How Utility Solutions fills a gap in Infrastructure Asset Management
Founded in 1998, Utility Solutions Corporation provides a full range of technical and field inspection services to utility and government organizations. The Toronto-based company supplies its customers with infrastructure inspection, asset condition assessment and distribution design services. Brian Gilligan currently serves as the company’s President and CEO. Brian is an electrical technologist with over 25 years’ technical and business experience in both the public and private sectors of the utility industry.
Utility and government asset owners continue to face infrastructure related challenges as aging plant and equipment near or exceed their useful life threshold. To combat this, asset owners are implementing capital intensive upgrades and replacement programs at accelerated rates. In many cases organizations are looking to partner with external firms that have the expertise and experience to help drive these large asset upgrade initiatives.
Utility Solutions helps asset owners by performing plant inventories and asset condition inspections on critical plant components such as poles, lines and distribution devices. Both inventory and assessment data are crucial to the design of a comprehensive and practical asset management plan.
As a full service organization, Utility Solutions also provides design services to asset owners. Detailed designs involve undertaking extensive field work to ensure that all details concerning the placement and/or upgrade of plant meets industry codes and utility standards. Design services are provided for overhead lines, underground cabling and civil structures.
Utility Solutions Corporation
All designs are created using automated design tools and CADD. Utility Solutions often utilizes GIS (Geographic Information System) technology to model designs and builds for clients. GIS systems have several applications related to engineering, planning, management and telecommunications. Utility Solutions are expert users of both Intergraph and ESRI GIS technologies.
The full range of Utility Solutions technical and field related services include:
- Overhead distribution line design
- Underground cabling design
- Underground civil structure designs (e.g., conduits, vaults, splice boxes, etc.)
- Full field audits of distribution plant and equipment
- Wood pole inspection – sound and bore testing
- Concrete and steel pole inspection
- Vault and manhole inspection
- Street lighting inspection
- GIS mapping and system modeling
While a large percentage of Utility Solutions’ client base is electric utility organizations, Utility Solutions has expanded its expertise in recent years to include both gas and municipal customers. Whether the asset is a pole line, a gas main or a road network, quality asset management data gathered from the field is still a critical component to a comprehensive asset management refurbishment plan.
Utility Solutions has focused on the Ontario marketplace, but is also capable of providing services outside of its home base. British Columbia and India are two examples of where Utility Solutions has provided “boots on the ground” field services.
Technology and tools
Utility Solutions is focused on increasing efficiency and staying competitive through the exploration and implementation of new technologies and services. One service they offer that utilizes innovative technology is retro-reflectivity testing, which checks municipal signs to ensure that they reflect back the necessary amount of light to be visible to motorists. Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation has determined that municipalities within the Province are required to check traffic regulatory and warning signs for retro-reflectivity on an annual basis. Utility Solutions has a comprehensive inspection program that helps reduce the risk of nighttime related traffic accidents due to poor signage retro-reflectivity.
The company is currently exploring the imaging method of Ground-Penetrating Radar, or GPR, to identify underground facilities and structural details of road beds. GPR is a nondestructive geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. In this process, electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band of the radio spectrum detects reflected signals from subsurface structures.
Additionally, Utility Solutions has taken steps to increase the accuracy of the data it collects. “Years ago, we were collecting data at 3 – 5 meter accuracy levels; now, we’re collecting decimeter accuracy data which allows us to precisely pinpoint where our clients’ assets are actually located in the real world. Similarly, Utility Solutions keeps abreast of the latest developments in GIS technologies to ensure that its clients are receiving the best service possible. It’s those innovative tools that we are using to help our clients get better and better data all the time.”
The company recently carried out a street lighting system audit in the City of Hamilton. The project involved an inspection of 40,000 streetlight poles in a record three month period. In addition to identifying light standard details, the data collection project required the company to identify who owned the electrical and civil structure apparatus supplying each street light. All third-party attachments such as telecommunication or cable wires were also identified and recorded for the client. A summary report of all of the data collected was provided to the client, which allowed them to adjust billing based on audit counts and asset ownership details collected in the field.
Utility Solutions is currently involved in a project in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) area that includes the physical inspection of 21,000 wooden and concrete utility poles. Wooden poles are being inspected for decay, and concrete poles are being inspected for signs of stress such as cracks, concrete spalling and re-bar exposure. “From an asset management point of view, it’s their job to see that their infrastructure is sound and safe,” Brian said. Again, the data to be provided to the asset owner will serve as vital information in their short and longer-term asset management plans and will no doubt impact refurbishment and budget plans on a go-forward basis.
Expertise and professionalism
Brian believes that one thing that sets Utility Solutions apart from other companies in the industry is that Utility Solutions was founded by former utility managers and professionals. Brian himself has both public and private experience and has been in the business for thirty years. To Brian, one of the key elements of the company’s success is that “We really understand how the utilities and municipalities work. We know the importance of good information and how it is used.” Additionally, the company hires individuals whose expertise is guaranteed. “We bring in people that are trained in the industry and educated in power systems technology who specifically have a background to do this kind of work,” Brian said.
Utility Solutions focuses a large part of its employee training on safety. Employees frequently work in or around roadways and energized equipment, and it is imperative that they be trained in the hazards associated with their work and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment specific to their work situation. Another major area of Utility Solution Corporation’s training involves customer service. “Oftentimes, we’re out there working on behalf of the local utility or a local municipality, and it’s imperative that employees treat anyone that they come across as if they were our own customers, even though we are under contract to a utility” Brian said.
The company does a large amount of repeat business and maintains a solid reputation for both the quality of their work and their professionalism. Brian attributes this to their emphasis on follow through, saying “We adopt best-practice project management methodologies. This involves ensuring that there is a clear and shared understanding of the business need and scope of work, and that potential issues and real issues are identified and dealt with as quickly as possible. Regular communications with our customers in the form of face-to-face meetings and regular update reports is an essential part of managing large and complex projects. One of the factors that leads to repeat business is that when we do a project, we aim to make sure that our customers are satisfied with both our technical know-how and expertise and that our project management is top notch. I think that a lot of our clients appreciate and understand that.”
Utility Solutions believes it plays an important role in helping clients achieve their customer, financial and safety goals as they apply to public infrastructure. The relationship between USC and its clients is a true public- private partnership that works well. Utility Solutions looks forward to continuing its role in helping asset owners successfully manage their infrastructure challenges.