New Tools of the Trade

NLI Foreman Marc Hull enters transformer information on his tablet for a new service transformer. PHOTO BY KRISTIN METTKE

Typically, when we think of lineworker equipment and tools, we think of heavy-duty hand tools, bucket trucks, excavators, and other large pieces of equipment. All of these are required to get the job done. There is a newer tool that is becoming more and more important in the field, and it’s a bit more delicate. This is a tablet device, and each NLI lineworker is equipped with one.

NLI has about 33,500 poles, 23,000 meters, and 2,900 miles of power lines. All of these are spread among six counties and three states. This is a large area with a lot of locations. Longtime NLI lineworkers know line locations and how to get to specific locations. But for those who do not or those working in an area, they typically do not, the tablet map system can be used to get crews right to where they need to go. This helps speed up outage response time and limits time spent navigating to remote locations. Within the mapping system, notes and information can be added to help access difficult-to-reach locations.

The tablets also help eliminate paperwork and get the information to employees at the office quicker. When a lineworker installs a new transformer for service, we need to track the transformer’s location and information about it. This can be done using a form on the tablet that can pinpoint the installed location of the transformer on the electronic map. This is helpful information for our dispatchers and engineering team, as well as for underground locates.

Inspections have recently started being tracked using tablets. This helps record the cycle of when a meter, line, or substation was inspected.

Our tree trimming crews keep track of areas they have trimmed on a map. This helps us keep a history of where we have been and when. It helps us identify the best places to send our tree crews.

The tablets are still fairly new to lineworkers at NLI, but they continue to evolve with new forms, map information, and technology. You may see a lineworker in the field with one in their hands as you drive by a crew working. Know they are still hard at work.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.