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September 9, 2013 -
The issue of complexity and computers resides within much of today's computer equipment. Just open the panels and cabinets of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units and paralleling control cabinets, chiller control panels, paralleling switchgear, etc., and look inside. To most operating staff, this equipment has essentially become black boxes as well. So as the infrastructure has outpaced the staff's ability to troubleshoot and repair, the reliance on good maintenance practices becomes even more crucial.
Computers, programmable logic controllers, device-specific controllers, etc., are essentially "black boxes," which can complicate data center operations and maintenance. They typically don't give advance notice of pending failure, and when they do fail, the operating staff cannot make repairs or replacements. They have to call for vendor support and take manual control of the infrastructure involved.
The basic purpose of maintenance is to increase the availability of the equipment (and systems) being maintained. At the bottom of the pile is "corrective maintenance," or simply put, "fix it when it breaks." It takes the least effort from a management perspective, but results in the lowest availability and in most cases ends up costing the most in both total cost of ownership (TCO) and impact to operations.
The next rung up is preventive maintenance where you (hopefully) follow the manufacturer's recommendations to inspect and care for the equipment to extend its life and optimize its performance. In this case, you live with some planned unavailability (shutdowns) to afford the opportunity to care for the equipment (check belts, change filters, torque connections, etc.). The result is increased lifespan, more reliable performance, and lower failure rates.
The best practice is to supplement a preventive maintenance program with predictive maintenance using on-line condition-monitoring technologies. The most common and valuable on-line condition-monitoring technologies are thermography (infrared scanning) and vibration analysis. These monitoring techniques not only provide incredible insight regarding the health of the equipment, but actually require the equipment to be in operation, so the need for outages is reduced. By trending the results over time, a facility manager can see the health of the equipment start the inevitable decline towards predefined thresholds and "predict" when the equipment condition or performance will be adversely affected.