Training for Power Quality
Ensuring power quality for electrical systems is one of the most important responsibilities of front-line technicians. In turn, ensuring these technicians are up to date on changing technology — for electrical-distribution systems, as well as diagnostic and testing equipment — is an essential responsibility for maintenance and engineering managers who are developing or fine-tuning a facility’s power-quality plan.
One major component of a facility’s overall plan is a preventive maintenance (PM) program. A PM program and implementation plan are critical for heading off equipment issues before they cause injury, critical-power problems, or expensive repairs. These programs also are essential for protecting institutional and commercial facilities from accidents, equipment failures, system interruptions and/or fires.
Fortunately, with a comprehensive technician training program and advances in modern testing devices including thermal-imaging equipment, managers can enhance power quality and reliability in their facility for years to come.
PM and Training
Managers either can establish PM programs themselves, or they work with an outside consultant specializing in PM to develop criteria specific to their facilities.
Organizations that rely on uptime for their business, such as data centers, understand the importance of PM programs. Many other facilities use a “run to failure” approach to maintaining power quality. As this term suggests, these organizations perform little or no maintenance during the life of the equipment.
This approach often provides acceptable power quality and reliability for non-critical applications, and it is a cost-effective plan for facilities that lack a dedicated electrical maintenance staff or that have an underfunded maintenance budget.
Postponing or ignoring PM for non-critical applications is often acceptable, but to ensure the safety of building occupants and visitors, managers and technicians should not ignore life-safety equipment. In many cases, neglected equipment will need to be replaced during a renovation project, whereas the life and reliability of this equipment generally can be extended with proper maintenance.
Equipment neglect also can cause system downtime, resulting in lost income and incurred labor costs to troubleshoot, repair and restart equipment.
Establishing a PM program can help managers ensure safe, reliable operation of all electrical equipment. Keeping up on technician certification and training is an essential step to move that effort forward.
Due to the highly technical nature of this work, many technicians obtain certification in various practice areas. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA), and other organizations offer voluntary certification programs. They test applicants on topics related to basic electricity, generators and alternators, automatic transfer switches, troubleshooting techniques, and safety.
To ensure the long-term performance of electrical-distribution systems, managers need to engage technicians in ongoing training on code updates, new equipment, testing and maintenance procedures, and safety. In each case, managers need to consider a few important issues.
•EQUIPMENT. Equipment such as switchgear, switchboards, transformers, generators, transfer switches, distribution boards, cables, and grounding systems are critical to proper building operations. The maintenance plan should address them with ongoing review and maintenance information. Technicians also should stay up to date on new equipment, particularly electronic control systems, computer networks, and security systems. The training also needs to cover state and local building codes, as well as the National Electrical Code, as they related to implementing new equipment.
•TESTING. It is essential that technicians receive training on the documentation, tests, test intervals, and procedures for critical equipment. This information includes guidelines from NFPA 70E, manufacturer recommendations, and industry standards. For some components of the electrical-distribution system, managers should set written procedures for equipment, inspection intervals, and service requirements. Also, some organizations, such as hospitals, require managers to compile records of tests, inspections and service dates and provide this data to governing bodies. But technician training also should cover the ways in which testing equipment too often can unintentionally create failure points in a system. In an effort to determine optimum equipment maintenance schedules, some facilities perform studies to discover the inspection and testing “sweet spot,” says Tim Janof, a data center expert. These findings can help managers maximize the benefits of maintenance dollars without creating excess wear and tear on the equipment created by overtesting.
•MAINTENANCE SCHEDULES. Many facilities use computerized maintenance management systems to schedule, manage and maintain electrical equipment in their buildings. Other facilities use spreadsheets to accomplish many of the same tasks, which can be effective — and much more affordable — if used correctly. Regardless of the method used, routine inspection and maintenance is critical for the long-term efficiency of the electrical-distribution system.
•SAFETY. Chapter 1 of NFPA 70E outlines requirements and recommended components of an electrical safety program for maintenance technicians. Per this standard, technicians should receive ongoing training on safety requirements for specialized equipment, including batteries, lasers, and power electronic equipment. Training also should cover best practices for maintaining electrical components, wiring, and equipment.
Technicians also need training on the proper use and care of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats, safety glasses, and protective clothing. As recommended in NFPA 70E, facilities should implement and maintain a dedicated PPE program to identify and evaluate workplace hazards and determine PPE use.
To help keep safety top-of-mind, managers need to reinforce safety issues daily, if possible, and routinely evaluate safety-training programs to determine their effectiveness in preventing illnesses and injuries.
Training Into Practice
Turning technician training and PM program planning into results for facilities and organizations requires that managers take a number of important steps.
•OBTAIN MANAGEMENT BUY-IN. This is the first step in ensuring the success of a PM program. Managers and technicians must create a case for implementing this program, including a cost-benefit analysis — evaluating the costs and benefits of selecting new software or imaging technologies as part of the overall program.
•DESIGNATE DUTIES. Managers need to identify qualified personnel who will be responsible for oversight of the PM program and for managing each component of the testing and maintenance. Again, an outside consultant can handle some or all of these tasks.
•CREATE A SCHEDULE. A schedule for equipment inspection and maintenance serves as a roadmap for the plan. It should include all electrical-distribution components that are critical to a facility’s operation. Maintenance frequency varies by equipment type, manufacturer recommendations, and industry standards. As the program progresses, technicians can adjust the schedule to maintain a cost-effective program and meet the department’s budget.
•ESTABLISH RECORDKEEPING PROTOCOLS. Keeping accurate records is critical in managing and maintaining power quality. Managers can use these records over the life of the PM program to analyze equipment issues, as well as a benchmark in making decisions about changing testing frequencies for certain equipment. Recordkeeping standards should be specific to the facility and reinforced to staff.
•LAUNCH THE PROGRAM. Once all items are complete, the PM program is ready to launch. As a living document, the program can change over time based on a facility’s learning curve and benefits that accrue.
Investing in technician training and prioritizing power quality are sound investments in the long-term health of building electrical systems, as well as the safety of occupants. Power quality doesn’t just happen, but managers can help achieve it by emphasizing training and adopting a PM plan that works for their facilities.
Michael Newbury is a principal at Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm with offices in Seattle and Portland.
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