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Data centers are continually pushed for shorter construction and installation periods to meet the growing consumer demand. Working with quick turn-around times during data center builds requires the on-demand availability of the electrical equipment, such as low or medium voltage switchgear. It needs to be ready and waiting so that it can be installed at the appropriate time – no one wants to lose precious days waiting for equipment to be delivered. This means that data centers need to have the equipment onsite days or perhaps weeks prior to installation.
While waiting on site, storage and handling of the electrical equipment needs to be a priority. The idea of proper storage may seem like a minor concern to some. Yet, when equipment is NOT properly stored and certain conditions exist, the gear can become damaged. This has the potential to create major delays in a data center build.
One of the biggest enemies for any electrical equipment is water. Most facility managers and contractors know how to take the necessary precautions to avoid the equipment being in standing water. However, condensation within the equipment housing can be detrimental to the equipment as well.
Conditions for creating condensation are not as rare as you think. If there are no space heaters in the storage area, and the location is cold and damp, condensation can develop inside the equipment – a process that can occur in just a few hours overnight.
Further complicating the problem, the condensation combines with other contaminates in the air, creating a semi-conductive film. If the condensation is minimal, then the surfaces can be carefully cleaned to remove the semi-conductive layer. However, if there is significant condensation or the condensation remains for a period of time, the residual debris or wet surfaces may result in a loss of dielectric spacing within the equipment, and could present a hazard upon energization. Components, such as circuit breakers, meters, relays, transformers, and fuses could still be wet or damp or contain foreign debris inside the housing, which could cause a subsequent malfunction.
These issues can be avoided by following the guidelines set forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) regarding the proper storage of electrical equipment. IEEE clearly states, “Indoor switchgear that cannot be installed immediately should be stored in a clean, dry location and should remain in crates during the storage period.”
The ideal storage location is dry and well ventilated in a climate controlled building. Humidity should be less than 80% and the temperature should range between 32 °F (0 °C) and 104 °F (40 °C). Drastic changes in moisture and temperature should be avoided. If the data center construction prohibits this, then alternative temporary provisions, such as heating, need to be made to prevent condensation. A commonly used solution is to raise the temperature inside the switchgear by placing internal heaters in the equipment, following the wattage as defined in the equipment manual.
Even while strictly adhering to IEEE’s guidelines, certain conditions require special attention. The regional climate and geography of the installation site plays a critical role in storage decisions. In high humidity environments, it is necessary to monitor the equipment even closer as the equipment can tolerate a greater temperature range, but not humidity.
In addition to condensation precautions, there are other storage guidelines that should be followed. This includes keeping the equipment on a level surface to prevent unnecessary strain and protecting against dust with a cover that does not restrict ventilation. Further, longer storage duration requires even stricter adherence to the IEEE guidelines for equipment protection.
By following IEEE’s established principals and the installation manuals that are shipped with the equipment, your electrical equipment will be stored properly – and will be ready when you are.