For engineers and builders to work safely near electrical power lines, the power must be shut off. How could Enedis increase the efficiency of this process and provide faster updates on status?
Enedis used IBM Garage to rapidly build an IoT solution on the IBM Cloud, using smart objects to reliably track electrical lockout processes and show power-line status on a shared map.
Boosts safetyby removing doubt about which process steps have been completed
Cuts timefor shutdown processes and reduces end-to-end downtime, accelerating repairs
Automatescommunication of power-line status via an intuitive shared map view
Business challenge story
Seeking operational efficiencies
Working around live power lines can be deadly without the appropriate precautions. To keep engineers and maintenance crews safe, sections of the electrical grid are routinely shut down if works are required, a process known as electrical lockout.
Responsible for 95 percent of the mid-tension (20,000 volt) and low-tension (230/400 volt) power lines in continental France – some 1.4 million km in total – Enedis has developed rigorous processes for locking out lines to ensure the safety of workers. This involves diverting the electrical power on either side of the planned location for the works, and earthing the isolated portion of cable for added safety.
In line with international and national best practices and regulations, each step in the lockout process is meticulously documented, and accompanied by physical tokens. Engineers attach warning tags (tagouts) to each component involved in the lockout, and use special padlocks to physically prevent reconnection of equipment before the planned maintenance is complete.
Aiming to improve speed and efficiency while boosting safety, Enedis saw an opportunity to use smart objects to manage electrical lockout.
“Our vision was to use smart objects that could automatically communicate their status to all stakeholders,” says a spokesperson for Enedis. “For example, a padlock could report its location automatically, the engineer would not need to communicate this to his manager, and the maintenance worker could also see the status. So, we asked our employees: ‘How can the Internet of Things improve your working conditions, your safety, and our overall performance?’”
Rapid development in the cloud
Enedis ran an internal hackathon competition, and a solution called eLock won, designed to record the geo-location of lockout events and share them with other stakeholders.
To make its eLock Internet of Things (IoT) project a reality, Enedis ran another hackathon with IBM Garage in Nice. The Garage approach provides a collaborative working space and a team of IBM experts to help companies quickly achieve their goals in building new business applications.
Enedis formally kicked off the eLock project in Nantes, working with IBM Garage in Nice to create the IoT front-end, the back-end, and the functional interfaces. The contribution from IBM included training in Scrum and Agile methodologies to accelerate software development.
“Within just three months, we had a minimum viable product to test in the field,” says the company spokesperson. “IBM Garage was a key factor in achieving high speed to market, as was our use of the IBM Watson IoT Platform on IBM Cloud.”
eLock works by detecting each time a warning tag or padlock is removed from an engineer’s van, communicating the time and geo-location of the event to IBM Watson IoT™ Platform as a JSON frame over HTTPS (or by SMS in low-signal areas). The engineer then attaches the smart tag or padlock to the appropriate equipment to start the lockout procedure, updating the status using an intuitive mobile app. As the engineer attaches each subsequent smart tag or padlock, eLock records its location on a digital map.
As the engineer proceeds with the lockout, they can see at a glance which stages they have already completed, and this status is also immediately visible to other stakeholders: the operational manager, the works manager, and the works crew. Different objects are represented in different ways on the map; for example, red dots mark the start and end of the lockout zone, while yellow dots indicate earthing points.
“eLock uses connected IoT objects to create a shared vigilance zone: the engineer locking out the line can see that they’ve taken the correct actions, and those carrying out the works can verify that the power has been diverted, so it’s safe to work,” says the spokesperson. “Once complete, both sides can verify that the lockout devices have been removed correctly, making it safe to put the line back under tension.”
Before the introduction of eLock, each stakeholder updated lockout activities manually and separately. Today, field operatives connect using smartphones or tablets to a Java application running on Node.js on IBM Cloud. Here, they subscribe to updates on whichever smart objects are relevant to their work. The app displays all events – for example, the addition or removal of an earthing point – on a map, and enables them to review event history. Office-based managers use the same app through their web browsers.
Single version of the truth
The shared view of status provides a single version of the truth to all stakeholders, instantly and automatically updated as each lockout scenario evolves.
“eLock makes it easier to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to shutting down parts of the electric grid for maintenance, boosting safety and efficiency,” says the spokesperson. “The time saved by avoiding manual communication between stakeholders adds up significantly over each process step, producing a noticeable improvement in the speed of maintenance and other works. This also means that we reduce potential disruption for consumers of the electrical supply.”
Using IBM Garage enabled Enedis to hit the ground running with eLock, going from an idea to a working application in a matter of a few months. “IBM Garage was a real accelerator for our project,” continues the spokesperson. “It felt like working with a highly agile and creative startup, but at the same time we had full access to the competence, quality and scale of IBM.”
IBM Cloud was another key factor in the rapid delivery of eLock, providing ready-to-run open source databases and application servers on an exceptionally stable and scalable platform. IBM Watson IoT Platform provided a pre-built service for onboarding, classifying and processing data from huge numbers of connected devices, so that Enedis could focus on building the business logic and user interfaces without needing to worry about the underlying services.
“As we continue to build new features into eLock, we are confident that IBM Cloud will make our digital transformation fast and easy,” concludes the Enedis spokesperson. “IBM Cloud gives us a huge catalog of services that we can simply plug into, including cognitive and analytics, so there are really no limits to what we can achieve.”
Enedis, formerly ERDF (Éléctricité Réseau Distribution France) manages the public electricity distribution network for 95 percent of continental France. Its 36,500 employees are responsible for the safe and reliable distribution of electricity to 36 million households and businesses, 7 million of which now use smart meters. The company maintains 1.4 million km of medium-tension and low-tension power lines both above and below ground.