How state-of-the-art predictive maintenance best practices can achieve electrical safety
Predictive maintenance can ensure electrical systems are designed correctly and operated safely
- Learn how to tap into the power of digital twins to run “what if” safety scenarios.
- Know how to use audits and smart sensors to improve safety and electrical system performance..
- Review methods to proactively reduce arc flash threats.
Electrical system insights
- Electrical system safety is always the No. 1 priority and engineers are aware of the four basic tenets of achieving it: reduction, avoidance, prevention and containment.
- What if engineers were equipped with a crystal ball that could tell them how, why and when that safety would be jeopardized? Predictive maintenance can be the answer.
Managing maintenance and operating electrical systems in facilities without proper controls can lead to safety and financial risks, including unplanned outages that can cause harm to on-site personnel and equipment damage. Such outages can also cause excessive financial losses to businesses. Uptime Institute research data found that around a third of all reported outages cost more than $250,000, with many exceeding $1 million. Data center outages are some of the costliest, with a quarter of respondents in a survey indicating that their most recent outage cost more than $1 million in direct and indirect costs.
Power systems engineers working in plants often rely on static paper or PDF-based electrical single-line diagrams to prevent these outages and maintain their facilities. This introduces limitations that increase operational risks and create challenges in maintaining and updating the documentation for electrical systems. Adopting predictive maintenance best practices to mitigate these risks, such as digital twins, safety audits, smart sensors and arc flash solutions, can help ensure electrical safety and reduce unplanned downtime.
Tapping into the power of digital twins
Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical objects, processes or systems that are created using real-time data and simulations. These digital representations can help improve complex systems’ understanding, design and operation by providing insights into their behavior, performance and potential problems.
For example, a digital twin of a power distribution system could monitor the flow of electricity through various components, identify potential areas of overload or overvoltage and predict the likelihood of equipment failure.
Digital twin technology can be employed during the design phase of an electrical system and the life cycle’s operations and maintenance phases to increase safety significantly. Intelligent single-line diagrams using digital twin technology can create active blueprints of single- and three-phase power systems. These tools facilitate seamless collaboration and the application of real-time insights, which can streamline diagnostics and troubleshooting.
Operators and engineers can improve their understanding of existing electrical systems by using digital twins as a comprehensive digital learning environment. New-generation predictive tools use real-time and archived data as a simulation platform that enables power systems engineers to run “what if” scenarios. This online predictive simulation is a potent analytical tool that allows engineers to anticipate the system’s response to operator actions.
Such an approach offers several advantages, including the ability to experience emergencies and precarious situations without actual danger, resulting in fewer safety exposures. Additionally, precise “what if” scenarios can illustrate how to improve operational efficiency and enhance decision-making. The practical post-mortem analysis and event playback capabilities facilitate faster incident response times.
Using audits to improve safety and electrical system performance
Audits can be another valuable tool for promoting safety and enhancing the performance of electrical systems. Having the capability to identify technical deficiencies and anticipate potential failure risks in a facility’s electrical system is vital. By conducting audits, organizations can identify potential hazards and areas for improvement, allowing them to implement corrective actions before accidents or failures occur. Audits can also help ensure that electrical systems are operating efficiently, identify areas of noncompliance and verify that maintenance programs are being executed effectively. This proactive approach can improve safety, reduce downtime, extend equipment life span and save costs.
However, detecting these shortcomings can be daunting, particularly when faced with limited resources. Collaborating with expert consultants and the operations team can help identify critical areas for improvement. Using nonintrusive state-of-the-art technology, an on-site audit assesses the electrical installation. It builds a single-line diagram of the devices, quickly identifying potential weak points that could compromise system safety and performance. This process helps uncover potential vulnerability hazards and recommends optimal performance and safety improvements.
Experts with specialized software provide a comprehensive modernization plan, including 10-year maintenance, monitoring and management plans, spare parts and technical documentation management. Following the audit, debrief sessions with all stakeholders highlight observations, risks and recommended next steps. Comprehensive reports relay vital, actionable insights and standardized deliverables across locations, segments or countries to ensure multisite or country consistency and develop ongoing monitoring and management strategies for maintenance plans.
Reducing the hazards of electrical system arc flash threats
Arc flash is one of the most potentially destructive and hazardous forces in electrical installation, operations and maintenance. It is highly complex, dangerous and difficult to avoid and contain. An uncontrolled arc has the potential to generate extreme heat exceeding 35,000°F and a blast force with pressure waves up to 1,000 pounds per square foot. The resulting noise can reach 160 decibels and high-velocity projectiles from the arc can travel up to 700 mph. The toxic gases produced can expand by a factor of 67,000, posing a significant risk to workers, equipment and facilities.
Arc flash mitigation and arc flash hazard analyses have been complex until recently. Although many empirical formulas and significant testing have been developed, the algorithms and formulas available are still challenging for engineers to solve without a computing tool and nearly impossible for people in the field to apply.
However, with an increased industry focus on electrical safety, arc flash hazards are now more broadly recognized.
Mitigating the risk of arc flash is complex and typically requires collaboration between multiple parties, including facility owners, electrical system designers and equipment manufacturers. However, obtaining accurate information can be challenging, especially in traditional design-and-build project environments. Information exchange may be limited, such as the system short circuit level, the composition of electrodes, enclosure sizes or standard operating procedures. Failure to consider these factors can undermine even the most well-conceived mitigation solutions.
Compliance with Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910 is required to reduce the risk and severity of arc flash incidents and ensure worker safety. A proactive approach to electrical system design can eliminate the risk of arc flash hazards. Engineered solutions can reduce the likelihood of accidental contact with energized components using a safety-by-design methodology during a new system’s design and specification stage.
Understanding the arcing current’s magnitude, path and duration is necessary for effective mitigation. The incident energy level is a parameter used to quantify the arc flash hazard. Eliminating the risk or reducing the arc flash incident energy is possible through de-energized work, arc-resistant switchgear or removing personnel outside of the arc flash boundary.
However, these solutions only sometimes prevent equipment damage. Alternatively, arc fault detection solutions can clear arc faults by upstream overcurrent protection devices. However, these solutions can be risky and require auxiliary power, system design or operator intervention, which introduces the possibility of human error. Additionally, these solutions are one-time use and require inspection or replacement of failed components.
A straightforward and reliable solution for controlling arc flash hazards can be achieved with a passive, repeatable, always-on system that does not require complex engineering. An always-on arc flash prevention and containment system works to minimize the chances of an arc occurring. If a sustained arcing current does occur, the system will extinguish it within one cycle or less, which is faster than any other active or reactionary protection system.
This approach eliminates the need for operator intervention, does not rely on auxiliary power and significantly reduces the risk of harm to people and electrical equipment. With the implementation of a passive arc flash protection system, managing arc flash hazards becomes more straightforward and mitigation strategies become more accessible. Unlike many active solutions, an always-on arc flash prevention and containment system does not cause tripping, leading to zero downtime or disruption of upstream devices while still containing the arc fault.
The initial cost of implementing a passive, repeatable, always-on arc flash control solution may be approximately 15% more than standard equipment. However, the return on investment over the equipment life cycle is significant. The benefits of this system include a reduction in additional arc flash engineering controls, lower installation, commissioning and ongoing maintenance costs, decreased need for personal protective equipment and associated costs. Furthermore, businesses can avoid direct and indirect arc flash-related expenses, such as medical and legal costs, fines, increased insurance premiums and business continuity interruptions.
Using smart sensors for greater operational capabilities
Smart sensors, breakers and electrical panels with shared visibility benefit various stakeholders along the risk-management value chain. Smart sensors can be used to monitor plant conditions and alert engineers to potential safety hazards by monitoring air quality, temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions in the plant. If levels exceed safe limits, alerts can be sent to engineers or safety personnel, allowing them to take appropriate action. Smart sensors can also detect the presence of gases that can be hazardous to human health or safety and detect the presence of smoke or fire in the plant.
When circuit breakers and electrical panels are equipped with built-in smart sensor monitoring capabilities, they can provide operational data right from the moment they are installed. These novel capabilities have numerous advantages, such as reducing risk for insurers and supporting testing, inspection and certification providers to offer value-added services to their clients throughout the year, not just during annual inspections.
Smart sensors can be used to monitor critical plant equipment and processes in real-time, allowing engineers to quickly detect any anomalies or potential problems and take corrective action before they escalate into more serious issues. By analyzing data from smart sensors, engineers can predict when maintenance is required for plant equipment. This allows maintenance to be scheduled in advance, minimizing downtime and reducing costs. These capabilities are continually evolving and hold the potential to provide even more comprehensive insights into electrical operations in the future.
Predictive maintenance as a best practice for proactive safety measures
Ultimately, state-of-the-art predictive maintenance best practices are all about accomplishing the four broad dimensions of safety: reduction, avoidance, prevention and containment. Ensuring safety and reducing unplanned downtime in electrical systems is essential to minimize financial risks and safeguard personnel and equipment. Adopting predictive maintenance best practices such as digital twins, safety audits and arc flash solutions can significantly enhance safety and reduce unplanned downtime.
Digital twin technology can be employed during the design, operations and maintenance phases to streamline diagnostics and troubleshooting. Audits can identify potential hazards and areas for improvement, allowing organizations to implement corrective actions before accidents or failures occur. Mitigating the risk of arc flash is necessary to reduce the risk and severity of arc flash incidents and ensure worker safety. Adopting these proactive measures to ensure electrical safety and prevent unplanned downtime can lead to financial benefits, increase safety and extend equipment life span.