098. Idea – Preventative Maintenance for Electrical Distribution Equipment Transcript

Dan: 00:00

The only way to really make sure that that it’s going to run for the 20 or 30 years you want it to is to get in there, clean it, test it, inspect it, operate it, and then do it again on a routine basis. 

Chris: 00:16

Welcome EECO Asks Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger, and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features of benefits on products that come to market. Instead we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world.

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. In this episode, we’re going to be digging into what preventive maintenance should I do on my switch gear and why? With us today, we have Mr. Dan Leeman from Eaton. And he’s going to be walking through this topic with us, bringing a lot of value to our listeners. So, Dan, welcome. Thank you for taking the time with us today. 

Dan: 01:03

Yeah, no problem. Good to talk to you Chris. 

Chris: 01:05

Absolutely. Absolutely. So we’ll just start off with the why today. Let’s start with why should end users perform preventative maintenance on their electrical distribution systems? Can you walk us through that? 

Dan: 01:16

I can. But I guess I’m going to answer that question with a question. Okay. Do you change the oil in your car? Do you change the filters in your house when for your HVAC system. Those are kind of fundamental maintenance things that you do on your personal items to make sure that they last for the length of time that you expect them to last. And one of the best indicators of longevity of equipment and your house, your HVAC units, your car is how well are you maintaining that?

How often are you getting your oil changed? Are you changing it as the manufacturer recommends? And so, that is really no different than preventive maintenance on your electrical infrastructure. By performing preventive maintenance, you are catching issues ahead of time. And I guarantee you’ve taken your car in for an oil change and the mechanic comes back with a repair list and it makes you upset and I, I get it but they’re trying to do that to try to get ahead of any major issues. That’s the same as with your electrical system, we’re going to find issues ahead of time. We’re going to get ahead of it. We’re going to be able to put repairs in place that allow your equipment to last as long as it needs to last for your facility.

Chris: 02:36

Absolutely. Well, that’s great. Thank  thank you. That really gets to the heart of it. And you mentioned a couple of great examples with the oil changes and the air filters and things like that. That kind of gives it, and we kind of know as owners of that type of equipment when we need to do that.

So when he was talking about electrical distribution equipment, when should customer schedule to do this maintenance? Are there any general rules of thumbs when it comes to this? 

Dan: 03:01

Yeah. I think a lot of that has to do with what type of equipment you have and when it was put in, when it was built, and what has been your preventative maintenance program before that. 

So you should be internally, and I’m not saying you need to have a manufacturer or agency come out and do this, but you should be looking at doing annual preventative maintenance programs within your facility. There’s many times there’s many types of facilities that can’t shut down and it’s hard to get an outage and we could talk about outages down the call here a little bit, but the whole idea is that you want to be able to go in and check the health of your electrical system typically once a year. 

I would say if you have brand new installed equipment and you went through manufacturer recommended site acceptance testing and everything’s in good working order, you could probably forego that first maintenance for a couple of years. But depending on the environment that you’re in, depending on the criticality of that equipment, really dictates the program. And I would say a good practice would be at least once a year going in and doing the preventative maintenance. 

Chris: 04:11

Okay. That definitely gives us a good rule of thumb. And you mentioned outages there. And because we oftentimes hear about our users that they have to work that maintenance around the site or right.

But we all know how allergies can be. They can be very hectic. A lot of things are going on. Typically a lot of contractors are in and out  and things like that. Is there any way to prioritize what gets to focus during the outage from an electrical equipment standpoint. Just to try to give some guidelines or some, best tips or just, good advice to our listeners out there.

Dan: 04:43

Sure. I kinda think of a kind of a top down approach.  If you have a larger facility that has a main distribution system, and then that distributes out to downstream panels or switchboards and motor control centers, if you lose anything in that incoming switch gear or switchboard, they’d be the front end of your electrical system the top end, you lose everything. 

So, If you’re going to prioritize doing any sort of electrical preventive maintenance, I would start at the top. That does require a full facility outage and is sometimes difficult to do annually. So what I’ve seen as a good practice, is that if you have a a schedule in place to where maybe you can take half your equipment down once a year, you just do the maintenance on that half in year one. And then year two, you take the other half down and you do that. And you just keep on that schedule and yeah, that extends it by, every two years getting into this equipment, but that’s far better than doing nothing. I would prioritize the main incoming service the best you can.

Chris: 05:51

Start there, right. And then get the other equipment as you can. So let’s say that we’re ready to start to do these PMs now on our equipment. What actions do you recommend to get started and know we have several different areas to think through, with a PM program from just basic equipment validation to then you have mechanical PMs. Do you have visual inspections and they happen a lot. Then you have a testing, electrical testing, and cleaning. So if you were to walk through some of those different areas for our listeners to unpack what’s important here.

Dan: 06:22

Sure. I think the best part of doing outages is the planning. Honestly, we’ve mentioned a couple of times now on this, in this discussion that. That outages are hard to come by and they’re very unpredictable, but the best way that you can get ahead of that is to do some pre-planning. A lot of that involves site walks.

So bringing your preventative maintenance company on site for them to actually go and walk the facility. Understand that if we’re going to be doing testing in certain areas, can we hook our test equipment up? Do we have a voltage, a known good source? Do we have to bring generators on site?

That’s all fundamental logistics information. Do we have badging? Are there any special PPE requirements to do work in this particular facility? That’s all kind of high level that comes out during a pre-planning meeting and in initial site walk. Once you’re there, you’re going to walk with the facility people, and you’re going to discuss what equipment is going to be tested.

Do we have this information on the one line? Do we understand how all the power flows? Do we understand the lockout program, which I think is a great topic for again another day is just lockout, tagout. But do we understand how we’re going to be able to safely isolate this equipment to perform our tests?

Is the equipment in good working order? Do we see that we’re going to be getting into some precarious situations with aged equipment? Do we see a lot of covers not in place? Do we see a lot of dust and dirt and grind built up on the equipment? That’s an indication of what’s going on inside.

So that’s kind of part of our visual inspections or mechanical reviews. We’re going to get into electrical testing. What type of testing we would want to do during the preventive maintenance program. But some high-level testing, we’re going to want to understand the goodness of the joints. Have joints loosened over time? Have cables settled and loosened over time through the heating and cooling effect of loads?

Are the breakers functioning as intended? So what type of electrical testing would you like us to do on the breakers? Are we going to actually current inject them? Are we going to secondary inject them? Are we just gonna mechanically cycle, clean, and lubricate these breakers?

So understanding that scope of work ahead of time is critical. Part of a preventative maintenance program should include the just general cleaning of the equipment. Getting some mild soap and warm water and wiping down the equipment. Vacuuming out the enclosures. Cleaning the transformers.

What that does it doesn’t just make the housekeeping entity happy. What that does is it exposes other issues. And I have a great example of a medium voltage transformer that we were in cleaning. With vacuum cleaners and rags and some denatured alcohol, and we actually found evidence of Corona, which is the indication of of an electrical failure that’s gonna occur on medium voltage equipment. And it was only through cleaning and housekeeping of that equipment that we were able to discover that failure. And again, that gets back to the mechanic telling you that, you might want to get your timing belt changed even though you brought it in for an oil change. It’s taking the equipment, looking at the risks and then mitigating the risks ahead of a failure.

Chris: 09:50

Absolutely. And that’s a great story, Dan. With the transformer and finding the Corona and hats off to the end-user who was being proactive and doing that cleaning and getting it scheduled by professionals to be able to catch that and ultimately manage that risk on their own terms versus something catastrophic happening.

And then they have to be reactive. So, what about just safety. General safety items that. That users and our listeners should keep in mind when they’re thinking about, or if they’re been tasked to do PMs. 

Dan: 10:21

Sure. So I mentioned it earlier. You have to have a robust. Signed off lockout plan. I mean, that is the number one most critical aspect of what an outage would entail. And that’s honestly where we spend most of our time on prep. Preparing for these outages is understanding voltage isolation and hazardous energy control. So. That is like high level, we need to make sure that we’re electrically sound and safe. 

Some other issues that come out during preventative maintenance that you don’t really think much about, but if you have to bring a generator on site, do you have proper ventilation? Is, are you going to be running that generator in an area that mitigates any sort of carbon monoxide concerns?

So that’s something to be considering. Other things are cut hazards. So lacerations to the hands and forearms. That happens as you’re reaching into this equipment and there’s a lot of sharp edges metal. You want to make sure you’re wearing cut resistant gloves and sleeves too, while you’re doing the cleaning and inspection and lubricating. 

Breakers have typically a stored energy mechanism. Are you releasing the stored energy prior to go in and doing your maintenance on that breaker? The lubricating the operations, whatever. Additional concerns have come from just general ergonomics. As you’re moving these breakers in and out they weigh 30, 40, 50, or more plus pounds each. There’s a lot of awkward bending and twisting.

So there’s just kind of general concerns about preventative maintenance that you would want to, if you’re doing it right. You want to be able to mitigate those risks. Through understanding them first and then, bringing on tools and equipment that can help mitigate those concerns.

Chris: 12:10

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you. Thank you for walking through that with this. Do you have any examples or, maybe unexperienced users tried to do their own PMs. Things may not have gone exactly as planned and you, maybe you guys had to come in or support, facilitate, getting the equipment back to that operating conditions.

Dan: 12:27

Uh, Yeah. As a matter of fact I do we, we have a lot of customers that want to try to do things on their own. And sometimes they’ll even hire a third party agency to come in and do some work for them. And we had a customer who had some preventative maintenance done on some of their power breakers. And they told us they had maintenance done and then they ended up calling us about a month after that maintenance saying that breakers were not opening and closing properly. 

So they were electrically operated breakers. They’re supposed to open and close. And so they called us, they said, your breakers aren’t working. Okay. So we went in and we, we took a look and we took the breakers apart and we found that there was no sign of our OEM grease inside of the equipment. So we’re inside of the breakers. 

The third party agency came in and applied to more of like an oil. They cleaned the grease out and then put some sort of like lubricating oil inside. And obviously the oil just rolled out and then dries up. That’s why we use like a special grease that’s in our catalogs and in our application guides.

But, well, what ended up happening is it was causing the mechanisms to seize up. And so while the end user was able to potentially save some money and check a box that they did their maintenance. It actually ended up causing some pretty substantial issues with their equipment that cost a heck of a lot more to fix.

So I guess the lesson there is, while the OEMs are the ones that know their equipment better than anybody else, I will say that if you’re going to hire out preventive maintenance, you need to make sure that they are complying with manufacturer’s standards and guidelines. Because every manufacturer publishes what preventative maintenance is reasonable to do and how to do it. That’s just a anecdotal evidence of doing things properly. The first time. Saves money in the long run. 

Chris: 14:31

Absolutely. Absolutely. Great story, Dan, thank you for walking us through that one as well. So quick question, the infrastructure in America, you stated in previous episodes as well.

It’s aging. We all know that, right? So does the age, or maybe obsolescence of equipment factor in when you’re doing these PMs on equipment and if so how does that work? 

Dan: 14:53

It does the older the equipment is the higher risk you have of failures under normal operation. And typically you’ll have a particular failure rate during your maintenance. And so while it seems like you’re proactively failing the equipment during the preventative maintenance is actually weeding out the equipment that is no longer functional and no longer protecting your system. So while the equipment is very old, I’ve seen customers with a 40 year old equipment that is immaculate and operates just as good as brand new equipment. 

And I’ve also seen relatively brand new equipment that looks like it’s in shambles. So age matters. You’re the end user, the customer, the owner is going to want to put an obsolescence plan in place for their facility because eventually manufacturers are going to stop supporting vintage equipment.

And you’re going to want to make sure that your critical infrastructure is kept as up to date as possible. So maintenance is definitely one way to do that. As you start seeing a higher failure rate during your preventative maintenance program, you might want to start considering a replacement plan for that equipment.

Chris: 16:09

Right. And that would be, along the lines of monitorization, switch gear modernization, things like that, and definitely here’s support those types of efforts as well. If you think about, just trying to give our listeners just a general idea of the time, the duration that it would take to do a basic PM on a small line up of gear, are there any rules of thumbs that you had that you would look at? Okay, this is this little lineup would take x amount of hours versus, just trying to paint a little bit more of a picture for our listeners here. 

Dan: 16:41

Sure. Yeah. It does depend on the scope of work. We have been put under a lot of pressure in many cases to get certain types of preventative maintenance done in certain outage windows.

So if we’re given 12 hours of an outage, it’s on the manufacturer or the testing agency or the PM company to come in and actually scope it appropriately. So if we’re given 12 hours and you give us 12 lineups of equipment to work on, we might have to bring 50 people onsite to get through that. It’s just relatively simple math.

But, more or less, to PM and test a low voltage breaker, you’re looking at about a couple of hours per breaker. And that would include cleaning and lubricating the cell. Cleaning, lubricating the breaker, and then running the breaker through its paces. And depending on the amperage, depending on, again the kind of set up you have and how close you are to your test equipment, you might be anywhere from one to two hours per breaker for one technician to do that work. And I would say that’s assuming the work is being done per manufacturer’s instructions. 

Chris: 17:45

Well, let’s just to kinda help us wrap this up for us, Dan, you’ve really helped us here. Can you give us some rough summary of why it’s an important. You went through a ton of great information here on preventative maintenance, but you have a lot of experience in this field. You operate a great team that does this on a regular basis. If you were just to give the listeners one or two, this is why you really need to do that. What would they be? 

Dan: 18:10

Sure. So these are capital investments for the facilities. Facilities are spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on their electrical infrastructure, and the goal is for that equipment to last for the duration of that facility. I mean, that’s really what the goal should be.

And the manufacturers publish 20 to 25 year life expectancy on electrical equipment. And so when you kind of look at both of those things, they’re not going to get there. They’re not going to get to those levels of age if you don’t do the maintenance. If you’re letting dust accumulate, you’re going to see a failure eventually within that equipment. If you’re not testing your breakers, how do you know that that breaker is going to operate when it actually has to, to protect a person or a machine?

There are certain things about this electrical infrastructure in your facilities that are fundamentally required to keep your facility running. And the only way to really make sure that it’s going to run for the 20 or 30 years you want it to is to get in there, clean it, test it, inspect it, operate it, and then do it again on a routine basis.

Chris: 19:28

Absolutely. That’s great advice. Thank you again for your time, buddy. 

Dan: 19:32

All right, no problem. Thank you so much.