Everyone has some form of power distribution equipment in their facility. There’s a good chance your Agilix Solutions Account Manager has talked to you at least once about ensuring you’re prepared for its potential and inevitable failure. We’ve seen first-hand, on several occasions, the impact and cost of downtime and workarounds required to restore complex power systems. We’ve made it a mission to position ourselves to support our customers efforts to avoid it.
Switchgear maintenance has always been important, but in 2023, it’s an operational imperative. The supply chain issues that have plagued nearly every industry over the past three years are greatly impacting the availability of switchgear and power distribution components. Current manufacturer lead times on many of the components that could shut your operation down are anywhere from weeks to years long. Waiting until your complex power system fails before addressing old switchgear could cost you more than you realize.
In this article, we’ll highlight some strategies for prolonging the life of your existing power distribution equipment, lay out your options for addressing switchgear replacement, and explain the ways Agilix Solutions can support your efforts to prevent failure and ensure you’re prepared when it happens.
Preventive Maintenance is Critical
Your power distribution components have a lifetime expectancy of 35 years in ideal conditions, but any equipment over 30 years old is considered outdated. Environmental considerations such as dust, heat and moisture exposure can negatively impact the life expectancy of your equipment and may require it to be addressed sooner. Here are three steps you can take to help proactively prevent against switchgear failure:
STEP 1: All parts should be cleaned an inspected for damage or anomalies, including contamination. The windings should all be reinsulated as appropriate. Our thermography services, detailed below, can be used to inspect the parts in your switchgear and transformers and identify potential problems.
STEP 2: For motor control circuits, assess the insulation by measuring resistance between motor leads and ground. This will help you determine the condition of the ground insulation.
STEP 3: Finally, large duty breakers (225 amps and above) should be electrically trip tested by a professional on a regular basis to ensure proper operations of the trip elements and the trip linkages.
Dry type transformers require the same treatment. When a transformer fails, it can irreparably damage upstream and downstream equipment. Make sure you:
- Clean the enclosure of any dust and dirt accumulations and ensure the vent openings are free from obstruction.
- Perform routine testing. This should include an insulation resistance test, a dielectric absorption test, and a power factor test.
- Clean and thoroughly inspect for damage or anomalies including grounding and bonding.
Options for Addressing Old Switchgear
If you’ve identified your Switchgear is at risk of failure due to age or condition, you have a few options:
- You can replace the entire lineup. This is always the best option, but there are potential challenges you’ll have to address. Location of the equipment may prevent easy removal or addition. And it’s clearly the least budget-friendly solution.
- You could purchase new or used breakers of the same type. You may find the gear is in fine shape, but your breakers need updating. Agilix Solutions strongly recommends against installing used breakers. There are a lot of unknowns with used equipment, and you could be opening yourself up to problems.
- Upgrading the trip unit is also an option. Think of the trip unit as the brain of the existing breaker. An upgrade will allow new trip unit-controlled capabilities like metering, comms, ZSI, maintenance switch, and more.
- Finally, you have the option to retrofit the existing breaker. Retrofitting with a modern breaker also usually includes a trip unit upgrade.
All the options above involve some degree of risk or tradeoff, but you have choices if you act early. If you wait to act until a failure occurs, your only option will be a complete replacement.
How Agilix Solutions Can Help
Agilix Solutions can connect you with a variety of services from our manufacturer partners designed to help you prevent switchgear emergencies and ensure your facility is ready when a failure does occur.
- Switchgear Evaluation and Assessment – If you’re unsure of the age or condition of your power distribution system, we can schedule a vendor partner to perform an onsite inspection and make recommendations based on the condition and performance of your current inventory.
- Thermography Services – Thermography assessments can be invaluable for visualizing normal and abnormal heat patterns caused by poorly functioning products or applications in your switchgear and power distribution system. Assessments are performed by an Agilix Solutions resource, who has completed Thermal/Infrared Thermography Level 1 Certification through the Snell Group’s 34-hour course of study conforming to the guidelines of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) SNT-TC-1A (2006). Each has also completed an NFPA70E Electrical Safety and Arc Flash Compliance course.
- Critical Spares Inventory – In a time like this, when all the equipment you’d need to get back up and running is already on backorder, you can’t afford to wait until you need a product to order it. Agilix Solutions can work with you to identify the most at-risk components in your critical power system and ensure you have ample critical spare inventory to minimize downtime and cost in the event of a failure.
- Arc Flash Studies and Mitigation – We work with our partners to facilitate arc flash studies that expose hazards, create a game plan for reducing the risk of arc flash incidents, and help you develop a plan to remain compliant with workplace safety regulations.
- Breaker Retrofitting – The supply chain challenges we’re facing have contributed to breaker retrofits becoming a popular option among customers. A retrofit involves only replacing the sections of your switchgear setup that are at risk, leaving conduit and cabling in place. You retain your infrastructure while getting your outdated components upgraded.
Don’t Wait Until Your Switchgear Fails to Act
The time to be thinking about the condition and age of your existing switchgear is now, before there’s a problem. Contact your Agilix Solutions Account Manager or reach out to your nearest branch to schedule a no risk Power System Evaluation and Assessment. It’s the first and best step forward to ensuring your facility stays productive and powered in a time of uncertain product availability.