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Digitization plays a key role in making electrical substation modernization practical and cost effective

Manufacturing sites face unique challenges when managing their MV and LV electrical distribution assets.  Much like a new automobile that gets driven off a dealer’s lot immediately loses some of its value, the plant’s electrical system begins its slow march to inefficiency, disrepair, and obsolescence the day it’s commissioned. Issues also tend to multiply when plants are pushed to run beyond their original design capacity. Changes occur over time, like deferred maintenance, which, in many cases, serves as a band-aid to reduce operational costs. Over time, the factory runs less efficiently and becomes more prone to failure. This, in turn, complicates the plant owner’s prospect of maintaining agile operations when marketplace conditions quickly change.  This is why sound practices such as flexible and digital electrical substation modernization play such a critical role in helping organizations to maintain their competitive edge.

Electrical Substation Modernization

Lack of maintenance technician resources is also an ongoing challenge faced by plant owners. This issue is compounded as machine infrastructures become more complex and sophisticated while maintenance staff shrinks due to retirements. Nearly every major city is flooded with job openings that need to be filled by qualified facility maintenance personnel.

Forward-looking organizations are addressing these issues by accelerating their modernization plans through investments in digital technologies. In the realm of electrical distribution system modernization, leading industrial players have used digital tools to dramatically reduce unplanned outages while boosting maintenance-labor productivity. According to McKinsey, this combination of higher availability and a more efficient workforce have increased profitability by 4 to 10 percent in some organizations. This blog, part 3 of a series of 3 blogs (read part 1; read part 2)  focused on power system modernization, addresses the digitization aspects of upgrading switchgear installations.

Electrical substation modernization in 3 easy steps

 In the past, modernization of electrical distribution assets such as switchgear was a disruptive and expensive process. The existing equipment would have to be dismantled and decommissioned and extended periods of downtime would occur when the new equipment was brought in as a replacement.

In today’s digital world, however, more sustainable approaches such as refurbishment and reuse are much more affordable and practical. When coupled with new digital practices such as predictive and condition-based maintenance, systems availability goes up while support costs go down.

Here are three basic steps to follow when digitizing existing switchgear as part of the overall refurbishment process.

  1. Installation of sensors – It can take less than 30 minutes to instrument switchgear with the proper sensors. The sensors are strategically located in areas where the highest probability of failure can occur. As sensors gather information on internal switchgear temperatures and humidity, the process of asset performance management can begin, and early indications of pending problems can be identified before those problems result in unanticipated downtime.
  2. Connection to the cloud – Connection to the cloud enables access to manufacturer expertise, allowing site maintenance teams to be more informed about efficient execution of maintenance. Cloud-based tools automatically collect critical infrastructure sensor values regularly and submit that data to a centralized data lake in the cloud. That data, with proper permissions, is then pooled with other data collected from thousands of customer sites so that diagnostic comparisons can be made.
  3. Analysis of data – Access to more data enables a transition from calendar-based maintenance operations to condition-based maintenance which results in maintenance cost optimization and reduced probability of failure. Analytics software can review the data gathered to identify behavioral trends and to predict when a particular system requires attention. The analytics not only identify typical problems, but also are capable of flagging two or three symptomatic issues, and of relating them to each other. Such information helps to provide decision-makers with the information they need to optimize uptime while reducing costs.

Digitization of electrical distribution substations allows organizations to perform maintenance only when it’s really needed. This reduces the overall frequency of technician visits.  The guesswork involved in calendar-based maintenance and the risk of introducing unintended human error is significantly reduced.

The connection between digitization and cybersecurity

When modernization projects involve digital solutions, potential cybersecurity issues must also be addressed. Digitization and cybersecurity are 100% linked, therefore one should not move forward without the other. It’s up to each individual organization to understand where vulnerabilities lie within their operations.

Digital electrical distribution equipment manufacturers like Schneider Electric assist in these efforts by applying a Secure Development Life Cycle (SDL) approach to all core products (such as protection relays or SCADA). Within the context of SDL, secure architecture reviews are performed, threat modeling of the conceptual security design takes place, secure coding rules are followed, specialized tools are used to analyze code, and security testing of the product is performed.  These actions help to ‘harden’ products, making them more resilient against cyberattacks.

For more information

To learn more about how Schneider Electric electrical distribution substation modernization can help your organization to reduce maintenance costs while improving uptime, safety, and sustainability, visit our Modernization website.


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