What is Electrical Maintenance?
Advances in the design and quality of electrical components have made it possible for electrical systems to run for years without noticeable problems. While wonderful feats of engineering, well-designed electrical systems can lull building owners and operators into a false sense of security—right up until the moment the system fails. It’s for this reason, among others, that electrical maintenance is such an important part of commercial building operations.
What is Electrical Maintenance?
Electrical maintenance covers all aspects of testing, monitoring, fixing, and replacing elements of an electrical system. Usually performed by a licensed professional with a complete knowledge of the National Electric Code and local regulations, electrical maintenance covers areas as diverse as:
- Digital communication
- Electrical machines
- Lighting systems
- Surge protection
With an increased reliance on both data collection and machinery run by computer software, electrical maintenance is more vital than ever. The failure of a single component in the electrical system can cause extensive downtime or data loss.
Preventative Electrical Maintenance
Early identification of problems is a key aspect of electrical maintenance. For instance, should a back-up generator sit idle until needed, it may not start due to a number of factors. Old fuel clogging a fuel filter, uncharged starting batteries, or start switches left in the wrong mode can all prevent a smooth transition to backup power. These are basic problems, easily identified and addressed through preventative maintenance.
One of the major challenges to electrical maintenance is the nature of electrical wiring. It can be difficult to pinpoint the location of specific problems as the system is built into the building. Thermal imaging has become increasingly important in the industry for its ability to identify issues with both electrical connection points and equipment operation. By catching such problems early, electrical maintenance helps reduce unexpected power outages and protects equipment from damage.
What is electrical maintenance? It’s an aspect of building operations no commercial facility should be without. While large scale operations may have their own on-staff electricians, smaller facilities may find it more financially viable to contract with a licensed professional for scheduled electrical maintenance and servicing.
How Important is Electrical Equipment Maintenance?
This article provides insight into the maintenance requirements for overcurrent protective devices and the potential impact on the arc flash incident energy when maintenance is not performed properly. Electrical preventive maintenance and testing is one of the most important functions to be performed in order to maintain the reliability and integrity of electrical distribution systems, as well as for the protection of equipment and personnel. However, preventive maintenance of electrical systems and equipment, specifically with regard to overcurrent protective devices is often overlooked, or is performed infrequently or inadequately. An unintentional time delay in the operation of a circuit breaker, due to a sticky operating mechanism, can cause the incident energy of an arc flash to rise, sometimes dramatically
The National Electrical Code (NEC) states that overcurrent protection for conductors and equipment is provided to open the circuit if the current reaches a value that will cause an excessive or dangerous temperature in conductors or conductor insulation. With regard to circuit breakers the only way to accomplish this is through proper maintenance and testing of these devices, per the manufacturer’s instructions.
MAINTENANCE AND TESTING CONSIDERATIONS
Specific maintenance and testing procedures will not be addressed in this article, however, there are three important steps that should be considered when addressing the maintenance and testing requirements for overcurrent protective devices.
- The first step in properly maintaining electrical equipment and overcurrent protective devices is to understand the requirements and recommendations for electrical equipment maintenance from various sources. Examples of sources include, but are not limited, to the Manufacturer’s Instructions, ANSI/NETA MTS , NFPA 70B , IEEE Std. 3007.2, NEMA AB-4 , and NFPA 70E .
- The second step is to provide adequate training and qualification for employees. NFPA 70E, Section 205.1 states: Employees who perform maintenance on electrical equipment and installations shall be qualified persons…and shall be trained in and familiar with, the specific maintenance procedures and tests required.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), defines a qualified person as “One who has received training in and has demonstrated skills and knowledge in the construction and operation of electric equipment and installations and the hazards involved.” It is important that employees are properly trained and qualified to maintain electrical equipment in order to increase the equipment and system reliability, as well as enhance employee safety for all who work on, near, or interact with the equipment.
NFPA 70E states, with regard to electrical equipment maintenance :
- Section 90.2(A), This standard addresses electrical safety-related work practices, safety-related maintenance requirements, and other administrative control for employee workplaces … In an informational note to paragraph 110.1(A) it explains that “administrative controls” include verification of proper maintenance and installation, alerting techniques, auditing requirements, and training requirements provided in the standard.
- Section 110.1(B), Maintenance, was added to the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E to require the condition of maintenance as a part of the overall electrical safety program
- Section 130.5 Arc Flash Risk Assessment – Take into consideration the design of the overcurrent protective device and its opening time, including its condition of maintenance
- Section 205.3, Electrical equipment shall be maintained in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions or industry consensus standards to reduce the risk of failure and the subsequent exposure of employees to electrical hazards.
- Section 205.4, Overcurrent protective devices shall be maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions or industry consensus standards. Maintenance, tests, and inspections shall be documented.
- Section 225.3, Circuit breakers that interrupt faults approaching their ratings shall be inspected and tested in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions.
- The third step is to have a written, effective Electrical Preventive Maintenance (EPM) program. NFPA 70B makes several very clear statements about an effective EPM program as follows :
- Electrical equipment deterioration is normal, but equipment failure is not inevitable. As soon as new equipment is installed, a process of normal deterioration begins. Unchecked, the deterioration process can cause malfunction or an electrical failure. An effective EPM program identifies and recognizes these factors and provides measures for coping with them.
- In addition to normal deterioration, there are other potential causes of equipment failure that can be detected and corrected through EPM. Among these are load changes or additions, circuit alterations, improperly set or improperly selected protective devices, and changing voltage conditions.
- A well-administered EPM program will reduce accidents, save lives, and minimize costly breakdowns and unplanned shutdowns of production equipment.
- NFPA 70E, Chapter 2, Safety-Related Maintenance Requirements – … these requirements identify only that maintenance directly associated with employee safety … it does not prescribe specific maintenance methods or testing procedures. It is left to the employer to choose from the various maintenance methods available to satisfy the requirements.
As noted in NFPA 70E, Chapter 2, the maintenance requirements are necessary for employee safety, but this chapter does not specify reliability issues, although properly maintaining equipment will have an impact on the reliability of the electrical equipment and systems.
IEEE Std 3007.2 states: In planning an electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program, consideration must be given to the costs of safety, the costs associated with direct losses due to equipment damage, and the indirect costs associated with downtime or lost or inefficient production.
All maintenance and testing of electrical protective devices must be accomplished in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. In the absense of the manufacturer’s instructions, the latest edition of the ANSI/NETA MTS  is an excellent source of information for performing the required maintenance and testing of these devices. However, the manufacturer’s time-current curves would be valuable information for properly testing each overcurrent protective device.
ARC FLASH HAZARD CONSIDERATIONS
Maintenance and testing are essential to ensure proper protection of equipment and the safety of personnel. With regard to personnel protection, NFPA 70E requires an arc flash risk assessment be performed before anyone approaches exposed energized electrical conductors or circuit parts that have not been placed in an electrically safe work condition. NFPA 70E, Section 130.5 states that the arc flash risk assessment must take into consideration the design of the overcurrent protective device and it’s opening time, including its condition of maintenance.
All calculations for determining the incident energy of an arc flash require the arc clearing time of the overcurrent protective device. This clearing time is derived from the settings on the divice, along with the time-current curves. This information can also be obtained from a current engineering protective device coordination study, which is based on what the protective devices are supposed to do. If, for example, a low-voltage power circuit breaker has not been operated or maintained for several years and the lubrication had become sticky or hardened, the circuit breaker could take several additional cycles, seconds, minutes, or longer to clear a fault condition. This unintentional time delay could have catistrophic consequenses, due to the increase in incident energy, should an arc flash occur.
If the worker is protected based on what the circuit breaker is supposed to do and an unintentional time delay occurs, the worker could be seriously injured or killed because he/she was under protected. Maintenance is extremely important to an electrical safety program. Maintenance must be performed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or industry consensus standard, in order to minimize the risk of having an unintentional time delay in the operation of the circuit protective devices.
In order to protect electrical equipment and personnel, proper electrical equipment preventive maintenance must be performed. The manufacturer’s instructions, or industry consensus standards, exist to assist users with electrical equipment maintenance and testing. When the overcurrent protective devices are properly maintained and tested for proper adjustments and operation, equipment damage and arc flash hazards can be limited as expected. Unfortunately many in industry think that just because the lights are on or the machines are running that everything is okay and that maintenance is not needed, because the circuit breaker is working just fine. No, the circuit breaker is not working, it is closed. Working is when an overload, ground-fault, or short-circuit occurs and the circuit breaker opens automatically in the time specified or when it is manually opened or closed. Maintenance of overcurrent protective devices is critical to electrical equipment and systems reliability, as well as for safety of personnel.
How to Build an Electrical Maintenance Program
Electrical control and distribution systems are generally complex and expensive assets that need to be effectively maintained so they operate at optimum performance over their serviceable life. It is common to find that there has been significant effort applied to managing mechanical assets, with less focus on electrical equipment.
There are many reasons as to why this is the case, but the reality is that the way asset management programs are developed should be applied equally to electrical and mechanical components of the asset.
How many of you can associate with the following situations?
- Down days and shutdowns are not included as part of the production schedule.
- There are few electrical tasks documented, and often the ones that are often were a “kneejerk” reaction to a one-off event.
- Electrical maintenance spares are not kept in the store. Often, they are kept locked in cupboards and draws of individuals.
- There are many mechanical maintenance planners, and few or no electrical planners.
- There was no standard followed for electrical drawings and, hence, most modifications occurred with hand-drawn sketches at best.
- Important technical information is not centrally located or managed.
- There are few or no bills-of-material (BOMs) for electrical equipment.
- Run-to-failure was the primary strategy for all electrical equipment.
- There was no forward plan related to operational security of the equipment.
- The CMMS is not effectively utilized to record failure history.
- Many of the electricians are falling behind in their understanding of technology.
If you agreed with most of these comments, then you are working nearly 100 percent reactively and you have a lot of room for improvement.
But, where do you start? You can develop your own plan, tell people what they are now going to do and watch it all happen. Wrong! If you don’t manage the people side of the improvement, there is little hope of sustained improvement.
The People Issues
- Acknowledge your current situation.
- You have to believe that there is a better way of doing things. If many of the above points apply to you, then you need to know that your situation requires improvement.
- Develop a vision for your electrical maintenance program.
- The vision is where you want to be in the future. An example of such a vision:
- An electrical planner will be employed within the next three months.
- All critical equipment will have maintenance strategies developed within 12 months.
- Strategies for less-critical equipment will be developed within 24 months.
- A system for the upgrade and management of electrical drawings will be developed and implemented in the next 12 months.
- All strategies will maximize the use of condition-based maintenance.
- Tradesmen and other relevant personnel will be trained so they can effectively apply strategies.
- Implement down days for electrical equipment.
- Get the support from the electrical work group. Discuss your plans for the future with your work group. After all, they know the plant the best. Ask them for ideas to be included in the vision. It’s far better for the group to support the vision and have a feeling of ownership.
- Gain support from your management. If management is not willing to support your vision, then there is little chance of success. Document your vision, highlighting the benefits and prospective gains, and your ideas! Be prepared for some hard questions and be confident to back your judgment.
- The Practical Issues
- Resources will be required to effectively implement changes. As part of your vision presented to management, it should have been made clear that resources are required to make significant improvements to your electrical maintenance program. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need more people. Redeploying internal labor or hiring contractors on a part-time basis usually makes more sense. As your program starts taking effect, the efficiency gains will offset the loss of labor on the floor.
- Understand the criticality of your electrical assets. You could use a criticality-ranking tool for this, but if your assets have been around for some time, usually your employees will have a fairly clear understanding of this. The most critical assets will be your starting point.
Importance of Proper and Timely Electrical Maintenance
When regular electrical maintenance checks are carried out for a home, various unwelcomed mishaps associated with electricity get avoided in an opportune manner. When such mishaps are avoided, it makes it easy to escape unplanned and often very high expenses of repairing, or even replacing badly affected electrical devices due to small problems that would have otherwise been detected and dealt with earlier.
In terms of home safety, the proper and timely maintenance of key electrical components of a home ensures that safety is not only activated in multiple ways, but upheld as well. Below are four key points where proper and timely electrical maintenance translates directly to home safety:
- Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) In general, having your home’s HVAC system working well is a welcomed convenience. However, there are instances where the proper working of the HVAC could mean more than just a convenience. Take for instance, a home where there are senior citizens, small children or even a sick person; for such people, extreme heat variations, whether up or down on the thermometer, can result in life threatening complications.Such extreme heat variations would only happen in a malfunctioning HVAC system, and this is something that would have been avoided altogether through properly scheduled electrical maintenance of all its components in a timely manner like say, before the onset of winter or summer.
- Outdoor Lighting The outdoor lighting in your home does a lot for your home safety. For one, it ensures that your porches and walkways are well lit and thus safe for both you and your guests at night. The other thing that they do for your home’s safety is deter thieves and burglars, who always prefer to operate in the dark. The light fixtures, bulbs and lines of your outdoor lighting require regular checks and replacements because of the nature of the outdoors. Having a contracted electrician carry out such checks on a regular basis will ensure that at no point will your outdoors be dark.
- DIY Risks The urge to do things yourself when it comes to taking care of your home is always there, and often comes with a great feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Even as DIY comes off as good thing, there are those things that are advisably better left to the experts, and electrical repairs top that list. With a properly planned electrical maintenance schedule and a reliable contractor, you should never have the need to attempt to replace your old wiring or something like that, because that would be a dangerous thing to attempt a DIY on.
- Fire Hazards A home fire can be very devastating to the homeowner, and that is to say the least since such fires can even result in the loss of lives. Electrical faults are one of the leading causes of fires in homes, and that almost always occurs as a result of problems associated with the wiring. Heat from the wiring can, over time, degrade their protective covering to a point where it gets completely broken down. When that happens, bare wires are left at the mercy of their getting in contact with each other, shorting and sparking up a fire right there within the walls of your home, or other areas where these lines run.There are normally signs that would, if noted, alert you when your wiring has become old and degraded. These include the constant tripping of breaker switches, those brown and discolored wall sockets or outlets, and the occasional electrical shocks that you get when plugging in an appliance or simply touching it while it is plugged in.
However, when you are at that point of being able to notice those signs, it often means that the problems with your wiring are at their extreme. The best thing is to have regular checks done by licensed electrical contractors to always be on the safe side.
Importance Of Electrical Installation And Maintenance
Proper installation and maintenance is very important in both commercial and residential facilities. A faulty wiring that is not immediately given attention can result into a greater danger such as fire and electrocution.
Hiring a qualified or certified electrician is crucial in proper installation and maintenance. Especially in complicated wiring, which may require top level skills, only certified electricians are able to keep the work clean and safe. Listed below are the importance of proper installation and maintenance for your home or business edifice.
Good installation and maintenance is equivalent to safety
A rule of thumb says that the worse it looks, the less likely the installation has been completed by a professional. When wirings are properly installed, wires are basically well tightened up and aligned in proper places. Some high voltage wirings are sealed in insulators to avoid accidents and unexpected electrocution. Professional electricians also follow a certain pattern or design in wiring to reflect good installations. For instance, high-voltage wires are usually hidden behind walls, which serve as their insulators. This keeps the place’s surroundings clean and arranged while people that are passing by are safe from potential injuries caused by faulty wiring.
Proper labeling saves money and time
Proper installations require clear labeling on wiring with tags, connection jacks, and other fixtures. Some wires also have different colors to determine their functions. When wires are in proper places, it would be easy for the electrician to determine which wire needs fixtures using color coding. The lesser time the electrician would spend for fixture, the lesser cost you would pay especially if the electrician charges per hour.
Proper maintenance paves the way for efficiency
Proper maintenance can be achieved by doing a regular system audit to check for the simplest fix faults, which may arise into bigger problems. This is very essential especially for quality control whether or not your business edifice is big. For further stage of quality control, proper maintenance can also be used for future installation needs.
During maintenance, listed below are some of the common issues that electricians usually watch out for:
- Wiring problems which can be evident through smells of ozone or burning plastic
- Damage or scratch marks on the surface of electrical connections
- Previous history or constant issue on overheating appliances
- Wires submerged on stock water in the basement or ceiling caused by leaking pipes or heavy rains
- Flickering plugs or appliances