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If only a new industrial plant never grew old. Imagine it: machinery would never age and would remain in the same place indefinitely, cabling would never deteriorate, and electrical equipment would stay as dust and dirt free as the day it was first installed. In such a world, a facility might only need a single inspection before initial operations began because, well, nothing would ever change again. But this isn’t the world in which we live. As a result, an tenant needs help managing compliance and risk concerns over the life of an industrial operation. Annual inspections can help identify potential risk factors or areas where operations have fallen out of compliance, but what happens between those inspections can be even more important.
Before now, plant owners and tenants had few options beyond simply stepping up their inspection schedules to understand how operating conditions might be trending. However, that’s now changing thanks to technologies developed through the industrial internet of things (IIoT). The IIoT sensors and communication devices now coming to market offer real-time insights into how equipment and systems are working between those annual inspections. And accompanying cloud-based analytics can help identify problematic trends. And it isn’t just owners and site managers who can benefit from this technology – it also gives testing, inspection and certification (TIC) companies new opportunities to add value to their customers through new services leveraging data that provides historical context for the conditions they observe in their annual plant visits.
In the first article in this series, I looked at how a digitally-connected power distribution system can help prevent dangerous electrical system events – and potentially lead to new types of insurance products. In the second article, I explored ways IIoT digitized power can help reduce business-interruption risks. In this article, I’ll be covering the advantages the data derived from power digitization offer both tenants and TIC service providers when it comes to compliance and risk management efforts.
How risk grows over time
The risk of fire or other safety hazards are usually very low for most new industrial plants constructed to comply with current safety standards.
- Engineers and system designers will have ensured that products will have been specified that adhere to applicable requirements established by standards organizations, including Underwriters Laboratories, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the International Electrotechnical Commission.
- Equipment manufacturers may have conducted their own installation inspections for warranty purposes.
- Local building and electrical inspectors will have reviewed both plans and installations to ensure both meet the demands of local codes.
- Finally, initial training efforts will help workers understand safe operation and maintenance procedures.
But once plant operations begin, those optimal conditions begin to change. Over time, temperature and humidity conditions can begin to shift, and dirt and other contaminants can accumulate on and around electrical connections. Equipment might be repurposed for new or additional applications, which can change related safety requirements. Or that equipment might be modified, relocated or replaced, without any additional inspections to ensure continued compliance with codes, safety standards or manufacturer-recommended operating practices. Any of these moves could change a plant’s risk profile significantly differently from last annual inspection.
What annual inspections can miss
Industrial insurance companies are in the business of helping plant insured manage their risk. To do so, most of these providers require annual third-party inspections of plant operations, especially their electrical distribution systems. TIC personnel use thermographic cameras to identify “hotspots” – locations where electrical overheating might be in progress. But the resulting imagery is really just a snapshot in time, as it doesn’t describe the ways risk might have increased in the periods between these inspections.
In fact, there are a number of potentially dangerous conditions that could be overlooked during these annual inspections, no matter how thorough they might be, including:
- Distribution hotspots that occurred months ago or were caused by equipment that’s currently disconnected.
- Power irregularities that might not yet be causing detectable hotspots.
- Temperature or humidity conditions that only occur for a few months each year.
- A change in breaker settings that should have triggered a new arc-flash study.
A smarter approach to risk management
Digitally-connected power gathers data from sensors placed throughout a facility’s electrical distribution system. These sensors monitor a range of voltage and current characteristics, and also track ongoing heat and humidity conditions. This real-time tracking capability is valuable enough on its own, but an IIoT approach brings even more value to the data with the addition of cloud-based analytics that can use this information to identify trends that could offer warnings regarding potential problems before they occur.
This predictive capability goes beyond what once-a-year thermographic inspections can accomplish. First, tenants (and also building owners) gain added assurance that their facilities are operating as they should on a day-to-day basis. And second, IIoT analytics help them manage long-term risk by calling attention to slow-moving hazards. This can both improve safety performance and provide significant savings over a facility’s lifetime, in terms of avoided costs related to equipment maintenance and replacement.
A digitized approach doesn’t eliminate the need for annual inspections – in fact, it could offer TIC providers new opportunities to improve their current offerings and add new services to their lineup. Access to the previous year’s sensor-derived data will give these professionals more context for interpreting their thermographic imagery, possibly aiding their ability to understand the root causes behind anomalous findings. It also could help them focus their efforts toward areas where data trends indicate problems could be developing, making inspections more valuable to property owners, tenants and insurer. And gaining expertise in using such data could even open the door to new TIC business opportunities providing ongoing risk management services that go beyond simple annual inspections.
Adding up the IIoT value
It’s obvious that IIoT approaches to power monitoring bring added value to all involved in the risk-management chain. Owners and tenants enjoy peace of mind, knowing that plant equipment and systems are operating under optimal conditions. TIC companies gain new opportunities for improving their current service offerings – and adding to them. And insurers can have added confidence that their insured have a strong risk management program in place, which will, over time, reduce both the frequency and expense of potential claims.
Download our brochure to learn more about how IIoT solutions can help you keep your operations running safely and smoothly. You can also visit our web page for more information on innovative power solutions. Otherwise, you can reach out to your local customer support office.