According to the multinational insurance carrier FM Global, electrical equipment failure is the #1 cause of fire within industrial sites. Examples of potential electrical hazards that lead to fires include wiring that is either exposed or not up to code, high harmonic distortion, inadequately sized capacitor banks, overloaded outlets or circuits, static discharge, and arc flash (caused when a conductive object bridges the insulation gap between two energized parts), to name a few. However, for many manufacturers and consulting companies, addressing these types of safety threats presents an issue during a time when pandemic-driven social distancing restrictions are in place. It has become impractical for electrical systems experts to travel abroad and conduct on-site audits. For this reason, new approaches such as remote safety audits have been introduced to the market to help lower risks.
Food and beverage industry stakeholders are particularly sensitive to electrical system sparking and malfunction due to potential on-site hazards that can affect medium voltage (MV) and low voltage (LV) electrical distribution systems.
In fact, one leading global food and beverage manufacturer had recently experienced an electrical fire in a plant that had resulted in both physical injury and severe damage to production line machinery. As part of their internal program to avoid fire across their manufacturing sites, the manufacturer decided to take immediate action to enhance fire safety across their 200 plants.
However, their plan to conduct on-site audits of their three initial pilot plants was no longer practical given policies that limited the number of humans present on the manufacturing floors. Knowing that Schneider Electric possessed a high level of expertise in commercial electrical distribution systems as well as a reputation for enabling high-quality remote digital operations, the manufacturer asked Schneider to propose an innovative solution.
Remote Safety Audit Quickly Identifies Risks and Exposures
Schneider Electric responded by proposing a customized version of their Modernization, Performance, and Safety (MPS) audit service. The Schneider Electric services consulting team suggested conducting an electrical fire risk audit that would remotely assess on-site substations, transformers, and switchgear, thus avoiding the complications imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s how the process worked.
- Use of remote collaboration software to assess equipment and electrical installation status – Since an on-site visit by Schneider Electric experts was impossible, the engineers on the plant floor were provided with the ability to download the Remote Expertise software onto their cell phones and tablets. The tool, managed through the cloud, enabled the users to engage their mobile device cameras to serve as the “eyes” of the Schneider Electric experts.
- Consulting and analysis to identify risks – The purpose of this assessment is to minimize safety risks by having the remote experts understand the lifecycle and operating conditions of the critical electrical assets. The team of experts is located across the globe and consists of trained power system analysts and certified and licensed professional power monitoring software experts. Once the experts had captured the on-site data, they performed analysis and calculations to highlight any potential safety issues.
- Report generation to communicate results – Based on the types of electrical devices being audited on the plant floor, the observations made during the remote visual inspection, and applicable standards and industry best practices, the auditing experts knew where the weaknesses and risks were. A full report was then produced for the three pilot sites. The report presented an accurate assessment of the condition of the electrical distribution equipment and the related substations.
Plant Staff Presentation with Remediation Action Plan
The remote audit of the pilot food and beverage plants highlighted multiple electrical safety issues that the staff were unaware of. These included:
- An issue concerning high harmonic levels on the switchboard (harmonics are a distortion of the normal electrical current waveform, generally transmitted by nonlinear loads). Such conditions can easily lead to overheating and fire. The experts recommended a power quality analysis to evaluate harmonic pollution levels at the site and to determine whether passive or active filtering should be performed to address the situation.
- An issue with the location of main switchboard capacitor banks that were deemed too close to other critical electrical assets. This lack of segregation could potentially lead to the rapid spread of fire to nearby equipment and to a possible extension of damage. The recommendation was to relocate the capacitor bank to the outside of the switchboard.
In fact, the final report revealed over a dozen areas of exposure, along with recommendations for how to address the various levels of risk. The plant management team was so pleased with the remote audit results, that they decided to move forward with performing similar audits across all 200 of their global manufacturing sites.
For More Information
To learn how Schneider Electric Modernization, Performance, and Safety (MPS) remote audit services can help your organization to achieve a higher level of resilience, operator safety, and business continuity, access our video or visit our Power Services web site.