Addressing key concerns can make testing faster, better, and cheaper.
How can you best work with an outside testing firm? What are the keys to maximizing the relationship, making the best use of the services you are paying for, and avoiding surprise schedule delays? Whether you need construction acceptance testing, forensic testing, or maintenance testing, how you interact with the testing firm can have as much impact on project success as the testing itself. Whether an electrical contractor subcontracts the testing firm or the owner directly contracts with the testing firm, everyone involved benefits from thinking through the project—and making sure all parties coordinate their schedules.
A symbiotic relationship exists between electrical contractors, testing firms, and owners. All of them want to ensure the project proceeds smoothly and efficiently, ending in a quality product to the owner. The contractor and the testing firm want a successful customer who will give them referrals and repeat business. The owner wants a reliable power system so he can ship product out the door, on schedule. When the contractor and testing firm can exit a project profitably, everyone wins.
Key issues. Addressing the following concerns will improve the ability of the testing firm to provide quality service.
Specifying. Someone must provide a testing specification to identify the scope of work and responsibilities. Regardless of what the testing specification implies or directly states, the NEC requires performing certain tests prior to energizing particular systems. For example, 230.95(C) requires performance testing of ground fault protection systems. Specifications should include a detailed equipment list, specific tests required, references to applicable codes and standards, and site-specific data sheets. Maintenance departments can benefit from doing spot checks (Photo) before finalizing the specification so they can repair minor problems and identify testing needs they might have overlooked. A Tennessee appliance factory discovered grounding anomalies during their pre-testing checks and was able to schedule ground testing during a shutdown originally planned just for switchgear testing.
Planning. A delay in testing can throw your entire project off schedule, resulting in penalties for the contractor and production delays for the owner. Panicked calls at the eleventh hour often mean test technicians perform tests in the evening after a full day on another job—not the best way to work. And, consider things like testing cables before the contractor terminates them to avoid doing the work twice. If testing is for maintenance, not construction, be sure to consider production plans.
Scheduling. Suppose you schedule testing for the same time as finish work like drywalling and painting in the same area. The conflict of crews in each other’s way, not to mention the dust and paint fumes, will cause testing delays. Testing before the equipment is ready creates another set of problems—testing crews will be forced to do things out of sequence and juggle fragmented procedures. This increases the likelihood for error and often decreases the quality of the project. You can also save yourself the trouble of trying to schedule testing without knowing how long it will take by first consulting the testing firm. Someone at the firm—usually a field technician—reviews the project documentation to determine the equipment to be tested; the types of test equipment needed; the required support equipment like lifts, lights, and generators; and other pertinent matters. From this, the reviewer will determine which tests to do simultaneously, which tests must have dependent relationships in scheduling, and the staffing requirements to make it all happen correctly. This will give you a better idea of the amount of time to block out for the project. The testing may involve a limited resource that is already slated for elsewhere at the same time, so plan ahead.
Too often, facilities will schedule testing well in advance so they “get in the queue,” increasing the likelihood they’ll have to change plans with the testing firm late in the project. This only makes planning more expensive and less effective. Add the testing into your work breakdown structure. If you aren’t using a full-blown project management system, then at least add it to your Gantt chart. Have the testing company give you the time required for each task, and have them review your resulting work plan before you attempt actual scheduling.
Communications. The customer (whether a contractor or the owner) and the testing firm should each have its own person communications liaison. This avoids confusion, eliminates conflicting instructions, and eliminates diffusion of responsibility. In addition, someone should be available to show the testing crews where things are, unlock panels, answer questions, and authorize unforeseen work.
Security. Suppose a crew arrives at midnight to set up, do six hours of testing, tear down, and restore power before the day shift arrives. That leaves them precious little time to sit idly by while a security guard calls around trying to get authorization for access. Be sure the security team has the names of each test crewmember, the contact information of the site foreman, and the name of the on-site contract/escort. Also, find out ahead of time if they need proof of bonding or any other documentation. Finally, ensure the testing crew knows all of your safety requirements ahead of time.
Site physical access. Large test sets create several access obstacles. For example, a two-piece test set on wheels can weigh more than a ton and be difficult to fit through many doors. Large test sets also need a good surface to move across. The crew may also need large lights and generators to power test equipment and the equipment under test. A 6-in. high containment wall or a small set of stairs can pose severe problems, so select or create a good access path. Obviously, you don’t want test crews to waste time and money by walking long distances between their vehicles and their tests. So arrange for them to have vehicular access close to each testing area.
Equipment access vs. operations. When push comes to shove, management will back operations in getting product out the door rather than stop production for testing. Whether equipment is new or in service, operations people typically see testing as a needless intrusion on their domain. So obtain a testing window from the operations managers far enough in advance that they can plan around that window. They may need to build inventory ahead of time, and they‘re almost sure to schedule people to take time off during the testing.
Power and light. Providing test power and lighting can be simple when the only requirement is 20A at 120VAC. However, large test sets can require 150A at 480V to operate. Make sure to address this issue thoroughly with the testing company well ahead of time, so its crew doesn’t show up and have to wait until someone delivers a generator. It’s hard to explain to the plant manager that all the dayshift workers are standing around waiting for the testing people to finish because you failed to plan for power and light.
Energy sources. Occasionally someone will backfeed electrical equipment with temporary power prior to testing—especially in construction. These instances require a shutdown of the equipment and identification of safe lockout points.
Upon completion of the testing, you have two methods of confirming that the testing firm met the requirements of the testing specifications. First, you should see testing stickers applied to each device tested. Second, you need the final test report, which should include details of the equipment tested, testing procedures used, as found/as left data, discrepancies found, and recommendations for repair. You should also have copies of the field data sheets. Some testing firms provide trending charts, photos, thermographic images, and other graphical information.
If you’ve done everything correctly, you’ll have good baseline data for predictive maintenance and warranty enforcement. You also have a testing firm that will want to work with you again and help you solve your problems—often before they occur.
Hartman is vice president of technical services, for Advanced Electrical Testing, Seattle.