Maximizing safety in real time

In this installment of What Works, wireless test tools assist in high-voltage upgrades, data collection at Linamar plant.

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Headquartered in Guelph, a small city just west of Toronto, Linamar is a multibillion dollar corporation and the second largest auto-parts maker in Canada. Linamar’s focus is precision machining, and among its many products are the engine blocks for the Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette.

Keeping Linimar's 60 global facilities up and running safely and efficiently, including 25 in Guelph where many of the motors and transmissions are machined, is one of the responsibilities of the team led by Leigh Copp, engineering and business unit manager for Linamar’s Advanced System Group.

Copp manages a team of 72 people that design and engineer automation systems, and troubleshoot electrical systems and electronics as well as process controls and command and control systems. Inherent in that role is a commitment to safety and continuous evaluation of all the systems in the plants.

A recent project awarded to Copp’s team involved reducing the risk of arc flash from incident energy at one of Linamar’s facilities. “Like probably every other manufacturer of our size and station in our market, we’ve got between, 3,000 and 5,000 kVA distribution boards in our plants,” says Copp. The problem was that some of the standard switch gear and vented panels weren’t arc resistant, and therefore posed a significant risk to safety.

“In Canada we’re predominantly 600 volts, with a 3,000 to 5,000 kVA transformer outside and a 5,000 amp busway coming into a 5,000 amp switchboard,” states Copp. “The arc flash incident energy is five times the old Category 4 boundaries, so there is no suitable PPE available. We were pretty concerned, and we started looking at alternatives on how we can improve the situation.”

In one event signaling the problem, a seal had failed in an outdoor panel, and rainwater dripped into the enclosure, gradually filling it up until the busbar failed and blew apart. “It was outdoors and nobody was around, but it literally was no different than if I’d put a hand grenade inside the panel,” Copp remembers.

When working among electrical panels in high-energy incident areas or working on proactive maintenance like Linamar’s arc-flash risk mitigation project, Copp and his team deploy Fluke Connect Assets, a cloud-based system of software and wireless-enabled test tools that moves all of the measurement data collected by the tools into an online database and dashboard.

Copp calls these tools “a game changer” when it comes to high-voltage work because it removes technicians from dangerous energized areas and records real-time data while associating those data with specific assets. For example, three-phase motors used throughout the facility can be monitored while in use after hooking up wireless clamp meters. Copp uses the Fluke AC and DC clamps equipped with iFlex devices with the Fluke Connect app on his Android phone.

“I would put the instruments on, close the door, start the machine up, link them to my phone, and then go around to the front of the machine and actually monitor the voltage and current while the machine’s operating with the door is closed completely safely," says Copp.

In the case of the arc-flash mitigation project, Copp's team performed a complete analysis of the system and learned that the high-incident energy potential was between 190-212 calories per square centimeter – four to five times above the acceptable safety threshold for the heaviest class of PPE typically available, and well above what was considered high risk.

In response, the Linamar team designed and installed a high-voltage protection system around the feeder lines coming into the plant. The new equipment brings incident energy levels down to a category 2 or 3 using the old category ratings, or to a level where there is practical PPE available to protect maintenance workers.

The Fluke Connect system is a growing number of wirelessly connected test and measurement tools that leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, industrial networking, and cloud computing in an integrated test and measurement platform.

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