Insulation Critical for Power Facilities

Maria T. O’Brien

July 1, 2004

For Mike McCallin of American Electric Power (AEP) in Columbus, Ohio, the most crucial benefits of insulation are energy savings and improved equipment-operating efficiency, protection from burns and hazards, increased comfort for workers due to lower ambient temperatures, and reduced noise levels.

A good insulation system, when properly installed, delivers all of these important returns, and it is McCallin’s responsibility to ensure this success at AEP plants and facilities. In his capacity as principal coordinator in contract administration, McCallin administers blanket contracts for insulation and asbestos abatement services, refractory work and valve leak repair, among others. He prepares and maintains asbestos abatement specifications and insulation application specifications used at AEP’s fossil fuel-fired power plants. He also prepares bid specifications for major projects both mechanical and insulation-related.

McCallin, who earned his bachelor of technology degree in mechanical technology from the University of Akron, is licensed in three states as a project designer for asbestos-related projects. He has taken classes in the field to earn and maintain his licenses.

When choosing contractors for an insulation job, McCallin and his team look at many criteria to make sure a contractor is a good fit. Besides reviewing the company’s experience, licensing, references and safety data, among other considerations, McCallin also ensures that the contractor is able to perform asbestos abatement and reapplication, as most AEP facilities have asbestos insulation present.

"Contractors must have a history and demonstrated experience working in the power industry due to its unique requirements," said McCallin. Once contractors have completed smaller contracts successfully, they are approved for larger projects.

McCallin orders insulation materials directly from manufacturers to ensure that he gets the product he wants. On one occasion, when a contractor supplied the insulation, the incorrect fiberglass material was used–a low-temperature insulation was installed on a high-temperature unit. It was not long before the insulation started melting and actually caught on fire.

Avoiding scenarios like this is one of the reasons McCallin, who works with his company’s supply chain department to maintain blanket orders for insulation, prefers to order his insulation supply personally and then hire contractors for the installation.

McCallin constantly monitors what works and what does not in the area of insulation.

"Our end-users bring to our attention those products or applications that have not held up or are not performing as claimed. For example, we had a problem with a fabric that was being used in making removable/replaceable insulation blankets. That product is no longer in use. Our insulation contractors have been very helpful in this respect–if a product is difficult to install or too fragile, they will bring it to our attention." The end-users’ experiences (both good and bad) with insulation systems play a large part in determining what will be used in future projects, ensuring that the best systems possible are put in place from the start.

One of McCallin’s more challenging projects at AEP has been designing the insulation systems used on the company’s selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs). A Clean Air Act requirement, these are expensive projects that have very large ducts and catalytic reactors. The reactors and reactor cap alone can be 50 by 55 feet by 80 feet tall, with three of these side by side. This doesn’t include the ductwork going to and from the reactors, which are also quite large and complex in shape.

"The SCRs run at high temperatures [650 F and higher], and addressing the thermal-expansion issue for the insulation system was a challenge, compounded by the unit’s sheer size," said McCallin. Other energy companies had encountered problems with lagging buckling due to thermal expansion and the structural beams of the SCRs bowing due to improper insulation. By studying what had worked and what didn’t, AEP has been able to avoid these problems thus far.

McCallin believes that, in order to help improve the industry, insulation installers need to be proactive in driving the manufacturers and fabricators to provide products that are more durable and easier to install.

"In the building industry, the entire focus of material suppliers is to provide products that are less labor-intensive to install, more attractive in appearance and provide increased durability; as well as address health, safety and environmental concerns. The makers of insulation materials need to have the same focus," he said.

Among his peers and colleagues, said McCallin, the benefits of good insulation systems don’t yet receive the attention that other systems get.

"We are working to increase awareness of how much an improperly installed insulation system costs in the long run from multiple standpoints, including heat loss, early system failure, corrosion of the system below due to water entry, etc.," said McCallin.

For him, the importance of good insulation systems is self-evident and has been proved time and again at his company’s facilities and power plants.

Star Spotlight

Name: Michael J. McCallin

Company: American Electric Power, Columbus, Ohio

Title: Principal Coordinator, Contract Administration

Responsibilities: Administering blanket contracts for insulation and asbestos abatement services.

Why He Endorses Insulation: For its benefits–energy savings and improved equipment-operating efficiency, protection from burns and hazards, increased comfort for workers due to lower ambient temperatures, and reduced noise levels.

Nominated as Insulation Star By: Dave Andrew, Irex Corp.