Preventing Unscheduled Power Outages: Electrical System Maintenance

by Visitor Grant ‎10-15-2013 08:32 AM - edited ‎10-15-2013 10:29 AM

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Imagine this: you’re completing a routine power station walkthrough before your shift ends. All of a sudden you hear a loud bang and duck your head as sparks fly across the room. You’re surrounded by darkness, and you hear machinery shutting down; you realize the power is out. It’s clear that you’re dealing with an unscheduled power outage, but what caused it? You investigate and discover the root cause to be a lack of maintenance.

 

Regularly scheduled maintenance is crucial for any power system. We often think about mechanical components and the associated downtime when planning maintenance schedules, however, we often overlook the system’s electrical components, such as the circuit breakers.

The electrical components are an important part of the system and need to be maintained for the components and system to function effectively. Ignoring electrical component maintenance can lead to system failures with varying degrees of consequences ranging from leaving the system vulnerable to an unscheduled outage all the way to experiencing an arc blast event, which can result in serious injury or even death.

 

Experiencing an Arc Blast

Unscheduled downtime is a serious situation, especially when personnel safety is at risk.  The most severe problem related to a lack of electrical system maintenance is an arc blast event, which is a sudden and powerful release of electrical energy. The arc blast produces a violent electrical explosion hot enough to melt metal components and strong enough to produce pressure waves that can cause severe burns, serious injury or even death.

In the event of an arc blast, companies and their associated personnel will likely endure an insurance investigation for equipment damage, scrutiny from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and increased costs related to lost productivity, system repairs and possible regulatory violation fines.

Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid a serious emergency situation, an unscheduled power outage can still cause enough damage to make you rethink your maintenance strategy. Other potential problems include system efficiency loss, increased costs, component damage and lost production.

 

Electrical Maintenance and Circuit Breakers

While it’s nearly impossible to prevent all power outages, being informed, prepared and proactive can help ensure electrical system reliability, avoid unnecessary costs and maintain a safe working environment. Service schedules and system dynamics will differ, but some general maintenance strategies can be used across all electrical systems to help avoid problems.

  • Perform operation exercises. Operate electrical components frequently to ensure proper functionality and maintain overall system ‘health’.
  • Provide operation training. Practicing the wrong operating procedures can turn small problems into bigger and more costly problems.
  • Schedule routine cleaning and lubrication. Humidity and dust particles can settle in hard-to-see crevices creating corrosion that can lead to electrical malfunctions.
  • Implement standard equipment testing. Regular component and system testing helps ensure the system will perform as designed and identifies potential issues before they become problems. 

 

Circuit breakers can act similar to the human body. Just like sitting for too long without movement causes muscles and joints to become stiff and unstable, circuit breakers become unreliable without regular maintenance, testing and operation.

The circuit breakers are meant to sense problems and shut down electrical activity to avoid more serious problems, which means circuit breakers should also be considered for regular maintenance and testing. The following is a list of preventative maintenance practices to help avoid major system failure.

  • Cleaning, inspection and lubrication
  • Primary and secondary injection testing
  • Insulation resistance testing
  • Contact pressure testing
  • Trip unit operation verification

 

Caterpillar’s global dealer network includes electric power service technicians trained specifically for regular power system maintenance. For more information on customizable service options including electrical testing and maintenance solutions, contact your local Cat dealer or visit us online at http://www.cat.com/en_US/products/new/power-systems/electric-power-generation.html.

 

We’d like to hear from you. Tell us about your experience with electrical maintenance strategies and unscheduled power outages.

 

  • Do you maintain the electrical components of your system?  Why / why not?
  • What drives your behavior when it comes to maintaining your electrical system?  
  • Do regulations or standards influence your electrical system maintenance practices?  If so, which ones?

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