At first glance, maintaining the health of an electrical power system may seem simple — even boring — to some. After a new system has been installed and commissioned, it may operate seamlessly for years with no routine maintenance. Improvements in component design and quality are two reasons why electrical systems today operate at higher levels of reliability and availability. This has led some owners to take a “sit and wait” approach, doing nothing until there’s some type of component or equipment failure. Even then, they may simply tell the contractor to replace the failed components or pieces of equipment and quickly get them back up and running. But seasoned electrical professionals know the value that preventive and scheduled maintenance activities can bring to the table.
One area that has really captured the attention of owners of late — and proved the worth of a solid maintenance program — is emergency and standby generator maintenance. The regularity of widespread devastating weather events, coupled with our ever-growing reliance on communications and electronic data needs, has brought renewed focus on generator maintenance programs. Faulty maintenance procedures or simple neglect can render these important systems useless. More times than not, the reasons these systems fail to start or run are basic in nature. Old or contaminated fuel can quickly clog a fuel filter. Starting batteries may fail to operate because they were not charged properly or left unchecked. Even something as simple as leaving a start switch in the wrong mode of operation can delay the availability of these powerful generation systems. For a really good review of the key activities that should be included in a standby diesel generator maintenance program, turn to page 8 and read what one manufacturer’s operations specialist has to say on the topic.
Another area of maintenance that has grown in popularity in recent years is thermal imaging. The cost of infrared imaging equipment has dropped considerably over the past few years. One result of this development is the broader use of these devices for non-electrical type activities. Those individuals working in the energy efficiency field are relying on these pieces of equipment to perform building diagnostic checks and complete energy audits. IR cameras can identify hot and cold zones in buildings, pinpoint leaky window and door locations, verify the integrity of insulation systems, and locate moisture problems.
In the electrical arena, we’ve known the benefits this type of technology offers for many years. As part of an overall maintenance program, these devices can yield early warning signs of pending electrical failures. They can help identify problems with electrical connection points and check the operation of equipment. Incorporated into a broader maintenance program, they can help you reduce unplanned outages and prevent damage to key equipment. But using these devices around energized electrical equipment requires the user to adhere to strict safety guidelines. The user must also be well trained in how to properly orient the camera, aim the device, and capture true images to judge the severity of the problem. For a snapshot review of some of the key issues being discussed in the thermal imaging field, check out our cover story starting on page 18, “The Language of Heat.”
When implemented properly, a preventive maintenance program can yield a number of benefits. Yes, these types of programs can be costly and a challenge to manage, but in the long-run their benefits should far outweigh these factors.