BPA Transmission eliminated the copper wire stamping requirement in 2023 in a major cost savings success.

It was an easy win for BPA. It had no impact to operations, and it reduced our lead time for copper wires while giving us a cost-benefit to project delivery efforts.

 Christina Craig, supervisory contract specialist with Energy Infrastructure Delivery
A single policy change in Transmission Services reduced supply chain lead times from eight months to weeks and cut costs by more than a third. The change, removing the long-standing requirement for stamping copper cores of transmission wires with a “BPA” impression, is a major success for the Bonneville Power Administration’s quality management process led by Transmission Engineering. Since taking effect in December 2023, the change has delivered greater value to the agency’s transmission customers.

The decision to leave stamping behind came after Transmission’s Engineering Applications and Standards team, in partnership with Supply Chain and Physical Security departments, inspected the requirement through BPA’s Quality Management process. This process is a collaborative, multi-organizational effort to identify best practices.

Once a common industry practice, wire stamping existed as a theft deterrent at substations for many years. BPA’s Physical Security team used the stamps to track stolen wires being sold to metal recyclers in the region. 
Tracking these stamped copper wires required a great deal of coordination with metal recyclers across the agency’s service territory, as stolen wires are typically melted down within 36 hours into scrap metal. For tracking to be effective, BPA needed to ensure metal recyclers across the Northwest recognized the stamp and realized they had stolen wires.

Kevin West, a physical security specialist for BPA’s east region, explained that the practice of stamping was not a time-effective security option, often consuming resources for relatively underwhelming results.

“The stamp on the inner copper wire is applied about every 36 inches, so when someone brings it into a recycler who is not well-versed in that information, they wouldn’t even know that it could be our wire,” said West. 

He also shared educating local law enforcement rarely yielded the desired result. From the perspective of local and federal law enforcement, West noted, a $3,000 to $4,000 metal theft is often considered a low-priority property crime. 

“We used to spend a lot of resources educating local law enforcement and metal recyclers to identify our wires,” said West. “But recyclers are often not interested in coordinating unless we have a warrant, or if they are open to allowing us to conduct a search, which typically means the wires are already melted down.”

Over time, BPA Physical Security began to focus their efforts on more advanced measures and industry standards. With more modern, preventative security measures such as security cameras and hardened fences now installed at substations, there is essentially no longer a consistent need to track stamped wires for security purposes.

“Unless a criminal act rose to such a significant damage level for the Inspecter General to take notice, partner with us and expend their resources, our focus has not been on actively tracking down metal theft since about 2008,” said West. “That was the time we shifted our focus on compliance and bigger fish.”

West was contacted initially by Michael Hull, the manager of Engineering Applications and Standards at the time. Hull had already begun working with Supply Chain’s Energy Infrastructure Delivery team to identify practices that BPA could alter or eliminate to run more efficiently and cost-effectively. That’s when the stamping requirement came under reconsideration.

“It’s just another custom thing,” said Hull. “In the past, we had to order the wire; then it had to be made custom for us because it had BPA stamped on it. Now we can just have suppliers pull from their stock whatever size cable we need.” 

Hull also explained that another factor leading to the reconsideration and eventual elimination of stamping was cost. 

“The call to action really came from Transmission leadership to Supply Chain to ask us to identify things that were unique to BPA – to look for opportunities to streamline, to get materials faster and at a better price,” said Christina Craig, supervisory contract specialist with Energy Infrastructure Delivery. According to Craig, lead times for materials increased significantly during the pandemic.

“We watched delivery times go from around 45 days to eight months or longer,” said Craig. “That was a significant issue, especially for how much we use that cable.”

Since the requirement was removed last year, Craig and her team in Supply Chain not only saw a significant decrease in lead times, but cost as well, with the average price-per-foot for copper wire dropping nearly 38% just by removing stamping and custom reeling costs.

“It was an easy win for BPA,” Craig said. “It had no impact to operations, and it reduced our lead time for copper wires while giving us a cost-benefit to project delivery efforts.”

Removing the stamping requirement was a victory for Transmission Engineering Policy and Governance, as well, showing the effectiveness of BPA’s quality management process. 

“A few years back, I concluded that the only way we were going to move toward more industry standard products and practices is if we have a concentrated effort with dedicated people,” said Mike Miller, vice president of Engineering and Technical Services, of the creation of the group and process that led to this quality management decision. “This is what drove the creation of the Applications and Standards group within Policy and Governance. Since that time, we have seen amazing ideas like this one come out of this group of dedicated experts.”

Miller added, “This decision also aligns with the cost management objective laid out in BPA’s updated strategic plan. Anytime we can implement something that saves time and money, it is a win-win for BPA and its customers.”

Maintain cost management and execute capital plans is objective 1 under the “Sustain Financial Strength” section of the 2024-2028 Strategic Plan. This decision not only saves money, but should hasten execution of capital projects, which is another BPA goal. 

According to Andy Mitchell, project manager and business analyst for Transmission Engineering Applications and Standards, the multidisciplinary effort to identify the value in removing copper wire stamping proved the effectiveness of BPA’s quality management process.

 “What is just as important, if not more so, is the system and process that Transmission Engineering established so that something like this can actually occur,” said Mitchell. “The mission of the new group is to create a collaborative space for engineering to look at opportunities for fixing issues that are a little bit broader than what any one organization can do.”

Harold Grappe, supervisor for Policy and Governance, also emphasized the cooperative nature of the Quality Management program.

“We want to shine a light on the group and what they are trying to do, which is find inefficiencies and fix them,” said Grappe. “Being able to have that opportunity to collaborate across BPA is very much the crux of the Quality Management program.”

As a result of this collaborative space wherein members of transmission teams can freely voice ideas, the elimination of the stamping requirement became a comprehensive effort across Supply Chain, Physical Security and Transmission. 

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