No duct tape required: Worldwide Engineering and Construction team comes up with innovative solution

As one of the many teams working on the recovery in South Coal Gasification, the WWE&C Process Engineering effort Beth Alderson was leading needed an outside-the-box solution to a challenge: They needed to ensure that inspections of installing trays in distillation columns were 100 percent reliable.

The inspections must be completed by engineers who never set foot inside the column, because inspection inside these confined spaces is not always feasible due to space constraints. Recording the installation of distillation column trays and inspecting via video review is the solution.

“At one point,” said Alderson, an engineer with Worldwide Engineering & Construction, “I thought we might be duct-taping a camera to a hardhat.”

Alderson got to save the duct tape for other uses. And cameras, while handy for recording your mountaineering trips or snowboarding stunts, are not ideal for recording column inspections. Alderson turned to WWE&C’s mobility team for something better, but they needed it fast.

“Typically, this is a job where you might default to a camera, but the resolution isn’t what you need for an inspection and mounting the camera to a hardhat is challenging,” said Bryan Shackelford, an innovation specialist with the mobility team. “We had to move fast, but we wanted to come up with innovative technology that had potential for future uses.”

The technology is RealWear: a computer tablet with an eye-level camera that mounts easily to a hardhat. A small window on RealWear enables the wearer to see what is essentially a computer screen that displays a wide spectrum of information and available tasks. Being voice-activated, the user can issue commands to record, make phone calls, arrange and join video teleconferences, read pre-loaded documents, and zoom in on objects so viewers can get a close-up view of anything, in real time or through a recording. Follow-up inspectors can be sure that a bolt got turned properly; they can be sure that damage to a column wall was properly repaired; that manways were indeed closed.

“There’s just not room for more than one person in most of these columns, but if you can record an inspection with the right equipment, it’s almost as good as being there,” Shackelford said. “Being hands-free enables you to safely do any work that needs to be done, and since the camera is eye-level, you’re getting the same perspective as the inspector.”

“This is essentially a tablet mounted to a hardhat,” Kristin England, leader of the WWE&C mobility team. “This is something Eastman has never had before, and there will definitely be future uses. There’s no doubt that it will enable more global communication and collaboration, because someone could be inspecting an issue at one site and collaborate in real time with a colleague who’s sitting in an office on the other side of the world.”

Shackelford and England pointed out that, as has been the case with numerous projects associated with the recovery effort, cross-functional collaboration and embracing Eastman’s behaviors made all the difference.

Everyone on the team showed a bias for action to deliver a quick solution, and Shackelford said the work by Rick Dye in Procurement and Lee Reynolds in Information Technology cinched the deal. Reynolds paved the way for quick device connection to the Eastman network; otherwise the device would have been, as Shackelford pointed out, “essentially a high-tech brick.”

“The Eastman network security team came through to get these things ordered and to get them on the network because we needed to deliver a quick solution,” he added Alderson said that future use for RealWear has already been identified at Eastman.

“The project has been a tremendous success,” Alderson said. “This technology is a solution for distillation column inspections, and we anticipate using these cameras throughout the Kingsport site.”

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