Improve your electrical system uptime

Oct. 14, 2021
John Garbarino discusses how facilities can improve uptime and the average time between electrical incidents.

Editor's Note: This post was sponsored by Leviton Manufacturing.

A recent survey of Plant Services readers found that 35% of respondents thought their plant was not electrically up to code, and close to the same (37%) said their average time between electrical incidents was 180 days or less. The survey also showed that plant teams finally seem poised to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies for maintenance and reliability.

Plant Services recently spoke to John Garbarino, the Sr. Platform Product Manager, Commercial & Industrial, for Leviton Manufacturing about how facilities can improve uptime and the average time between electrical incidents. For the past 12 years, John has worked with the product development teams for Leviton’s commercial and industrial product portfolio, and more recently is leading the development efforts of Leviton’s award-winning Inform Technology platform. This technology platform enables Leviton products to provide real-time operational data used to improve safety, efficiency and productivity in commercial and industrial environments.

Q: Leviton has developed a condition monitoring technology platform that enables its conventional electrical devices to advance the implementation of Industry 4.0 technology. And Leviton is doing this to help teams improve their operations safety, efficiency, and productivity. John, can you elaborate on what you mean by a condition monitoring technology platform?

A: Leviton’s Inform Technology platform comprises several different technology elements. It includes sensors that can monitor the operating condition of our electrical devices, embedded software that analyzes those conditions to determine if they are normal, and several means of communication to alert users of operational status. The sensors monitor things like electrical power (amperage and voltage), ground continuity, liquid accumulation, temperature, and more. Our product development teams then decide which sensing, analyzing, and communication features are appropriate for a particular Leviton device, and then the engineering teams incorporate those elements into the final product.

Q: Why did Leviton feel a need to develop this specific technology?

A: We started looking at this a few years ago. One area of focus for almost all manufacturers is figuring out – how do we minimize operational downtime due to equipment failure in general maintenance? This applies to planned and unplanned events, with the latter being the most important as it’s the most disruptive and costly to operations.

One study we looked at said that unplanned downtime events could cost a company ten times that of planned downtime. It sounds a little bit crazy, and you might ask – how is that possible? But when you start exploring the situation from the time something stops unexpectedly until the time you get back up and running, you realize what’s involved is much more than just the replacement part and the cost of the labor to repair that machine.

From the Leviton perspective, we realized that if you look at our devices and where they exist in a facility, they sit at critical areas of operation. For example, if one of our switches fails, that cuts power to a piece of equipment, so it has the same impact on the production line as if the equipment itself broke down. We realized we should do something that can help manufacturers streamline their processes.

Q: John, how exactly does Inform Technology fit in with the reduction of downtime initiatives?

A: Plant managers typically employ various methods for equipment maintenance. These methods include reactive, where maintenance occurs only when equipment fails, or preventive, where maintenance tasks are scheduled at the least disruptive time. More recently, plant managers are introducing condition-based and predictive maintenance schemes. These methods rely on knowing the actual operating conditions of equipment and using data analytics to predict failures before they occur.

Leviton’s devices with Inform Technology can help improve any of these maintenance methods. For example, we recently launched a safety disconnect switch embedded with many of the sensor elements I described earlier. In addition, an LED array on the cover provides a visual status of the voltage entering and exiting the switch, ground continuity, and liquid accumulation inside the enclosure. If there is an abnormal condition, the LEDs will immediately flash red, indicating the associated fault condition. This feature allows maintenance technicians to react immediately and streamlines the troubleshooting process. In the event of equipment failure, an operator can immediately look at the disconnect switch. If all of the indicator lights say everything is good with the switch, they can quickly determine that the problem is probably somewhere on the piece of equipment.

A recent study on unplanned events indicated that 75% of an unplanned downtime event is spent just trying to troubleshoot the problem, and then 25% is fixing it. Anything you can do to reduce that 75% timeframe will significantly improve your efforts in maintenance.

Q: Can you talk about whether condition-based maintenance and predictive maintenance are the same?

A: It can be confusing because sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but they are different events. That being said, condition monitoring is a prerequisite for predictive maintenance, so that’s where the relationship comes in.

As the name suggests, condition monitoring provides a real-time view of what’s going on with the equipment and its performance characteristics. You’re able to set performance thresholds so that as soon as an operational element exceeds that threshold, you know it’s time to schedule maintenance. The idea here is that you’re not basing preventive maintenance tests based on a theoretical interval. Instead, you’re looking at the actual wear and tear on the device.

Predictive maintenance takes that one step further, and it’s analyzing all that data throughout the operating life of the equipment. Based on what happens with your maintenance schedules and performance characteristics, it will start to predict when and where something will fail, what piece is going to fail, and at what time interval, to give you a much bigger buffer to plan for maintenance. The difference with predictive is that it’s using the data analytics from your actual condition monitoring sensor data to decide the best time to perform your maintenance.

Q: You mentioned that “Leviton’s Inform-enabled products have indicator lights to alert users of operating conditions.” In your opinion, is remote monitoring necessary, or is it just a nice-to-have?

A: That is a good question because often when you’re talking to people about newer technology, there’s usually a mobile app or desktop software associated with it, and it can appear gimmicky. While the LED indication is very intuitive, it still relies on somebody in front of the piece of equipment to see those lights and make that analysis.

If there’s nobody present to see the lights start blinking red, you’re delaying that response to the event. Remote monitoring allows alerts to be sent to a mobile device or a desktop device to immediately alert the people responsible for maintaining that piece of equipment.

I’ll give you one recent example. A customer of ours had an issue in their facility on a day when they were closed. One of their transformers blew, so the plant equipment was single-phasing all day. Unfortunately, many of the 3-phase motor drives and motors operating in a single-phase condition wound up just failing. When the workers returned the following morning, they discovered the damage and lost almost a full day making repairs. If they had had remote monitoring technology, the maintenance person would have received this alert and gone into the facility to cut power to stop the damage.

Q: In your opinion, how does a plant manager justify the cost of implementing this type of technology, the technology that Inform represents?

A: It’s not easy to answer because ROI questions are always particular to the individual facility. That being said, there are processes you can follow to implement technology in a phased approach. First, focus on your most critical assets – the ones that are the most disruptive and most costly to your operation – and implement some of this newer technology into this particular asset system and start to monitor the progress.

What you’ll see is the cost savings you get from that technology on that particular asset, and that can start giving you the data you need for calculating your ROIs and payback periods.

This story originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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