

Low data quality

Due to the time-consuming process and limited budget, the amount of taken samples is too low to gather qualitative data for accurate prognosis.

02 | Process

 Simplified user journey

User needs

Effective diagnosis & prognosis processes for early risk detection to avoid repairing and replacement costs.

Streamlined maintenance processes to use limited resources most efficiently.

Less manual steps

Incoherent tools and many manual steps slow down the maintenance process and create room for errors.

Better data quality

A higher sample rate would improve the diagnosis and prognosis and help failure prevention.

Centralized data

Use of multiple software and mixed media documentation require manual data transfer and manual data transcription

Market overview

Bigger companies already start to replace manual sample taking with remote monitoring systems, to improve their data quality. But the system is too expensive to update thousands of transformers in the following years. Companies especially midsize companies like Umea Energi have to rely on professional personnel to gather the required information with outdated equipment and processes. 

There is a need for a lower cost solution which fastens the process and increases the data quality for diagnosis and prognosis.

— How can we simplify the physical User Interaction?

The samples get injected into the gas chromatograph. The analyzers usually used in the house, can only process one sample at a time. The analysis of a single sample takes roundabout one hour. Afterward, the whole system has to be cleaned meticulously by hand, before the next sample can be processed. If several samples need to be analyzed in a row, the engineer has to be present all the time, to ensure constant progress. Also, all other components, which got into contact with the oil during the extraction process, need to be cleaned manually.

Combine manual working steps

So far the oil gets injected inside the test container to dissolve the gases of the transformer oil. This requires extra steps and several components need to be cleaned after each test sample.

Integrated headspace

To measure gases a headspace is essential. The gases can dissolve in two ways. First, neutral ambient air gets pumped inside the container or the whole mixture gets stirred or shaken. The idea was to test the oil directly inside the sample container.  

Prefabricated sample tubes

In the healthcare sector, prefabricated vacuum tubes are widespread to draw blood from a patient. 

The same process could be applied to draw oil samples of the transformer without contaminating the oil with environmental gases outside of the transformer which would distort test results. Instead of a vacuum tube, it will be filled with Argon gas which doesn´t affect the test results. The vacuum pressure to fill the sample will be replaced by a perforator pump.  

— How can we simplify digital User Interaction?

Various software and split data storage worsen the workflow and overview

Analysis results are filed manually in Microsoft Excel to complex folder structures on different platforms. Searching for specific information becomes slow, problematic and there is a lack of overview. In addition, the data is hard to translate for third parties and the control and responsibilities stay alone on the maintenance engineers.

Project goal

Concept 01

The safest solution is to install a remote analyzer for every transformer. The only problem is the high asset cost which isn´t economical for midsized power providers.

The solution: Not every transformer needs intensive care and the oil gas mixture doesn´t change within weeks. Therefore, a mobile remote analyzer could be a cost-effective opportunity to get enough test data of an affected transformer and in the worst case, the oil mixture needs to be filtered or exchanged. Afterward, if the test results remain the same, the mobile remote analyzer can be installed on another transformer without a lot of effort. With little investment costs, the clients have many benefits.  

Concept 02

The semi-automated equipment is a holistic solution for the transformer inspection, maintenance and data storage. The goal is to reduce the work effort on the transformer site inspection by fastening the sample taking procedure. The inspection data can be directly integrated into the digital platform to remove any additional after work inside the office.

By making the whole process more efficient, more transformer inspections can be done without increasing the work time and labor costs.

Project strategy

The project time with the client is limited and to provide a full solution, both concepts need to be combined in the future. Strategically it is important to fix the bigger issue by improving the manual sample taking process, a new inhouse analyzer and a digital platform. It can decrease the economical pressure on midsized energy providers in the near future. Afterward, it will be possible to invest in a mobile remote analyzer as well do get the full potential. 

The project goal was to focus only on concept 2. 

 

— Early mock-ups and role plays

— System branding for the energy sector

The design language should be applied to a holistic and coherent system solution. The physical components are used inside and outside of the office. Therefore the product system needs to be robust and at the same time present the smart and modern digital component. 

Do physical products always need a big touchscreen in the future?

We say no…big screens are a modern phenomenon but it doesn´t make complex interactions always easier. Instead, it can be confusing with too many interaction possibilities. What a user really needs is a guided procedure with fewer menu steps. The main need is to provide feedback after every action. This can be applied even with a minimalistic interface.

03 | Result

Seamless interaction between physical and digital

Chroma system explained

The Result

Chroma consists of two hardware devices and a digital backbone:

The Chroma mobile application gives engineers digital checklists to guide them through the whole maintenance process while allowing fast and intuitive data input. Documenting pictures and videos can be integrated right away. It improves further communication with the command center and improves staff coordination and task management.

The semi-automated Chroma handheld, allows engineers not only to take multiple samples much faster but also with less risk of contamination and without any environmental impact, by making use of prefabricated sample tubes. These disposable and recyclable tubes erase the necessity of manual cleaning, throughout the whole process at all. Saving a significant amount of working time and ensuring to always get reliable test results:

Before the extraction, the sample tubes can directly be scanned on-site, to allow a faster and faultless filing and erase the risk for confusion. For sample extraction, the engineer simply attaches the handheld via a circular hose system to the outlet of the transformer and starts the integrated peristaltic pump. Before extracting automatically a 50 ml sample, the system is flushed to remove any settled particles. After the sample is taken, the air gets pumped through the system to push the leftover oil back into the transformers tank. No oil is spilled or wasted anymore.

Back in the office, the engineer can insert a batch of up to four samples into the Chroma DGA Desktop Analyzer. The samples get scanned, prepared and analyzed automatically, without interruptions or the necessity of cleaning in between. Engineers do not have to be present anymore during the process. In the end, the results of the gas chromatography are visualized in a clear and understandable way next to the inspection records, in the Chroma Desktop App.

Chroma is our vision of how applied human-centered design could have a direct positive impact on our clients’ business while improving the everyday work life of people.

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