Archive | Electrical Test


1:38 pm
August 14, 2017
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Highly Charged Reliability

Bill Myers performs preventive and predictive maintenance at the West Chester, OH, AstraZeneca facility.

Bill Myers performs preventive and predictive maintenance at the West Chester, OH, AstraZeneca facility.

Bill Myers spearheads an Electrical Maintenance Program that helps AstraZeneca’s West Chester, OH, facility become safe and reliable.

Bill Myers learned the hard way that sometimes we are taught more by our mistakes than our successes. In the end, he was able to learn from both.

“Ten years ago, a small mistake was made with an electrical connection, and it turned into a big issue,” said Myers, AstraZeneca’s senior engineering technician at the West Chester, OH, facility. “In this line of work, mistakes are dangerous. You must learn from them, and quickly.”

The biggest mistake, he said, was not having a program in place to prevent small mistakes from becoming big ones. So he did something about it.

Myers found inspiration from a Winston Churchill quote, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” He began creating and implementing an Electrical Maintenance Program that includes data collection and visual and infrared inspection. “This program has been instrumental in identifying electrical issues that would have impacted the facility,” Myers said. “Early detection provides the time needed to make repairs before a breakdown.”

For the past decade, Myers has been responsible for maintaining the facilities/utilities equipment that serves the two-building, 550,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing campus. The main product at this location is used to treat patients with Type 2 Diabetes. There are more than 2,000 assets in the sterile manufacturing facility. “Within the different elements, there are many, many details that must be considered to make a safe electrical program,” Myers said.

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 8.31.37 AMExperience

Myers’ electrical career began in 1998 when he worked as an apprentice installing wall receptacles at a local elementary-school project. Throughout the past two decades, his career has evolved into developing critical strategies that help identify issues with technical equipment and planning the downtime needed for repair. Along with a team of five technicians, he uses technologies such as infrared thermography, precision alignment, ultrasound, and vibration analysis.

Special programs

Myers refers to the incident that occurred 10 years ago as the inspiration for building the Electrical Maintenance Program. “It was a bad connection, but we realized we could have found it and prevented it if we only had a program in place.”

Developing the program took a few years from start to finish and was fully in place by 2013. “It has evolved and now we use it very effectively,” he said. “We now dictate to the machine instead of the machine dictating to us.”

This program consists of making regular voltage, amperage, and resistance measurements and then entering the data into the CMMS. The Electrical Maintenance Program includes visual inspections and thermal imaging. The program was applied to all critical electrical-distribution systems, as well as critical equipment used to support manufacturing. Many issues have been discovered and resolved solely because of this program, he stated.

Around the same time, the Facilities Engineering team worked together to set up a vibration-analysis program. The program has also created significant improvements in the department’s ability to provide uninterrupted utilities to manufacturing, identifying motor issues, and making repairs before a catastrophic failure happens. It also helps identify equipment that may need precision alignment to improve efficiency and increase reliability.

Electrical readings are taken for panels and motors, including high-voltage readings. “One thing we look for is voltage unbalance,” Myers said. “The industry standard is 3% unbalance. This is significant enough to cause additional heat and reduce the life of a motor. We track these readings. If unbalance is found, further investigation is performed to determine the root cause.”

Myers’ involvement in electrical reliability doesn’t end there. He also works with the company’s Electrical Steering Committee. The goal of the committee is to ensure that procedures are in place to maintain electrical safety, such as ensuring an arc-flash analysis is completed and posted at the equipment, reviewing energized electrical work permits, and drafting or revising any electrical-related SOPs.

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 8.31.49 AM“Several years ago it was evident that there was a need to better manage electrical safety,” Myers said. “At AstraZeneca, we regularly evaluate electrical safety and constantly make an effort to update how we manage it. So the current Safety Health and Environment (SHE) director created the team and asked me to be a member. Shortly after that, I took on a very large task, to build a custom electrical test board and design a test that all technicians that work on electric equipment in their departments would have to take.”

This test was designed to comply with NFPA 70E regulations and determine if an employee is electrically qualified. As a result, the site has had no electrical injuries.

Myers also serves on the Electrical Improvements Team, which was formed to reduce any impact on manufacturing caused by the electrical system. An example of one effort was a project to ensure the panel schedules match the field tags, and that when the breaker is turned off it actually goes to the appropriate equipment.

“You would be surprised how many discrepancies are found during this process,” he said. “The team also looks to increase its robustness and reliability by ensuring electrical feeds come from different switchgears when it makes sense. A couple of examples would be that we have many environmental chambers that house product and samples of product. They are very critical to the site. Some of the critical units have two feeds—a primary and a secondary. It was discovered that both feeds came from the same panel. This was identified as an issue because electrical maintenance is performed on switchgears every three to five years. When the switchgear would have been de-energized for maintenance, power to the chambers would have been lost, potentially putting all that product at risk.”

To resolve the issue, a plan was engineered to change the secondary feed to a panel from a different switchgear. This solved the problem and has provided redundancy for the system. The team has experienced issues where redundant feeds were not an option to the equipment. “We found this on our freezer that houses very critical contents,” he explained. “To resolve this issue, I came up with a plan to install an ATS (automatic transfer switch). This switch uses the original feed as the primary feed. A secondary feed was provided from a different panel that was also from a different switchgear. This has given the site confidence in the electrical system.”

Best practices and challenges

Myers said his overall maintenance/reliability philosophy is to strive to be proactive and predictive. He uses the “Five Whys” technique to determine failure, data collection, CMMS use, and when to use predictive-maintenance technologies. “It’s important to just continue to ask as many ‘Whys” as possible until you get to the root of the problem,” he said.

Myers is part of a team that includes five technicians, each with specific skills—electrical, mechanical, HVAC, boiler operation, and the lead technician. “Most issues require some combination of people and their skills to quickly solve the issue the first time,” he stated.

Personal inspiration

The 42-yr.-old Myers finds inspiration from his wife of 16 years and two children (ages 13 and 9). He entered the electrical field after serving in the Marine Corps. “A high-school friend was working as an electrician at a local union, and I was very interested in the electrical field and in learning more about how electricity works,” he said. “After an apprenticeship, I was inspired to learn more about reliability when I saw several electrical issues causing unnecessary downtime.”

Now, with 19 years of experience, he clearly sees how a focus on reliability can truly make a difference.

“I like the fact that I can work with many different systems and equipment at our facility,” he said. “Each has its own unique characteristics. This helps keep the work new and interesting.” MT

Bill’s  Top 5 Tips for Effective Reliability

• Collect data.
• Lubricate properly.
• Keep your equipment clean.
• Train employees.
• Make a commitment to your programs, and stick with it.

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in creating content for the industrial processing industries. If you know of a maintenance and/or reliability expert who is making a difference at their facility, please email her at


9:54 pm
June 22, 2017
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Flexible Clamp Meter

1704mtprod09pThe MA3110 True RMS AC flex clamp meter provides a measurement range to 3,000-A AC. The meter reportedly makes it easier to access difficult-to-reach areas and around large or rigid conductors such as bus bars. With an 8-mm cable diameter, the meter allows a user to access wires in compact conduit outlet bodies or cabinets crammed with wires with minimal disruption to the installations. The meter has a 6,000 count display and powers down after 15 min. of inactivity.
Extech Instruments
Nashua, NH


6:14 pm
May 10, 2017
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Don’t Neglect Electrical Equipment Maintenance

Human error and improper maintenance, akin to operating a car and not checking the oil, can lead to catastrophic results to equipment and personnel involved.

Human error and improper maintenance, akin to operating a car and not checking the oil, can lead to catastrophic results to equipment and personnel involved.

Electrical equipment that is not properly maintained is notNFPA 70E compliant and, therefore, dangerous to personnel and business operations.

By James Godfrey, CESCP, Craft Electric & Maintenance

Since the release of the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” there seems to be a tremendous push by companies to achieve compliance, and rightfully so. As noted in this standard, more than 2,000 people each year are admitted to burn centers with severe arc-flash burns.

NFPA 70E states that an arc-flash risk assessment shall be performed and shall determine if an arc-flash hazard exists. Arc flash is the result of an arcing fault that bridges the air gap between conductors such as phase to phase, phase to neutral, or phase to ground. In an article published in Safety and Health Magazine (August 2009) the most common cause of arc-flash accidents is human error. However, such things as the accumulation of conductive dust inside an enclosure and equipment failure, most likely the result of inadequate maintenance, can also cause these arc-flash events. In short, if electrical-equipment maintenance is neglected, something is going to blow. When that happens, it can be catastrophic.

OSHA CFR 1910.303(b)(1) states that electrical equipment shall be free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Simply put, condition of maintenance must be considered. NFPA 70E states that electrical equipment shall be maintained in accordance with manufacturer instructions or industry-consensus standards to reduce the risk associated with failure.

The term “industry-consensus standards,” typically refers to a standard that has been accepted as recommended practice such as NFPA 70B, “Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance.” This standard addresses such things as development and implementation of an electrical preventive-maintenance (EPM) program, recommended intervals for maintenance, testing and test methods, reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), and acceptance testing.

When having an arc-flash risk assessment performed and not addressing the maintenance component of an electrical safety program, some assumptions must be made. These include, but are not limited to, equipment that is operating properly, equipment that has been properly maintained, and condition of maintenance, as well as opening times of over-current protective devices.

If an arc-flash risk assessment has been performed, then the amount of incident energy must be observed before removing equipment covers.

If an arc-flash risk assessment has been performed, then the amount of incident energy must be observed before removing equipment covers.

NFPA 70E states that over-current protective devices that have not been properly maintained can cause increased opening times, thus increasing the incident energy in the event of a fault in the electrical-distribution system. This creates a major safety concern for personnel and their interaction with energized electrical equipment, as well as lost revenue due to equipment failure. As a result, careful consideration must be given to the development and implementation of an effective electrical-safety program to maximize benefit and minimize cost. The arc-flash risk assessment can be a costly endeavor and the results obtained can be misleading or inaccurate because of improper or inadequate maintenance.

Surprisingly, a high percentage of facilities are not OSHA and NFPA compliant and have little knowledge of what it takes to be compliant in the area of electrical safety. Furthermore, some are doing very little in terms of electrical-equipment maintenance and are satisfied with having infrared scans done on the electrical panels because it has been recommended by their insurance company. Infrared thermography is very effective at identifying heat-related issues, but does not satisfy the requirement to maintain electrical equipment in accordance with manufacturer instructions or industry-consensus standards.

Infrared technology generally requires a direct line of sight to the target area, which raises another safety concern. Pursuant to the NFPA 70E requirements, the level of risk must be assessed before removing equipment covers and exposing energized conductors and circuit parts. To properly assess the risk, such things as available fault current and opening times of over-current protective devices must be considered.

Available fault current is the amount of current that may be present at any point in the electrical system as a result of a short or fault condition. If a fault were to occur in the electrical system as a result of equipment failure or human error, the equipment affected may not be rated to handle the fault current and this could be catastrophic. If an arc-flash risk assessment has been performed, then the amount of incident energy (typically expressed in calories/cm2) must be observed and personal-protective equipment selected and put on before removing equipment covers.

At this point, a decision must be made, based on personnel risk, to open or not open equipment and expose energized conductors and circuit parts. If it is determined that removing equipment covers could expose personnel to an unacceptable risk, the equipment should be de-energized before performing any type of preventive maintenance. An infrared scan would be ineffective in this case.

When doing any work on electrical systems, proper personal-protection equipment is essential.

When doing any work on electrical systems, proper personal-protection equipment is essential.

Maintenance considerations

An effective preventive- and proactive-maintenance program should take into consideration safety, the age of the equipment, operating environment, and the criticality of the asset. If infrared scanning is the only form of preventive-maintenance approach that’s been employed, equipment reliability and safety have been compromised. That type of situation should be of great concern to plant managers, maintenance managers, technicians, and other employees.

As outlined in NFPA 70B, several available maintenance and testing options are specific to the targeted equipment. Take, for example, low-voltage service-entrance equipment, often referred to as switchgear. Some of the maintenance recommendations outlined in NFPA 70B include energized/de-energized inspection and de-energized cleaning. While the equipment is in a de-energized state, all bolted connections and cable terminations should be torqued, in accordance with manufacturer specifications.

During de-energized maintenance, molded-case/insulated case circuit breakers should be exercised manually to keep the contacts clean and help the lubrication perform properly. This simple maintenance procedure is often overlooked, and breaker failure is a common result. In addition, breaker testing (primary and secondary injection) and protective relay testing are also recommended. These and other factors must be considered when determining what compliance means and developing an electrical-safety program that satisfies the OSHA and NFPA requirements.

We’ve heard that, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This phrase should have significant meaning when management is struggling with how to comply with the latest regulations imposed by OSHA as it relates to safety in the workplace.

Among the several elements that make up an effective electrical-safety program, electrical-equipment maintenance is one that cannot be ignored. When the decision is made to have an arc-flash risk assessment performed, consider the condition of maintenance of the electrical equipment and the affect it will have on the results of the risk assessment. This will ensure that employees stay safe and assure management that money appropriated is well utilized. The result of a well-administered electrical-safety program will reduce life-safety risk, cut business interruptions, and extend the life of electrical equipment. MT

Jay Godfrey, CESCP, has more than 25 years of experience in the electrical-contracting industry and is a licensed electrical contractor in Georgia. Godfrey is OSHA trained, NFPA certified and, for the past eight years, has been working as a preventive-maintenance and electrical-safety consultant with Craft Electric & Maintenance, Atlanta.


3:54 pm
April 13, 2017
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Add Electrical Motor Testing to Your PdM Toolkit

This predictive approach offers reliability benefits that time-based maintenance can’t.

Left. A 700-hp, high-voltage stator is being tested after undergoing rewind and the vacuum-pressure-impregnation process.

Left. A 700-hp, high-voltage stator is being tested after undergoing rewind and the vacuum-pressure-impregnation process.

Numerous studies have tried to establish guidelines for creating plant reliability and efficiency. Depending on which research is cited, the bottom line is that between 65% and 75% of all motor failures are mechanical in nature. For that reason, vibration analysis, a cornerstone of any predictive-maintenance (PdM) program, would appear to provide the “biggest bang for the buck” in pinpointing possible problems. Still, while an aggressive vibration-analysis program may accurately predict most mechanical issues, it can’t diagnose the 25% to 35% of motor failures that are due to electrical weaknesses and faults. That’s why electrical testing is so important.

To put it simply, the insulation system within a motor is the unit’s “heart”—and nothing but a series of electrical tests can fully evaluate the health and integrity of that heart. Comprehensive evaluation involves the use of static-testing and dynamic- monitoring technologies. To understand the benefits, it’s important to know why and how motors degrade.

Motor degradation

Various factors, including the initial quality of a motor’s insulation, affect the pace at which it degrades. Since heat is the main enemy of all insulation materials, maintaining a cool, dry environment will increase motor life.

Many things contribute to excessive heat. Typically, the situation is acerbated by a combination of issues that individually wouldn’t create a problem. High ambient temperature, numerous restarts, starting under heavy loads, slight misalignment, some unbalance with the supply voltage, and contamination, all contribute to the heat a motor experiences.

Another issue affecting the life of a motor’s insulation system is starting and stopping. In fact, most plant-floor personnel have, at some point in their careers, heard the old saying that “if you don’t want your motor to fail, don’t start it, and if it’s running, don’t stop it.”

Startup and, to some extent, shutdown of a motor, are generally the most stressful times in the unit’s life. Contactor and breaker “bounce” at startup can generate voltage spiking four or five times greater than the operating voltage. The initial in-rush of AC voltage, pushed by as much as eight or 10 times the nameplate current, “attacks” the insulation and greatly affects the early turns. This startup current causes the motor’s windings to flex or breathe and allows the copper magnet wire to rub and abrade. Because there are only about 1 1/2 mils of insulation baked on the magnet wire, over time it will deteriorate, resulting in arcing during starting and stopping. The appearance of arc is a sign that the insulation is basically at the end of its life. The wearing away of that thin insulation film, in turn, is the beginning of the end for many motors.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 10.37.56 AMOnce arcing has begun, it occurs during every startup, and often during shutdown. It may continue for weeks or even months before it creates a failure. Eventually, though, it will create a carbon path and short out a portion of the windings. These shorted turns will then act as the secondary side of a transformer with voltage and current being induced by the rest of the circuit.

Keep in mind that the ratio of good turns to shorted turns will dictate how severe and how quickly a failure will occur. When shorted turns occur, however, a motor will fail within minutes. Thus, it’s imperative to find weak turn insulation before it becomes a hard-welded fault. If not detected in time, a few weak turns will carry an exponential amount of current that is induced by the transformer effect and quickly burns through the slot-cell liner to ground in the laminations. The result is often a damaged core with a large hole that will always make the rewound motor less efficient and run hotter.

Finding the weak turn insulation and taking the motor out of service before a short occurs provides two valuable benefits:

• Plant-floor personnel are in control of the motor. They decide when a unit is to be removed from service, which minimizes or eliminates unscheduled downtime, emergency repairs, and lost production.

• Since the motor in question still has a good core, a reputable repair shop can rewind it using better materials and parts and tighter balance specifications than when it was first installed.

In practical terms, the site gets a “new” motor back from the shop (not a patched-up one).

The predictive route

A strong PdM strategy can allow personnel to make realistic predictions regarding the useful life expectancy of their motors. The unfortunate fact is that a motor begins (and continues) to weaken and deteriorate from the moment of its very first startup. If it operates in high ambient temperatures, with some misalignment and voltage imbalance, and experiences numerous starts under a heavy load, its life will be short. Given these conditions, a motor that should last, say 20 years, will probably fail in two or three. While correcting some of those issues could prolong the life of the unit, keeping tabs on the health of its insulation could provide greater payback.

Preventive maintenance (PM) efforts are clearly important when it comes to a plant’s motor fleet. For example, in facilities where contamination is an issue, PM routines to reduce its effect on motor life are a must. Whenever possible, however, a PdM strategy that leverages as many proven predictive tools as possible should replace preventive activities. After all, to develop a complete picture of a patient’s health, a physician will typically perform a battery of tests. Your site’s motors deserve similar treatment.

Fortunately, state-of-the-art equipment and methodologies are available to identify early issues before they lead to catastrophic failure(s). Routine testing and trending will detect weaknesses long before they can propagate into an insulation failure. To design this type of PdM program, site personnel need to identify the motors that are most critical to the operation and, in turn, those that are the most problematic. This information will indicate which tests need to be performed and how often.

Many independent testing organizations have detailed specific test parameters, proven to provide sufficient data for the technician to evaluate the immediate health of the insulation. To ensure the capture of accurate data, it’s important that those guidelines be strictly followed. For more information on testing parameters and requirements, refer to IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers,, IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission,, EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute,, and EASA (Electrical Apparatus Service Association,

Low-voltage testing, comprised of capacitance, inductance, and resistance tests, provides some useful information, but will not provide early warnings regarding turn insulation. A complete set of tests that will provide the predictive information you need include:

Winding-resistance test: This test will verify that all three phases are similar and all internal connections are tight. It uses a Kelvin bridge and injects about 12 VDC at approximately 7 A into the windings. One poor connection will lead to unbalanced current and uneven heating.

Megohm test: After passing the winding-resistance test, a megohm test is run to measure insulation resistance. The test uses a low-current DC voltage that depends on the nameplate voltage of the motor. A polarization index test (PI), which is an extended megohm test, may provide important information about the insulation if it is old, cracked, or brittle.

High-potential test: If the winding-resistance and megohm tests are acceptable, a high-potential (HiPot), or step-voltage, test may be performed. This test uses increased voltage to create electrical stresses on internal insulation cracks. This can reveal aging or physically damaged insulation. The HiPot test is usually conducted at an elevated level that is at least twice the line voltage plus 1,000 V. EASA and other testing organizations recommend even higher test-voltage levels. The HiPot test may not be appropriate for in-service motors that display low megohms during the megohm test.

Surge test: Once the above tests are satisfactorily completed, a surge test is performed. Since more than 80% of all winding failures begin as a turn-to-turn weakness that can only be detected by a surge test, it is the most important static-testing method. Surge testing applies pulses through a large capacitor at ever-increasing voltage levels and monitors the reaction as the voltage is discharged into a motor’s windings. The purpose is to re-create the spiking that occurs at startup. Doing so requires the capacitor to “fire off” each pulse at a very fast rise time. The intention is to locate weak turn insulation before it has a chance to become a hard-welded fault that leads to a quick failure.

Value proposition

Adding electrical testing of motors to your site’s PdM toolkit puts personnel in the reliability driver’s seat with regard to these units. The value proposition is clear: Routine testing and trending provides sufficient data to make a diagnosis regarding the ability of a motor to remain in operation or to determine if it needs attention. Being in control, i.e., being able to specify when a motor is pulled from service and sent out for repairs, is the essence of predictive maintenance—and an enormous benefit. MT

Information in this article was supplied by Timothy M. Thomas, senior electrical engineer, Hibbs Electromechanical Inc., Madisonville, KY ( Email him at


9:20 pm
January 13, 2017
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Choose to Fuse (And Why)

Designed as sacrificial devices in electrical systems, fuses protect costlier components in those systems from the damaging effects of overcurrent. They can also make control systems UL- and NEC-compliant.

Designed as sacrificial devices in electrical systems, fuses protect costlier components in those systems from the damaging effects of overcurrent. They can also make control systems UL- and NEC-compliant.

Fuses are sacrificial devices that help protect costlier components in an electrical system from the damaging effects of overcurrent. (They can also help make control systems UL- and NEC-compliant.) To be sure, there are many other solutions for protecting electrical gear from overcurrent, including circuit breakers and protective relays. Information from Cumming, GA-based AutomationDirect (, though, lists 10 reasons why end users also should consider fusing.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Overcurrent protective devices that have tripped are often reset without first investigating the cause of the fault. Electromechanical devices may not have the reserve capacity to open safely when a second or third fault occurs. When a fuse opens, it’s replaced with a new fuse, meaning the protection level is not degraded by previous faults.

Fuses typically are the most cost-effective means of providing overcurrent protection. This is especially true where high fault currents exist or where small components, such as control transformers or DC power supplies, need protection.

randmHigh interrupting rating
With most low-voltage current-limiting fuses (< 600 V) having a 200,000-A interrupting rating, users are not paying a high premium for a high-interrupting capacity.

Fuses have no moving parts to wear out or become contaminated by dust or oil.

North American standards
Tri-National Standards specify fuse performance and the maximum allowable fuse Ip and I²t let-through values. Peak let-through current (Ip) and I²t are two measures of the degree of current limitation that is provided by a fuse.

Component protection
The high current-limiting action of a fuse minimizes or eliminates component damage.

Extended protection
Overcurrent-protective devices, with low-interrupting ratings, are often rendered obsolete by service upgrades or increases in available fault current. Updated NEC and UL standards are fueling the need to install potentially expensive system upgrades to non-fused systems.

Fuses can be easily coordinated to provide selectivity under overload and short-circuit conditions.

Minimal maintenance
Fuses do not require periodic recalibration. That is not the case with some electromechanical overcurrent-protective devices.

Long life
As a fuse ages, the speed of response will not slow down or change. A fuse’s ability to provide protection will not be adversely affected by the passage of time. MT

Fuses 101

Fuses consist of a low-resistance metal or wire that is used to close a circuit. When too much current flows through the low-resistance element of the fuse, the element melts and breaks the circuit. This keeps the excessive current from continuing down the circuit to more expensive equipment.

For more information on a range of automation-related topics and solutions, including current-limiting fuses that meet UL and NEC codes, visit or


7:34 pm
June 13, 2016
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Upgrading Legacy Power Systems

Upgrading to new equipment requires careful analysis and planning to avoid extended downtime.

Upgrading to new equipment requires careful analysis and planning to avoid extended downtime.

A Q & A with Danita Knox, GE Energy Connections.

When’s the best time to upgrade a power system? According to Danita Knox of GE Energy Connections, Atlanta, it can vary. Consider the following situations as ideal opportunities:

  • if a facility had or is planning a significant expansion that might affect overall power-system loading
  • if a recent arc-flash study revealed significant incident levels or danger of exposure for electrical workers or operators
  • if personnel are having difficulty locating replacement and spare parts for the site’s electrical system
  • if plant personnel desire better monitoring of the overall power system.

Once the decision has been made to move forward on an upgrade, what’s next? We asked Knox for some insight into what facilities can do to make these projects go smoothly.

MT: What trends in power-system upgrades are you seeing among older installations?

Knox: One trend involves customers replacing older electromechanical relays, meters, and trip units with newer digital “smart” equivalents. This provides a single, multi-function device that incorporates communications (local and network), event logging, and monitoring (graphical screens and remotely using web tools). Critical applications include upgrading to smart switchgear offerings that feature built-in monitoring, diagnostics, redundancy, and remote-control capabilities.

Facilities are also adding devices to their power systems that help locate workers further away from the equipment they operate. This is done, in some cases, by adding remote racking devices to existing breakers or using robot-type devices to operate equipment from a safe distance. We’re seeing more sites updating old fused devices, such as a load interrupter switch, with faster-operating vacuum breakers and relay equivalents that reduce arc-flash incident levels.

Finally, with limited budgets for large capital projects in many plants, it’s essential for them to find ways to extend the life of their existing equipment. To that end, facilities are often looking at retrofit options.

MT: What tips do you have for sites that are embarking on a power system upgrade?

Knox: Ideally, it helps to start with a comprehensive arc-flash study. This can provide remediation suggestions on how to reduce arc-flash exposure levels and improve personnel and equipment safety. To begin an arc flash study, an operation needs an accurate schematic or diagram of the facility. Plant personnel familiar with the electrical system can usually collect the information needed to build this diagram. An accurate schematic also provides critical information that can be a great tool to develop safe and proper LOTO (lock-out/tag-out) practices.

With a thorough arc-flash study, plant operators can then evaluate multiple options that help define steps to start upgrading a power system. Upgrade projects can be prioritized into smaller projects, depending on employee exposure, process needs, available outage periods and budget constraints.

If you’re going to replace old gear with new equipment, such as this ground and test device for Magne-Blast switchgear, be sure to test all critical components prior to the outage. Photo: GE

If you’re going to replace old gear with new equipment, such as this ground and test device for Magne-Blast switchgear, be sure to test all critical components prior to the outage. Photo: GE

MT: To get management buy-in, what’s the best way to estimate the return on investment (ROI) and benefits of an upgrade?

Knox: Often the need to upgrade is based on some failure or electrical incident that has caused downtime, equipment damage, or, worst-case scenario, employee injury.

When you look at the cost associated with downtime and/or injury, it’s fairly easy to calculate ROI if the project is done in a phased approach. Some trip unit, relay, and breaker upgrades can be done under the threshold of a maintenance budget.

MT: Are there any budget-friendly ways to upgrade a legacy system?

Knox: Yes, there are. It’s important to look at upgrade options that solve the most problems with minimal disruption to plant operations and equipment.

Consider, for example, if a single upstream breaker/relay combination in the facility can reduce arc-flash exposure for downstream feeder breakers without upgrading each breaker. Does the site have unused spare breakers that can be rotated out with a local service shop for upgrades that can later be installed during a short outage?

If a plant is updating old relays and meters, it should get new doors with new components prewired. This allows a shorter outage while equipment is being replaced. Also, “replacing the guts” in the existing compartment in a field outage can help reduce upgrade costs, assuming the new equipment has been pre-determined to fit the compartment and it can be easily wired. MT

Danita Knox is senior product manager for Power Delivery Services within GE Energy Connections, headquartered in Atlanta.

Steps to a Successful Power-System Upgrade

According to GE’s Danita Knox, as a site prepares for a power-system upgrade, it’s important to identify and select a reputable vendor that’s experienced, trained, and knowledgeable in designing this type of complex project. A power-system upgrade includes these steps:

  • Budgeting for hardware, software, and labor.
  • Development of a project schedule and careful outage planning for the upgrade.
  • Design of the system and procurement of all components prior to the outage.
  • Labor and logistics planning for the outage to ensure that work is completed on time.
  • Testing of all critical components prior to the outage.
  • Failure mode and effects analysis to plan for challenges during the outage and prepare solutions or workarounds.
  • Site safety and work policy that includes LOTO (lock-out/tag-out) training and documentation.

“During the upgrade,” Knox said, “an experienced project manager with a background in power systems is indispensable. Many facilities operate continuously with infrequent planned outages. Careful planning and execution is required to maximize work and re-energize systems in a timely manner.”

Knox advises creating a detailed schedule and work procedures early on, including planning types of labor and required skill-sets and procuring all materials well in advance. “Regarding procurement,” she cautioned, “be careful to consider smaller items, such as personal protective equipment and installation components. If these small details are missed in outage planning, they can create schedule slippage, safety risks, or technical errors while limiting the amount of work accomplished.”


3:08 pm
January 13, 2015
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All in a Day’s Work


Two Schneider Electric facility engineers share their tips for ensuring the safety, efficiency and reliability of a site’s electrical system.

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

The infrastructure of a typical commercial or industrial facility is a complex network of electrical, electronic, process and control, automation and building-management systems. Some facilities include critical power and cooling systems as part of that infrastructure. And when something goes wrong, there’s typically one go-to person. Whether his/her title is facility engineer (as used in this article), manager or director, this individual has a full plate. For example, following is a partial list of job responsibilities listed in a recent online job posting for a Lead Facility Engineer:

  • Ensure adherence to safety policies and procedures
  • Monitor buildings, grounds and equipment for safety and functionality
  • Maintain data center systems
  • Perform routine maintenance tasks
  • Troubleshoot, evaluate and recommend system upgrades
  • Order parts for maintenance and repairs
  • Request proposals for work that is to be outsourced
  • Supervise shift personnel; support training initiatives
  • Oversee maintenance reporting activities
  • Supervise and audit contractors
  • Ensure accurate and timely completion of work order requests
  • Serve as on-call facility manager, as needed

As Facility Engineers for Schneider Electric with more than 20 years of combined service, Kirk Morton and Keith Smith perform many of the functions listed above. Morton is responsible for the daily operations of a 100,000-sq.-ft. office building with 400+ employees, while Smith oversees operations at one of Schneider Electric’s manufacturing facilities. While many of their day-to-day tasks are similar, Smith’s industrial facility naturally has more systems and requirements to address than Morton’s office building. These include compressed air systems, crane and hoist inspections and load tests, processed water/wastewater treatment and site storm- water prevention plans.

Morton and Smith also are responsible for outsourcing various services, for managing outsourced/contracted employees, and for ensuring contractors follow safety standards in place at the worksite (facility managers, not contractors, retain ultimate responsibility for plant safety). While the traditional reason for outsourcing is to enable an organization to focus on its core competency, there can be others, as reflected in the following four models:

  • The company needs contractors to help meet operational/productivity requirements.
  • Contractors with a specific skill set are needed to perform specific tasks.
  • A company uses contractors for projects.
  • A company uses contractors to act as consultants, i.e., Managed Services.

Reliable power is paramount

Morton and Smith agree that a reliable power system is at the heart of safe and efficient operations. Per Schneider Electric requirements for all of its locations, both have implemented preventive maintenance programs at their individual sites. Their programs follow the recommendations of NFPA 70B and requirements of NFPA 70E:

A well-administered Electrical Preventive Maintenance program: reduces accidents, saves lives and minimizes costly breakdowns and unplanned outages. Impending troubles can be identified, and solutions applied, before they become major problems requiring more expensive, time-consuming solutions.

Source: NFPA 70B-2013 Ed., Section 4.2.1

When it comes to their sites’ respective electrical infrastructures, Morton and Smith may deal with different systems, but their overall focus is on reliability. “We really don’t have any issues in our commercial office space,” says Morton. “The meters and monitoring equipment are our own and very reliable, as is our switchboard. In addition, we have a reliable back-up source for our data room.”


Smith’s manufacturing operation doesn’t have issues with its electrical systems either, thanks to its robust generator and battery backup capable of providing redundant power. Still, he emphasizes, any maintenance and repair activities must be scheduled and performed to accommodate work schedules. “And departmental workloads must be considered.”

Unfortunately, some facility personnel may not be knowledgeable or adequately trained in the specific equipment or power distribution systems that comprise the electrical infrastructure at their sites. With regard to preventive maintenance of an operation’s electrical system, special skills and knowledge are required, which is why this work is often outsourced. Based on their own responsibilities with regard to electrical work, Morton and Smith offer the following tips for other facility managers:

0115f2-31. Qualifying electrical workers

Due to the increasing complexity and interconnectivity of today’s electrical systems, few companies have the in-house experience to service all of a facility’s electrical components. Facility management needs to ensure that electrical workers are qualified, as defined by OSHA and NFPA 70E, to work on the specific equipment that is to be maintained. This applies to in-house staff, as well as third-party contractors. Fundamental require-
ments include:

  • A complete understanding of equipment, the required work scope and electrical hazards present.
  • Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), tools, shielding and test equipment as well as precautionary techniques.
  • Discipline and decision-making skills to determine risk and ability to maintain a safe work environment.

For maintenance and testing activities, an in-depth interview of potential electrical service providers is suggested, and applicable references should be obtained. Ask questions up front relative to Field Personnel Competency Training to determine product knowledge. Morton and Smith say it’s important to learn about the service provider’s safety training program. As noted, the company that outsources the work is responsible for workplace safety, whether the maintenance worker is an employee or a contractor.

2. Outsourcing electrical work

Morton and Smith point out that if a site elects to outsource its electrical work, its facility engineer(s) still have several crucial responsibilities:

Facility engineers should obtain and maintain all of the operations and maintenance manuals that accompanied the original electrical equipment. If any have been discarded, misplaced or lost, the original equipment manufacturer (or their representative) should be contacted and replacement copies requested. These documents are often available online and can be searched by the manufacturer’s name and electrical equipment identification.

Facility engineers must be clear regarding the specific equipment they desire to have cleaned, inspected, maintained, serviced and tested, as well as be clear regarding each piece of electrical equipment that is to be removed from service for inspection, maintenance or testing.

Before any electrical maintenance program is initiated or contracted, facility management should provide exact, detailed and up-to-date one-line diagrams of the entire electrical-power-distribution system. These records should also indicate the specific location, room number, floor or area location where each piece of electrical power distribution equipment can be found. If this documentation is not available or is out of date, the services of a licensed professional electrical engineer should be contracted and commissioned to create and maintain current electrical one-line diagrams and equipment name-plate data.

The facility’s needs for temporary electrical power must be met during a scheduled maintenance interruption. Facility engineers should ensure the availability of a temporary power source.

3. Ensuring safe, efficient, reliable electricity

Both Morton and Smith agree that having a preventive maintenance program in place helps mitigate the risk of unplanned downtime. They also recommend a battery back-up as well as back-up generator capabilities, because even with regularly scheduled preventive maintenance, all facilities will experience unplanned electrical outages from time to time.  MT