Power reliability: plan ahead to close gap between continuity and chaos

Electricity is never more precious or scarce than after a disaster. Lights don't work, telephones are disabled, businesses are shut down.


Electricity is never more precious or scarce than after a disaster. Lights don't work, telephones are disabled, businesses are shut down. No real recovery can be made without power, yet, in most cases, no one can predict when utility service will be restored.

The distance between continuity and chaos in managing a business is sometimes smaller than many realize. Even the best of plans can be wiped away by the devastating effects of a natural disaster. Other times, a power outage can result from something as routine as programming a couple of digits in a computer program.

Power failures are beyond your control-but they don't have to control you. Regardless of how interruptions happen, now is a good time to start planning your backup power system. Providing for a safe, reliable supply of electricity ensures that your business will save time and money during a power interruption. Taking steps to evaluate installing permanent generator sets, or leasing or renting them, can help carry you through an emergency.

Getting started

Become familiar with some of the industry terminology associated with generator sets before talking with a power equipment supplier. Then, determine your power requirements. Make a list of critical loads and conduct a walk-around to examine your electrical system. Note connection capabilities and any special requirements that a backup system design may need.

To supply an entire plant with the same amount of power supplied by a utility requires making a determination of power needs on the entire aggregate load. A simple and accurate way to do this is to take ammeter readings from the electrical distribution boxes when the facility is running at peak load. Confirm your calculations by checking the amount of peak electrical use listed on a recent utility bill.

If only certain functions at the facility will require power, individual loads should be prioritized. If priority is in doubt, think in terms of potential profit loss, employee safety issues, or problems that might occur as the result of a decrease in productivity due to downtime. Computers, lights, HVAC systems, process equipment, and pumps are examples of critical loads. Prioritizing is especially important in the event of an emergency outage. It may take several hours to secure the rental equipment needed on-site during such situations as hurricanes or floods.

Typically, a separate distribution box is set up in most buildings to feed critical loads. One building may already be set up to handle enough temporary power to manage the loads served by a specific set of circuit breakers. If so, it is possible to take an ammeter reading with just critical loads running. The nameplate on the equipment also helps determine amperage or voltage of a specific piece of equipment.

Asking the right questions

Once power needs are determined, a generator set supplier needs to be selected. If your plant can tolerate momentary outages (4 hr to a day) rental power is an affordable solution. A generator set can be rented and kept on standby during critical months. If your facility cannot withstand more than a momentary lapse in power (15 sec or less), a permanent, back-up power installation is the better investment. For critical power needs that cannot tolerate any power interruption, a UPS system is required in conjunction with a permanently installed generator set.

The key to best serving your needs is to find a supplier who offers a full line of permanent or rental generator sets, all associated equipment and services, and a qualified maintenance staff. Here are a few questions to ask a potential supplier.

  • What kilowatt range of generator sets is available?


      • Does the dealership deliver the generator sets and related equipment? If so, how long will it take to receive the equipment onsite?


          • Will the dealership deliver at any hour, day or night? During a holiday?


              • What experience does the dealership have in sales and rental for your industry?


                  • What type of technical support is provided?


                      • What happens if the generator set goes down onsite?


                          • Does the dealership provide equipment operator training?

                            • The equipment supplier should be able to provide a detailed breakdown of the scope of services, assistance with equipment selection, and installation advice for the application. Following is a brief checklist of items that may be included.

                              • Does the location require the use of sound-attenuated equipment to meet local codes or OSHA requirements?


                                  • Where will the generator sets be placed once onsite? It is important to make this determination because generator sets vary in size. Large units, or power modules, may reach 8 ft wide by 40 ft long. Sufficient space around the equipment also is required for airflow and cable attachments.


                                      • Who is responsible for transporting the rental units to the site? Ensure the right size truck and delivery equipment are used to move the equipment. Or, shop around and negotiate a fair contract with a local trucking firm that can handle the job safely and efficiently on short notice.


                                          • When routing cable from a generator set outdoors to the electrical distribution boxes inside, consider installing a weather-head or cable access door that can be closed when not in use.



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me