Investing A Little, Getting A Lot

By Richard P. Bingham | Jul 15, 2013




Not much time goes by without hearing, “My equipment used to work fine, but now it keeps locking up every so often. Our productivity is suffering big time.” My usual first questions are, “What has changed, and what are you doing differently?” The answer is usually “nothing” for both. The next step is to install a power quality monitor at the service entrance to see if the utility really is providing “bad power,” since that is usually the first way the finger points. When that is ruled out, it is time to look inward.

A good question to pose next is, “How extensive is your preventative maintenance on the electrical, electronic and communications systems and equipment?” To that, a common response is, “I don’t have the time or money to do that.” Given the decreased productivity and the costs associated with that, it would seem that they can’t afford not to, but many facilities don’t have such a program. This presents another opportunity for an annuity-type revenue source for the electrical contractor—establishing and conducting an effective electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program.

An effective EPM program requires qualified personnel who have the skills necessary to carry out regularly scheduled inspections, testing and/or servicing of electrical equipment, based on knowledge of what and when it is necessary for a particular type of equipment. Nearly all maintenance is done on de-energized equipment. However, some inspection and testing needs to be carried out on energized equipment; hence, the person must also be qualified for such work (and provided with the proper PPE). The results of the work carried out should be concisely and accurately documented for future comparison and others to review.

These all sound like skills common to a typical electrical contractor.

NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Maintenance, is one of the companion documents to both NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, and NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. One of its purposes is “improving reliability, performance, and efficiency in a cost-effective manner … for systems and equipment covered are typical of those installed in industrial plants, institutional and commercial buildings, and large multifamily residential complexes.”

Right up front in NFPA 70B are chapters to help you get started. Chapter 4 covers why an effective EPM program pays dividends, including the value and benefits, the effect on energy conservation, and case histories—all useful when convincing the people who control the purse strings. Chapter 5 details the essential elements and planning an EPM program as well as survey and analysis methods, and programmed inspections. Chapter 6 ties together the planning for and development of an EPM program including identification of critical equipment and general methods and procedures.

A reminder of the importance of safety is found in Chapter 7, which reinforces the need for a working knowledge of NFPA 70E. This chapter precedes general maintenance topic chapters, including fundamentals of electrical equipment maintenance, system studies, testing and test methods, and maintenance of electrical equipment subject to long intervals between shutdowns. Then come chapters specifically addressing maintenance for just about every of type of equipment and devices that you are likely to encounter in an industrial, commercial or institutional facility. These include fuses, insulated-case/molded-case circuit-breakers, ground-fault protection, motor-control equipment, power cables, cable tray and busway, power and distribution transformers, batteries and battery chargers, electronic equipment, lighting, static apparatuses, rotating apparatuses, wiring devices, portable tools, and uninterruptible power supply systems. Along with step-by-step instructions in the chapters, there are maintenance interval guidelines for the various types of equipment and dozens and dozens of forms in the annexes to help you get started right away.

Every three years or so, the committee reviews the entire document for updates needed to stay current with the latest proven techniques and methods for electrical equipment maintenance, along with new equipment that one might encounter. For example, the 2013 edition added material in the lighting chapter concerning the new laws on energy efficiency, relamping with light-emitting diodes, and proper grounding. New chapters include disaster recovery, photovoltaic systems, electrical vehicle charging systems, wind power electrical systems, and general topics of reliability-centered maintenance and commissioning or acceptance testing.

The continually updated chapters on power quality and grounding reflect the concern for the impact of electrical equipment maintenance. From a transformer overloaded by current harmonics to the impulses generated from bad contacts on a switch to increasingly deeper sags from the startup of improperly maintained motors, the negative effects from failing to carry out an effective EPM program are numerous and costly. With the 70B in your back pocket (or maybe in your truck since it is 270-plus pages), you can develop a recurring revenue stream for yourself. At the same time, you’ll provide your customer with significant savings that result from avoiding costly repairs of catastrophic equipment failure as well as lost productivity costs—a win-win.

About The Author

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 908.499.5321.

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