Benefits of developing an electrical preventive maintenance program

An electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) can help identify safety risks, correct reliability issues and give an overall view of the health status of a facility’s electrical infrastructure.

By Corey Hoffman, Joe Hulst and Randy Mouw July 27, 2023
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Preventive maintenance insights

  • An electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program helps companies determine what is and isn’t working and helps companies prevent downtime and potential safety issues.
  • Working with a provider who has expertise in developing an EPM or with a strong background in power distribution and electrical safety is recommended.
  • Continuous and consistent monitoring is key in getting the most out of an EPM program.

Executing an electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program at a facility is smart business. It’s a decent bet a facility’s electrical infrastructure and equipment are aging. Pushing the limits of aging or obsolete gear risks production disruption and worker safety. With an EPM, instead of reacting to sudden outages and major equipment failure, companies identify and fix potential issues before they lead to disaster. It’s not just about meeting NFPA compliance – electrical maintenance can save lives.

EPMs often have two branches: Preventive maintenance and system checks and electrical consulting solutions that uncover system issues and develop remediation plans. A comprehensive program will identify safety risks, provide short-term and long-term remediation plans, correct reliability issues to avoid unnecessary downtime, and give an overall view of the health status of the electrical infrastructure. This helps keep employees safe while allowing companies to plan for future investments and expansions.

To get the most out of the investment in this program, it’s recommended to work with a provider that has expertise in power distribution systems with the ability to perform electrical system studies, audits and preventive maintenance.

What’s included in an EPM program

A strong EPM program encompasses routine checks and maintenance as well as certain electrical system studies.

The main elements of preventive maintenance include:

  • Infrared (IR) scanning. IR scans detect heat from improper electrical connections that are not visible to the human eye. A qualified technician will identify and document temperatures that exceed NFPA Standard 70B recommendations such as high resistance electrical connections, current overload, defective circuit breakers or defective insulator conditions. IR scans often take 1 to 2 days and cause no downtime.

  • Routine cleaning reduces the chance of premature equipment failure and fires due to excess debris and heat. This is necessary if the plant has high dust contents. Cleaning will also reveal missing screws on electrical panels, covers that don’t seal well, missing hole plugs, and broken or disconnected handles on older equipment.

  • Grounding testing. This testing ensures a good ground path is established in case an energized wire shorts out. Grounding testing should cover electrical equipment, processing equipment and building steel.

  • Breaker settings. A technician will verify that all breaker settings are coordinated correctly and match the recommended setting called out in the arc flash report.

  • Dissolved gas analysis (DGA) oil testing. DGA testing can reveal early indications of a future transformer failure. Adding external transformer oil sampling and nitrogen ports to pad-mounted transformers will allow companies to sample transformers without shutting them down.

  • Breaker injection testing. A technician will test larger breakers (often 400A or larger) to ensure they are working as intended.

  • Energized testing. Energized testing should be performed on switchboards, main breaker MCCs and distribution panels. Due to the critical nature of these pieces of equipment, testing is crucial to avoid failures with a wide impact.

The primary consulting solutions and audits to include in the program are:

  • Electrical site audits. These audits will help keep the equipment running reliably while showing how to prepare for future growth.

    • Electrical system evaluation

    • Grounding audits.

  • Power system studies. These studies analyze the plant’s power distribution system to identify risks, eliminate inefficiencies, and ensure compliance with government regulations.

    • Arc flash studies

    • Protective device coordination

    • Short circuit analyses

    • Load studies

    • Power factor correction analyses. 

Developing an EPM process

Continually monitoring an electrical system will show changes that can point to larger issues. At a minimum, all facilities should have electrical safety hazards identified and electrical gear properly labeled. Customers who choose to implement IR scans, cleaning, grounding testing and breaker setting checks will have the advantage of finding and repairing any concerns before they become problems. Companies should review the NFPA 70B regulations with the maintenance team or chosen electrical firm and develop an EPM standard that works with the facility.

A strong EPM program will focus on the age, usability, and maintainability of equipment and protective devices. The time investment varies by location, but this kind of maintenance often takes eight weeks per site. When Interstates conducts EPM programs, the process includes 1 to 2 days on-site, 2 to 3 weeks of office work and analysis, a review meeting to discuss findings and a month for the client to make corrective actions.

At each facility, it’s good to take pictures and look at the client’s system to help them develop a maintenance regiment or provide upkeep solutions. The client ends up with specific information about their exact gear and how it can be used or maintained in the future.

Recently, a manufacturing client requested a comprehensive EPM program at over 30 locations. The company has many aging facilities and were looking for a way to identify hazards and risks that would help them make informed investment decisions. The initial program scope involved arc flash studies, grounding audits and general condition evaluations and grew to include breaker injection testing and cleaning. With the information gathered from these EPM efforts and electrical system studies, the client can complete long-term remediation planning and get ahead of their aging equipment.

Benefits of an EPM program

Besides the obvious importance of safety, some of the main benefits of a comprehensive EPM include:

  • Finding any weak points in the electrical system, whether it’s underrated equipment, a discontinued breaker or parts no longer available.

  • Saving money and time by identifying problems early and solving them before they cause an accident or outage.

  • Collecting data to see what sites have immediate electrical needs or safety concerns.

  • Improving the reliability and even electrical gear’s longevity.

Choosing a provider that can bundle all these solutions for cost and time savings is helpful. Whether a company needs help remaining NFPA compliant or wants someone to analyze data to determine how to achieve immediate electrical system needs, make sure the maintenance team or provider understands the plant and gear.

Scheduling a comprehensive electrical maintenance program is a great way to accomplish these goals. Combining an EPM program with electrical system studies and audits will leave companies with enhanced reliability and reduce the risk of injury, accident or unplanned downtime.

Basic EPM program steps

Not all problems uncovered during an EPM program require expensive remediation. Here are a few basic steps technicians can take during their visit to the plant:

  • Review the integrity of the electrical system

  • Repair hot spots identified during the IR scan

  • Clean the equipment

  • Check the main lug torques

  • Check the screw tension on control wire terminals (since loose connections don’t often draw enough current to be flagged during the IR scan)

  • Replace missing screws and hole plugs

  • Inventory spare parts.

Interstates is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

ONLINE extra

Preventive maintenance is essential for an entire facility, especially when building a healthy electric room. Learn more here to get five quick tips for improving electric room safety.

Author Bio: Corey Hoffman is senior project manager; Joe Hulst is project coordinator; Randy Mouw is instrumentation manager; all at Interstates.