A group of American Transmission Co. engineers are driving down costs and improving efficiency by finding a solution to a big problem that starts with a little bird.
While many factors can cause wear and tear on wood electric transmission poles, woodpeckers can often cause some of the most serious damage.
Woodpeckers frequently bore into wood transmission poles to look for insects or make nests. Over time, the holes from the woodpeckers can deepen and multiply, compromising the structural integrity of the poles. That’s why Christopher Facklam, civil design engineer, and Gabriel Nelson, associate civil design engineer, set out to find a more efficient and economical way to analyze woodpecker damage and provide recommendations for handling damaged poles.
“If the damage from the woodpeckers is bad enough, the pole can actually snap in half. What makes woodpecker damage so dangerous is the fact that holes are often near critical points,” said Nelson. “Typically, the birds perch on bolts and peck above them, which is exactly where you do not want holes.”
Woodpecker damage assessments at ATC were previously conducted by a contractor. But now, thanks to the new process Facklam and Nelson developed, those assessments can take place within ATC for a fraction of the cost. The new process is also faster and more accurate.
First, inspectors in ATC’s asset maintenance department inspect poles and record the number, depths and locations of woodpecker holes. Then, ATC’s engineering team analyzes the data to make recommendations. If the structure is acceptable, ATC’s maintenance team takes the lead by filling the holes with a foam epoxy and/or wrapping the structure in wire mesh. If the structure needs to be replaced, an ATC engineering team is assigned to the replacement project. Then, the structure is replaced and wrapped with wire mesh as a preventative measure.
“Being internal employees, we have access to all the necessary records for analysis and we are familiar with gathering these records for use. This saves time for the ATC maintenance personnel who, in the past. would need to gather the initial information and any subsequent requests for the consultant,” said Facklam.
Janssen Baij, senior maintenance engineer with asset maintenance, has worked closely with Facklam and Nelson to streamline the process. He says bringing the analysis in-house has resulted in shorter timelines, more accurate analyses and significant cost savings.
“No longer do we have to gather all of the information for a specific structure. We can now send the woodpecker inspection report to engineering and have them gather all the required information related to the pole. This decreases the turn-around time required in the past. The sooner we know a pole is a reject, the sooner we can react to replacing the pole,” Baij said.
The in-house process is also more accurate. Previously, a lack of data could cause more poles to be replaced than necessary. With more data, the engineering team can confidently conclude that some poles, which may have been marked for replacement under the old analysis method, are in fact safe to stay.
“We are performing a more in-depth analysis that is consistent with the way we design new structures. Our analysis utilizes transmission line design software to create a detailed model of the damaged pole in addition to nearby interacting structures,” said Facklam. “This reduces the number of conservative assumptions that may otherwise have to be applied and gives us the confidence that the results are more accurate when we provide recommendations to maintenance.”
If a pole does need to be replaced, crews in the field look for any birds that may still be nesting in a pole before it is taken down.
“Crews check the pole before taking it down to ensure they’re not interfering with nesting birds,” said Mike Warwick, senior environmental project manager. “It’s rare, but they may find an owl or a kestrel. Those birds can nest in holes created by woodpeckers. In one case, we took the section of a pole that did have nesting birds to a wildlife rehabilitator.”
Warwick says pecking into wood transmission poles does not pose any health risks for woodpeckers. ATC has no recorded incidents of any woodpecker deaths or injuries as a result of interactions with ATC facilities.
The 64th annual CP Telethon in Green Bay, Wis., raised a record $1.4 million, and ATC employees were there to share in the positive energy.
CP is a non-profit organization that serves more than 2,000 families in Northeast Wisconsin, helping individuals with varying abilities reach their goals, connect in a collaborative environment and maximize their independence.
ATC employees from the De Pere office took donation calls as part of the panel on WBAY’s CP Telethon, the nation’s longest-running local telethon, over the weekend. ATC employees teamed up with corporate neighbor PAi to raise more than $9,000 to contribute to the cause prior to volunteering their time with the telethon Saturday evening.
All of the money raised will go toward helping the non-profit continue and expand its work in the community.
United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County announced Wednesday, Feb. 28, that American Transmission Co. President and CEO, Mike Rowe, will co-chair its 2018 United Way Campaign.
“I’m pleased to support the community through United Way and I’m proud of the fact that so many ATC employees support the organization. I look forward to representing ATC and helping United Way make this year’s campaign a huge success,” Rowe said.
With Rowe at the helm, it’s easy to see why ATC has a culture of giving back to the community. Employees find creative ways to make donating to the annual United Way Campaign fun and enjoy volunteering together for United Way Days of Caring.
Rowe joins community co-chairs Cristy Garcia-Thomas, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and President of Aurora Health Care Foundation; David Gay, Managing Partner at EY; and Don Layden, Partner at Quarles & Brady LLP.
For Randy Pynenberg, consultant system protection engineer, mentorship and growth have helped to define his career with American Transmission Co. Pynenberg started building his career under a mentor. Now, years later, he is a mentor and teacher to newer engineers.
“There is plenty of opportunity for growth at ATC,” said Pynenberg. “Over the years, I’ve had promotions and have been able to take on more and more responsibility in seeing a variety of projects and providing some training to some younger engineers.”
Pynenberg says he is glad that his day-to-day work makes a positive difference in people’s lives.
“The work is extremely rewarding. We’re in the business of keeping the lights on. On occasion, you’re reflecting on what you’re doing and you do get that sense of performing important work. It’s satisfying,” he said.
He says he knows his colleagues are also very passionate about their roles in helping to power businesses, farms, factories, hospitals, homes and more.
“The people here are great. Everybody is willing to help and work toward the common goal that we have here.”
Pynenberg says he appreciates ATC’s comprehensive benefits and the positive energy of his colleagues. He also says he’s proud to work for a company with a reputation as a top workplace.
“The company truly does care about its employees. The bottom line is that American Transmission Co. does take care of its people,” he said. “ATC is a company that you can start your career with and end your career with.”
If you are interested in working with Pynenberg and other engineers at ATC, check out our careers page to search open positions.
To celebrate being named as a Best Workplace for Giving Back and further American Transmission Co.’s commitment to the community, ATC planned a fun activity to assemble and donate 500 snack packs to support United Way.
The activity was included in ATC’s Office Olympics, a companywide event held every four years to help build teamwork and camaraderie. Other events included recycled paper basketball and rubber band archery.
Teams in the snack pack event were given paper bags to decorate with positive messages for recipients. Participants were timed and judged for quality and accuracy while assembling the packs. The snack packs made at each office were donated to local organizations supported by United Way.