Why condition-based maintenance is a turning point for critical electrical distribution asset management 

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A global survey of 1000 companies revealed that unplanned downtime routinely costs them between $1.25 billion and $2.5 billion annually. Disruptions in productivity can be financially devastating. For 98 percent of companies surveyed, just one hour of downtime now costs upwards of $100,000. And that doesn’t even include fines that regulatory agencies can levy.  

In this post, I’ll discuss how your company can mitigate unplanned downtime risks by moving your electrical distribution equipment to condition-based maintenance and how you can help your facilities increase service continuity, optimize maintenance costs, and more. You’ll also learn how IoT connectivity enables this new strategy cost-effectively while digital services help accelerate the transition. 

Two experts in an electrical room, wearing hard hats and other PPE, discussing condition-based maintenance strategies for electrical equipment.
Where Innovation Meets Maintenance: Experts explore condition-based maintenance strategies to revolutionize electrical asset management

Why traditional maintenance isn’t enough to avoid unplanned downtime  

The status quo approach to electrical distribution equipment maintenance has failed to prevent downtime for many organizations. There are many reasons for this:  

  • The mistaken assumption that equipment is “maintenance free” because it has performed without incident for years;  
  • Lack of insight into the condition of low and medium-voltage equipment;  
  • Lack of facility team resources, expertise, or time to manage electrical networks effectively; or  
  • Little or no routine maintenance is being performed.  

But, without proper maintenance – especially without the support of a services plan – there’s a high risk of electrical equipment failure and damage, power outages, and disruptions to your operations. And as electrical assets age, that risk increases. Waiting for failures to occur means doing maintenance on a reactive, corrective basis, with typically higher costs for parts and labor. 

Improving the service continuity of your electrical supply should be reason enough for improving your maintenance strategy. But there are many other benefits to gain, such as: 

  • Minimizing the risk of electrical system-related accidents by optimizing electrical safety;   
  • Properly maintaining electrical equipment so it can run more efficiently, minimizing energy consumption;   
  • Getting more lifespan out of your assets, which helps reduce CapEx and avoid carbon emissions; and   
  • Avoiding unplanned breakdowns will help lower OpEx by optimizing spare parts management and minimizing parts and labor costs.  

Choosing the best maintenance strategy  

These extensive benefits make clear that properly maintaining electrical distribution equipment is a good business decision. But what is the best path forward? Here are three approaches to consider:  

  1. Predetermined maintenance – Preventive maintenance is scheduled, with intervals based on assumed operation conditions and life expectancy. Planned interruptions minimize production losses, which minimizes costs.  
  1. Condition-based maintenance – This method is also preventative but uses sensors to monitor equipment conditions (e.g., number of mechanical operations, loading, temperature, humidity, dust, etc.). The data assists in determining which maintenance tasks must be performed and when to perform them, offering greater flexibility in maintenance scheduling.  
  1. Predictive maintenance – An advanced form of condition-based maintenance that uses analytics to trend equipment aging, identify potential fault conditions, and predict time to failure. These insights help you reduce maintenance by scheduling it only when needed while making the best decisions when equipment nears the end of life.  

You can select the right approach depending on your downtime implications, budget, the electrical system’s age, the criticality of specific assets, and other factors. Subject to the manufacturer’s recommendations, you might choose a hybrid combination of two or more approaches. However, many organizations are moving to condition-based and predictive maintenance practices to benefit from a more proactive approach.  

How digitalization supports condition-based maintenance  

Condition-based and predictive maintenance depends on having access to equipment data. For electrical distribution equipment, this may require the installation of sensors that can deliver real-time and trended data for critical parameters. Data can be gathered by an enterprise asset management system and shared with an enterprise resource planning system, enabling several benefits. For example:  

  • Set alarms on equipment wear thresholds to help trigger maintenance interventions when needed. 
  • Reduce costs by improving the management of resources and spare parts. 
  • Predict when downtime events are likely to occur. 
  • Optimize equipment obsolescence management. 

Using IoT and the cloud to optimize maintenance  

Equipment manufacturers often recommend fixed time intervals for maintenance, for example, every two or three years, depending on environmental conditions. However, IoT, big data analytics, and cloud connectivity can help optimize maintenance. When combined with product-specific information (age, condition, maintenance history, environment, etc.), collected data and analytics – including artificial intelligence (AI) – can help to:   

  • Extend maintenance intervals as part of condition-based maintenance practices.  
  • Limit equipment downtime by identifying potential maintenance issues and performing remote diagnostics to determine a root cause before a service visit. 
  • Avoid replacing parts when not required.  
  • Enable faster process decisions to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of repair crews.  

Newer electrical distribution equipment may come with embedded sensors, while older equipment may need to be upgraded with sensors. Wireless sensors can make installation fast and non-disruptive. If equipment is near end-of-life, you should modernize with equipment that includes native sensors. Importantly, consider including sensors for temperature, humidity, thermal conditions on critical connections, and overheating of cables.  

How digital services help accelerate the journey to condition-based maintenance  

Based on data and maintenance histories collected from thousands of components installed worldwide, maintenance decisions can now be based on an advanced analytic: maintenance index. Comprehensive insights can extend a maintenance cycle by up to five years based on stress, wear, and aging indicators.   

Organizations can benefit by engaging with an expert team that analyzes index data. They can use this to help recommend when to perform maintenance, alert when abnormalities are identified, and coordinate with their on-site service technicians, or dispatch support from an external services team. A trusted services provider with energy management and automation expertise will audit a facility, then recommend modernization to improve connectivity (if required) and update the maintenance plan based on specific requirements.   

Brazilian semiconductor packaging fabricator SMART Modular Technologies wanted to modernize its equipment and processes to improve efficiency and safety. After equipping switchgear with smart thermal monitoring sensors, the facility team adopted a service plan. The services plan gives 24/7 access to experts and reports, with fast remote and onsite response times. This has enabled condition-based maintenance to become standardized and safe remote monitoring of high-voltage equipment that is sometimes inaccessible due to physical security.  

To learn more, explore our EcoCare membership services plan.* Or download our white paper “Benefits of shifting from traditional to condition-based maintenance in electrical distribution equipment.”  

*Please verify the availability of EcoCare in your region through a local services sales’ representative. If EcoCare is not yet available, you can start leveraging EcoStruxure Service Plan.

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