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:
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-
- 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