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September 21, 2006 A Prism Business Media Publication Vol. II No. 18

For the Love of Food and Drink

Maintaining Batteries, Part Three

Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz

Replacing Battery Room Instrumentation

OSHA in a Nutshell

NEC at the Facility

Answer to Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz

Carolina Facilities Expo


About This Newsletter
This twice-a-month
e-newsletter is brought to you from the publisher of EC&M magazine.

MRO Insider addresses topics such as:

  • Working with management and supervision
  • National Electrical Code® on the production floor
  • Safety procedures and programs
  • Troubleshooting techniques
  • Equipment maintenance and testing tips
  • Managing motors and generators
  • Trends in training and education
  • Managing energy use

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    The designations "National Electrical Code” and “NEC” refer to the National Electrical Code®, which is a registered trademark of the National Fire Protection Association.




    Project Watch
    For the Love of Food and Drink
    Proposed capital expenditures in the U.S. Food and Beverage industry that will begin construction in the fourth quarter of 2006 sit at $2.786 billion, according to marketing information resources company Industrial Information Resources (IIR). Currently, IIR is tracking 75 active projects, each with a total investment value ranging from $1 million to $359 million. The expenditures are concentrated in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.

    Projects in the Midwest region include a $260 million wet corn milling plant in Iowa, expansion of a soybean oil mill in Missouri, and a new canola oil refinery. Total expenditures for this region are projected to be $764 million. Projects in the Great Lakes region include a $359 million Nestle USA beverage plant and distribution center.

    Are You a Survivor?
    AutomationDirect's popular mascot, Smiley, is shipwrecked on an uncharted island. You can help Smiley dodge cranky crabs and manic monkeys as he collects tools to repair a shelter and protect himself from the elements. Answer questions on automation topics while building an automation system to make his stay more comfortable. Qualify for prizes. Take the voyage, click on "Smiley's Island."

    Maintaining Batteries, Part Three
    Thanks mostly to the efforts of the automotive industry to sell "maintenance-free" batteries, bean counters and decision-makers tend to think stationary batteries should be "maintenance-free." With any stationary battery, proper maintenance costs money. But maintenance money can appear to be a waste when "maintenance-free" valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries are available.

    These batteries are "no maintenance," in a sense -- but not in the sense many people think. You do not get the same battery life and performance, while "saving" the cost of maintaining the battery. You get less life and performance because the battery design reduces the amount of maintenance you can do. Unfortunately, there's a tendency to not do any maintenance for VRLA batteries -- and then blame the manufacturer when these batteries fail prematurely.

    VRLA batteries have their place, but you don't save money by selecting them over flooded cell batteries and then not maintaining them. In fact, the added maintenance tasks possible with flooded cell batteries usually make them more cost-effective. Base your choice on the application, not on incorrect cost notions.

    Another misconception is that VRLA batteries don't produce gas and, therefore, don't require ventilation. All stationary batteries produce gas. When VRLA batteries vent, they may exhaust considerable gas into the room. With rack-mounted VRLA systems, the normal ventilation of the server room is usually sufficient -- be sure to verify this. But don't stick VRLAs in an unvented room and assume that's safe. It isn't.

    A Better Way to Connect Electrical Equipment
    Decontactors are a UL rated plug, receptacle and disconnect switch in one device. With Decontactors, installed electrical equipment can be quickly connected or disconnected - up to 60hp, 200A. NFPA 70E and NEC code compliance is simplified because a safety shutter prevents unintentional access to live parts and 100 kA short circuit ratings protect users in fault conditions. Click below to learn more and to request literature or a free sample.

    Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz
    This case history was provided by Ed Rafter, president of Tier IV Group, Lee's Summit, Mo.

    In one particular facility, technicians must wear personal hazardous gas detectors. During a shift walkthrough of the battery room, a technician's gas detector went into alarm, registering high levels of carbon monoxide (CO).

    Following up on this, a senior technician used a handheld gas detector to perform a cursory survey of the battery room. The handheld device confirmed high levels of CO, with extremely high levels near the battery itself.

    • The battery room has sufficient ventilation and the required room air changes.
    • No other gas alarms were noted (e.g., hydrogen detector levels).
    Maintenance techs, alarmed by the high gas levels, refused to enter the battery room. If they continued to stay out, the result would be a loss of load due to lack of battery maintenance. So, the problem urgently needed resolution. Where would you begin?

    The answer to this question appears at the end of this newsletter.

    Replacing Battery Room Instrumentation
    Today's instruments and monitoring devices are reliable, but they can still fail. When a device fails, don't rush into replacement. Instead, step back and look at your entire MRO system. Look at how you can use the information provided by the monitoring device or system.

    For example, the existing fire detection system in your battery room has several problems, and clearly needs replacement. But also, it doesn't interface with your data network -- so now would be a good time to upgrade to a system that does. Consider what follow-up action would be most useful. Do you want the ability to send an alert via e-mail, pager, and text messaging? Do you want any automated control actions?

    Implementing these things may require additional cabling or equipment (such as a PLC or managed switch). You may not be able to implement every desired function now, but consider upgrading to replacement equipment that will allow you to do so later.

    Exclusive TightSight™ Display helps set a new standard for clamp meters.
    They're packed with features and like nothing you've ever seen before. When we began designing the line, we certainly started at the bottom and worked our way up. The innovative TightSight™ display gives you a level of testing freedom and safety beyond any test tool on the market. In tight, dark or bright locations, it's invaluable. Other features like a high voltage indicator will ensure that you've never felt safer. Visit for a preview of the 600A and 1000A clamp meters from IDEAL.

    OSHA in a Nutshell
    OSHA regulations are highly prescriptive. If you go to the OSHA Website, you'll see the body of OSHA regulations (29CFR) consists of more than four dozen Parts -- some of which are huge. How can you possibly remember all of this? And what if an OSHA regulation doesn't exist to address a particular danger?

    The intent of OSHA is to provide the answer to two questions:
    1. What are the hazards?
    2. What must I do to protect myself and others?

    If you will ask those two questions and follow up with good answers before starting any task, you will fulfill the intent of OSHA. Don't expect rules, guides, and procedures to anticipate every possible danger and tell you exactly how to work safely.

    NEC at the Facility
    Sometimes, strictly following the NEC can work against you. An example of this is the NEC doesn't require you to count the neutral conductors as current-carrying conductors when applying the ampacity tables [310.15(B)(4)(a)]. Someone fixated on installation costs can read "shall not be required" to mean "get by with not doing." But from an engineering standpoint, it may be prudent to count those neutral conductors as current-carrying conductors if there is substantial nonlinear current.

    So, is the NEC wrong not to require this? No. The NEC is not a design specification [90.1(C)]. It provides the minimum standards for a safe design. Making that design efficient -- and therefore, cost-effective over its life -- is up to the design engineer.

    Replacement Carbon Brushes
    Repco supplies OEM and its own brand of replacement carbon brushes for all industrial motors and generators. Common applications for these integral and fractional horsepower brushes are process mills, power plants and general industrial. Large inventory and application help.

    Quiz Answers
    Answer to Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz
    The gas detectors were incorrectly reporting high levels of CO. This is more common than most people assume. We've seen many cases where a CO detector registered an alarm and reported erroneous high levels. The problem is the detector may detect hydrogen but "see" it as CO.

    There is a cross-sensitivity between these gas detection meters. For example, consider a hydrogen sensor that has a 0.1 carbon monoxide cross-sensitivity. On this device, 100 parts-per-million (ppm) CO would register a 10 ppm reading on the H2 sensor. On the flip side, if you had a CO sensor installed in the unit, 100 ppm H2 would register as 10 ppm CO.

    Of course, you can avoid such problems by not buying cheap gas meters, right? Well, that helps -- but it doesn't prevent problems. That senior technician was using a $1,600 piece of equipment.

    You can expect much greater cross-sensitivity in handheld equipment. So, yes, spend the money for good equipment. But don't assume that alone solves cross-sensitivity problems and other measurement issues.

    The only way to validate the levels of gases accurately is to use a precision piece of analysis equipment such as a gas chromatography instrument. This is impractical for the typical facility. A better approach is to understand the cross-sensitivity issues involved with a particular detector and apply the correct measurement techniques. Then, look for equipment problems that may account for high amounts of any of the gases the detector may register.

    Don't abandon battery maintenance due to these kinds of errors. Track down and resolve the actual problems, understanding that what appears to be a high concentration of a suffocating gas might actually be a high concentration of an explosive gas. The safety practices for each gas differ.

    Show & Events

    Carolina Facilities Expo

    Held October 3-4 at the Palmetto Expo Center in Greenville, S.C., the Carolina Facilities Expo is a free two-day trade show, offering an exhibition of products and services along with educational seminars for facilities personnel working in all types of industries, including commercial, industrial, educational, government, health care, hotel and resort, distribution, and warehousing.

    A few sessions in the conference track that may be of particular interest to EC&M readers include: "Critical Success Factors for Maintenance Improvement Projects," presented by John Barker, director of client assessments, Operations and Maintenance, Fluor Corp.; "Saving Lighting Energy Using Digital Lighting Control," by Chris Stork, Lighting Controls and Design; "Understanding the NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace' Standard," by Mike Bivens, president, Best Infrared Services, Inc.; "Energy Savings Performance Contracting -- Benefits for Your Facility," by Bob Starling, Bob Starling and Associates, Inc.; and "Increasing the Performance Levels of Electrical Power Distribution Systems through PM and Power Audits," by Hemant Manglorkar, Nationwide Electrical Testing, Inc.

    For more information on this show, visit the event's Web site.

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    Copyright 2006, Prism Business Media. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, re-disseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Prism Business Media.