T&D World Magazine
James Smith: ‘Been There, Done That’

James Smith: ‘Been There, Done That’

James Smith started working with power equipment in 1962 at a transformer manufacturer where his father worked. He worked on holidays, the summer after high school, and during college. He also worked nights for a Potter Brumfield plant making components for relays.

So when Smith says to his students, “Been there, done that,” he’s not kidding. Smith, who is senior training specialist at AVO Training Institute, has worked with a utility or as a contractor since he got out of the Air Force.

He started out as a relayman at Mississippi Power & Light in 1971, went on to join Cajun Electric Power Co-Op as senior relay technician in 1981, and then worked as field service technician at Dashiell Corp. in 1989. He was a NETA-certified test technician, field service engineer and supervisor at the Utility Service Corp. in 1992 and most recently came to AVO in 1999.

“Past experiences allow me to be able to explain the function and maintenance required of the numerous types of equipment to relatively inexperienced people,” Smith said. “Basically, I can in a lot of cases say I’ve done that, and I can help a person walk through many of the problems they might encounter.”

At AVO Training Institute headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Smith teaches all of the courses that involve transformers, circuit breakers, protective relays, batteries, grounding--almost anything that involves substations and power systems.

He will also be teaching the Transformer Testing and Maintenance course for PEARL (Professional Electrical Apparatus Recyclers League) at its two-day Electrical Safety and Reliability Conference & Exhibition from April 24-26 in Denver, Colorado. Smith will instruct attendees on the proper DC and AC testing of power transformers, as well as oil testing, gas testing, and final assembly electrical tests. Hands-on tests include but are not limited to power factor, insulation, and winding tests during the DC/AC testing segment; liquid sampling, dielectric and interfacial tension tests during the transformer oil testing segment; and gas detection, oxygen testing, and gas analysis during the Gas Testing segment of the two-day seminar. Maintenance and testing are emphasized although transformer types and nameplate data are also covered.

“This course will benefit all personnel involved with the testing and maintenance of power transformers,” said Malcom Frederick, president of Coastal Switchgear (Angleton, Texas) and PEARL Technical Committee chairman in charge of the two-day seminar. “Smith will discuss the various tests and then allow participants to practice the tests in a lab environment under careful supervision. This course is best suited for people working with transformers rated 500 kV or less.”

Smith said that it is crucial that students be properly trained, so they can properly maintain the equipment to keep the power system working. “In the next several years, much of the experienced technicians in the industry are retiring,” he said. “If the people that will be replacing those retirees are not properly trained, the system will quickly become in bad shape by not having enough properly trained personnel to keep it functioning.”

Smith teaches students in his classes the same way that he trained his apprentices while working in the industry. If one explanation doesn’t work, he will try a different direction. He keeps going until students fully understand the concepts.

“I never teach the same class the same way because each class is filled with different people with different backgrounds and experiences. What will work for one person or group, may not work as well for the next,” Smith said. “You have to rely on your own experience to determine which direction is needed.”

Smith enjoys instructing because he knows that if he teaches a person the correct way to perform the required maintenance, the student can do his job safely and productively. He tells his classes that he fully expects that they go home every night with the same number of parts and in the same working order as when they left home that morning.

“I get a great feeling when I am explaining how and why something works and I see that they understand what I am teaching. It is also great that when I explain how something has failed and I can see that my explanation answers a question that has had someone confused,” Smith said.

Smith enjoys spending time with his grandchild, but doesn’t get to do that as much as he’d like because she lives too far away. He also reads all kinds of books, plays “at” golf, and rebuilds bicycles for a local mission associated with his church.

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