Intelligent Transformer Podcast #1: Alan Ross & Jon Trout

In the first edition of the Intelligent Transformer Podcast, Alan Ross of SDMyers speaks with Jon Trout, Manager of Transmission Design at FirstEnergy, about the value of conferences for communicating legacy knowledge and wisdom to the next generation of electric power reliability practitioners.

Alan and Jon have both presented at the Comet Conference, and talk about their experiences at that event and what differentiates Comet from “ballroom” conferences.


Full transcript:

The Comet Conference is the largest peer-to-peer learning and networking event for power maintenance professionals in the world. 2019’s conference will focus on the impact of condition monitoring, AI, IIoT, machine learning and even smart cities. Alan Ross speaks to Jon Trout, manager of transmission design at FirstEnergy, about why the conference is so important, what impact it had on him professionally, and what too look forward to at next year’s event.

Alan: One of the things that really inspires me the most, and one of the things I want to make sure that we promote in transformer reliability, is the idea that we have a generation of knowledge that is passing into retirement and that generation of knowledge, we’re all worried about how do we get it to the next generation.

Well, one of the ways is we capture it and we capture it at conferences and we capture it in papers and things like that, but it’s always intrigued me about the value that you get from a conference and why people go to these conferences and speak and share. And my guest today is Jon trout who was one of the speakers, I think two years ago at a conference called the Comet Conference, it’s co-sponsored by us, SDMyers, by Qualitrol, by the University of Texas at Austin and by Austin Energy with a few other people thrown in that do a secondary kind of support. But what we’re trying to build is a condition monitoring conference and truly have it not be about showing off products and services or trying to sell things, but sharing where we are and where we’re going as it relates to condition monitoring.

When Jon spoke he both headed up a panel and he also spoke at a session and I can tell you that Jon didn’t need whatever comes, the reward that comes with going to the conference and doing it. So he did sacrifice leaving his pregnant wife at the time, so Jon welcome and thank you for joining us and how is Julie and how’s the baby?

Jon: Good morning Alan, Julie is doing well, the baby is growing like a weed, she’s about nine months old now and getting teeth, so that’s a little bit of a challenge but overall she’s doing well.

Alan: Isn’t that funny when the dad says, “yeah they’re starting to get teeth,” we think that’s really good then it’s “yeah, they’re potty-trained.” Hey, let’s get right to it, I’ve got some things I’m really trying to think of not so much what you talked about you; we’ve got your presentation on paper. But tell me a little bit about your background now, I know you’re at FirstEnergy and I know you’re managing a group but just talk a little bit about what you’re doing today.

Jon: So my background was I’ve been with FirstEnergy about nine years total, my original experience was in our equipment group which was involved with transformers and circuit breakers and other large substation equipment. But now, I’m responsible for our transmission line design group out of our Akron office, so I’ve got a group of folks here that do transmission line design. It’s a little bit of change of focus for me but it’s a great new opportunity.

Alan: You know one of the things that intrigues me the most about you is knowing that you’ve moved to that, but I also know that you and I were involved in several things that were transformer related and without going into too much detail, I do know that there are several instances where Jon’s wisdom and knowledge and experience as it relates to transformers. Because I would think you’ve probably been it more what is it, walkthroughs of transformer testing and you’ve probably purchased or helped buy or spec more transformers than most people will ever do in their lifetime at your age, but Jon was incredibly successful at helping us avoid some unplanned outages in in some industrial situations. I appreciated the wisdom that he brought and that’s what he came to the Comet Conference to share. He shared some specific cases and then he ran a panel that turned it was supposed to be an hour and a half and I think we had to shut them down in an hour and 45 minutes because everybody got involved and it was it was one of the better, I’ll tell you this Jon, it was one of the better panel sessions we ever had. But what were your thoughts about you know when you went to Comet, what did you see not just as a presenter but you were also a participant? So there are times you were sitting in the audience watching other people do what you were going to do?

Jon: One of the things I enjoyed about the conference is the interactive nature like you said Alan, sometimes when we get going it just you know runs and runs and we have hard time slowing down. But I appreciate the fact that the conference it tends to be more interactive than some of the larger conferences where you end up sitting in a giant ballroom and feel like you’re one in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of people. And I appreciate the fact that this is a conference where you can get involved, have good conversations and feel like your voice can be heard.

Alan: Yeah, thank you here’s the thing. Since I’m on the Planning Committee, also I have a vested interest in this. But we always struggle with you know who should be coming to that conference? I mean we’re not trying to make it a ballroom conference, we’re trying to maintain what you just said. So there’s a very limited audience that we want but sometimes we get the wrong people in the room and it’s a two days where they go why am I here? And in that place, we’ve got maybe a seat that’s taken and we don’t have the right person, so I think we’re actually as a planning committee saying who is it that you think would benefit from attending the Comet Conference?

Jon: Well, generally speaking, I think anyone interested in understanding opportunities and challenges around condition monitoring with benefit but there’s kind of three specific types of individuals that I think would really benefit. Anyone interested in the application of condition monitoring in the electric industry would benefit. The discussions at the conference are great and they provide insight into the types of equipment that the industry monitors and the technologies they use it also gives some examples of challenges that the industry has in implementing the technology.

But the second group would be anyone responsible for asset or equipment health management, individuals that are responsible for making sure that their equipment and their assets are reliable and being appropriately maintained with benefits. That include anyone in a risk management type role.

And the third group would be anyone interested in data and data analytics. One of the challenges with condition monitoring is that it generates large quantities of data and storing and analyzing that data and then making appropriate decisions which is very important and the interactions at the conference can help the attendees understand how others are using the data and the decisions that they’re making from that data.

Alan: That’s excellent, thank you. A question about you personally, you were a speaker and a panel moderator as a participant because I know you stayed with us the entire time and by the way, it could be my keynote speech if you want to answer that, okay. But other than that keynote speech, what did you value personally about what you walked away with?

Jon: A couple of things. One is the interaction meeting with the other individuals that attended, finding out their backgrounds and understanding what their challenges are and just interacting and seeing their experiences to understand how that are applying the monitoring technology. And also is good that it can allow me to bring back the specific examples to my organization to help us understand how similar organizations are dealing with the challenges of monitoring and dealing with the issues and the problems that come with it. So it was beneficial for me on a personal level to make connections and networking contacts but it also has some benefit to my overall organization to allow us to gain experience from other experiences.

Alan: That’s great, thank you. You didn’t say the keynote speech but I know you enjoyed it. I know you did because you laughed. I was going to ask you, you know what did you like most about being a speaker our panel moderator but I think you’ve answered that very clearly. And I can say from being a participant and the fact that we have talked to a number of the attendees and asked them what were the better parts of it and that was the first year by the way that we did panels where we put in a series of experts and then we had the expert moderate the experts so that was a hard thing to do. But by far and away, the most value that the attendees got was the panel, was that ability to see people up there and for them to ask questions and it became as you know because you moderated it, it became a free-for-all of ideas and what abouts and did you knows and there were experts in the audience that became that were able to answer questions, they became part of the panel. So and you and I have talked since then, my assumption was that that was one of the highlights of just how that thing went because I know that neither you nor I knew how that was going to go and when it went long and we got that feedback after and I’m not sure we ever shared that with you but that was one of the highlights of the Comet Conference that year.

So let me go right to a question that we’re going to end with. Next year’s conference, we have kind of thematically said, it’s condition monitoring, it’s always going to be a Comet condition monitoring conference. But we really want to focus, I’ve been at a couple of reliability events and actually spoke at one where we were talking about AI, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the industrial or Internet of things and I’ve even come up with a term called the useful Internet of things. So I mean we can’t just put stuff on there and kind of as aside smart cities because we get a lot of munis that that that need to hear what Austin Energy is one of the premier smart cities in America is doing because they always get to share with this since it’s in Austin.

But given that it’s an AI, IIOT, all of those kinds of things, what impact do you think all of that is going to have on condition monitoring and vice versa, what impact do you think condition monitoring is going to have on all these new technologies that we’re hearing about?

Jon: Well, I’ve even mentioned data and data analysis is a large part of condition monitoring. And using these new, as I say new but they’re not that new, but using these technologies like artificial intelligence or machine learning to find ways to allow the person who’s reviewing the data to zero in on the problems can be extremely important. There is so much data that it can overwhelming and finding ways to allow the user to focus in on the data that’s the most important and not getting bogged down in this vast, vast quantity of data can be extremely important. And on the reverse side, the fact that all this data is available is going to be able to feed into the technologies of artificial intelligence and machine learning because those technologies need data input to be able to refine and become more efficient. So any opportunities we have to provide data to those sorts of technologies is going to make them better for us in the future and allow us to use them more efficiently.

Alan: That’s it. I had known what you were going to say, I would have said we should make the theme Condition Monitoring and AI Machine which is of course what we did do. But that’s excellent, thank you. That’s what we’re hoping and that’s what we’re thinking. Jon, we will do this again, we’ll do it about different subjects and I wish you and the family well. But thank you for participating and I appreciate you very much for who you are and the value that you give to the industry and you’re willing to do that. Thanks Jon.

Jon: Thanks Alan, I appreciate it you having me on and we’ll talk again soon.

Alan: Okay, bye-bye.

Jon: Bye-bye.