Electrical maintenance for the win

Your electrical infrastructure is too important not to be a maintenance priority.

By Jeramy Freeman, Schneider Electric

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Nothing operates without electricity, so the health of the electrical infrastructure that works behind the scenes should be a vital concern to your plant. Like any engineered system, electrical power distribution systems cannot be designed and constructed to operate 100% of the time indefinitely. To help ensure electrical reliability, facility management should:

  1. make room in the op-ex budget for planned maintenance activities, and
  2. put a strategy in place to optimize the budget and reduce unplanned downtime.

A properly planned and executed electrical maintenance strategy is a vital component in supporting electrical workplace safety, business continuity, and optimized total cost of ownership. Plant managers should schedule proactively and employ a variety of approaches to maintain electrical distribution equipment. Even though reactive maintenance activities typically cost three to four times more, planned maintenance activities often are deferred because of high productivity objectives and tight maintenance budgets. NFPA 70B-2016 Annex Q-2 provides an example of costly reactive maintenance:

An industrial plant experienced damage totaling $100,000 (USD), not counting the cost of downtime. It was discovered that dirt, gummy deposits and iron filings in the main switchgear caused the failure. The cost of this event would have supported a compre¬hensive electrical preventive maintenance program covering all of the plant's electrical distribution system for several years. 

The best way to avoid such a major financial loss is to reduce the risk of an unplanned outage. This requires time, effort, planning, and money. A comprehensive maintenance strategy should incorporate all electrical power distribution equipment, regardless of the manufacturer, to ensure that electrical equipment and components operate safely and reliably as they were originally designed and intended.

It is important to keep in mind that any individual maintenance on separate pieces of equipment or components does not ensure a completely coordinated and reliable power system. In a basic, everyday example, you probably have your vehicle’s tires rotated and balanced on a routine basis and purchase new tires when it’s time to do so. Does that ensure that your vehicle is reliable? A holistic view is required when electrical reliability is the goal.

Preventive maintenance is the traditional time-based maintenance strategy, typically built around a manufacturer’s recommended guidelines. For electrical distribution equipment, the industry-accepted OEM frequency is once every three years. If equipment is installed in harsh or extreme operating environments, the maintenance schedule is most likely more frequent.

Fast-forward to today’s increasingly complex, automated, and connected systems. Developing the proper maintenance strategy can be a quite an undertaking, given the different types and manufacturers of equipment within a facility.

When budgets are tight and processes are critical, a reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) strategy may be a viable consideration. RCM focuses on the operation of the power system as a whole by identifying the functions and failure modes of the most critical assets. Maintenance tasks are then determined and prioritized to minimize the possibility of failures. RCM lets facility management make quantifiable decisions on maintenance costs while increasing power system reliability.

RCM integrates preventive maintenance, predictive testing and inspection, run-to-fail, and proactive maintenance techniques. Companies looking to implement RCM should refer to the SAE standard JA1011, Evaluation Criteria for Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) Processes for guidance.

Whether the selected maintenance strategy is preventive, predictive, condition-based, or reliability-centered, proper planning and adequate resources are crucial. Most planned maintenance activities are conducted during a scheduled shutdown to minimize the impact on business operations. Following are key preparedness steps to take to help ensure a smooth, productive shutdown.

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