Four critical steps to reduce unplanned industrial site electrical system downtime

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Economic difficulties over the last 8 years have driven many industrial organizations to cut back on their power infrastructure maintenance spending. This includes maintenance on devices such as transformers, electrical panels, switchgear, and backup power systems. Now that the global economy is showing signs of stabilization, the time is right for rethinking power maintenance strategies. If no action is taken, unchecked wear and tear accumulated over the “lean” years will, in most cases, lead to unplanned downtime.

In many industrial organizations, power equipment is 30-40 years old and often operates at 120-125% of capacity. Couple that with rising downtime costs (with core manufacturing industry downtime cost reaching $1.6 million per hour, according to Contingency Research Planning) and exposure levels are quite high.

Practices such as one-shot maintenance, lack of response time commitments from vendors in case of emergencies, and the absence of predictive maintenance contingency plans are clear danger signs that critical systems are at risk.

The question is not if failure will occur, but when. Studies have shown that electrical equipment failure rates are 3 times higher for components which are NOT part of any scheduled maintenance program (as compared to equipment which is part of a service plan).Overcapacity, equipment age, and, in some countries, an increase in utility voltage service, are all strong drivers for revisiting existing approaches. As the business world becomes more connected, the need for investment in maintenance modernization has increased because unplanned downtime will also directly impact many of the linked systems.

Critical modernization steps to reduce the risk and minimize the impact of unplanned downtime

When planning for the modernization of facility electrical systems, consider incorporating the following best practices:

  1. Conduct site evaluation – Take into account the specific issues of your site and determine how reliable the system is and how reliable it needs to be. A system audit is a good first step. In all likelihood, most organizations have gaps in their infrastructure maintenance practices. As a result, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of equipment may rise as instances of downtime increase.
  2. Define a system-wide scope – Avoid building a maintenance plan around separate components. Instead, planning should focus on a system-wide maintenance perspective as this will enhance overall performance. The system view is important because overall system reliability is only as good as its weakest link. Operations personnel can easily be misled if they focus on the reliability statistics of individual components. This false sense of security increases the risk of unplanned systems downtime.
  3. Determine criticality – Once the system view is accepted by the key stakeholders, determine which of the components within the system are the most critical (those that will need the most comprehensive form of maintenance available). Devices in the middle of the criticality range may be placed on a preventive schedule. The least critical devices may only require a break/fix approach. The overriding question that needs to be answered for each of the components is “What impact does the loss of this individual component have on the entire system?”
  4. Plan for new device integration – Establish a plan for new devices that get added to the overall power network and that require maintenance and services. Since many of these new devices will come delivered with “smart” capabilities from the factory, they should easily integrate into the predictive maintenance aspect of the maintenance plan. Or, if predictive maintenance takes on a more significant role in the overall plan, some existing devices may benefit from a field upgrade to enable predictive maintenance across more critical devices.

Planning is an important maintenance modernization first step. For more comprehensive guidance on how to plan, design, and implement power system maintenance modernization initiatives, download the new Schneider Electric reference document “A Practical Guide for Evaluating Maintenance Modernization Options.

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