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December 13, 2006 A Prism Business Media Publication Vol. II No. 23

Maintenance of Heat Tracing

Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz

Repairs in Cold Weather

NEC and Heat Tracing

OSHA and Cold Weather Work

Answer to Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz

It's Time to Hit the Beach

Enter The "You Be The Electrical Inspector" Contest at The e-Tradeshow


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    Maintenance of Heat Tracing
    For many facilities, heat tracing is essential. Without it, critical pipes and vessels would freeze during winter. This is why smart maintenance managers ensure any heat tracing has been inspected, tested, and repaired as necessary before winter. But stopping there and hoping for no problems over the next few months is a dangerous game to play.

    Heat-tracing failures always seem to happen at night, during a storm, and just before a critical shipment must go out. The failures often create economic losses for the company and possibly its customers. Further complicating things, cold weather means discomfort for the maintenance workers. If the repairs have to be done in slick conditions, you can add fall hazards to the list. Trying to do repairs by flashlight makes things especially dicey.

    You can shift repair time from "worst conditions" to relatively favorable ones if you follow these tips all winter:

    • Conduct weekly visual inspections of heat tracing, during the warm part of the day. Walk down the system and remove any snow or ice that may present a falling hazard.
    • Conduct an inspection during daylight, weather permitting, following any storm. If weather makes such an inspection unfeasible, conduct testing from indoors where possible. For example, you could disconnect a resistive heat-tracing circuit, quickly ohm it out, and reconnect it (assuming an indoor terminal board or control panel).
    • During cold weather, ask the operators to monitor temperature trends. Failure in the heat tracing won't show up as an immediate change in temperature, the way a pump failure would show up as an immediate drop in pressure. Spotting a downward drift in vessel temperature may allow you to restore operation before the lines freeze. Waiting for a temperature alarm often means waiting too long.
    The general idea is to anticipate heat-tracing system failures, rather than being surprised by them. Walk down your system and develop a list of vulnerable points. Then, monitor them closely so you aren't stuck doing repairs in "worst-cast scenario" conditions.

    Watch one to 30 minute video tutorials on a variety of industrial control topics covering product categories including PLCs, operator interfaces, software, sensors, motor control, drives and motors, and more. Updated periodically, this new learning site offers videos covering products and general information about automation and control.

    Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz
    A crew just finished repairing a heat-trace circuit that failed due to mechanical damage for unknown reasons. One of the lines looked "chopped in two." Now that it's working, the plant manager is happy -- especially with a 40° drop predicted for tonight. The big dayshift maintenance crew will be leaving shortly. Is this job completed? If not, what additional steps should be taken and why?

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

    Repairs in Cold Weather
    More protective clothing and less time are just two of the factors that complicate troubleshooting and repair in cold weather. We can take a page from the nuclear industry to improve the situation. The key is to analyze the job, make a list of component tasks, and find a way to complete as many of those tasks as possible "offline." In nuclear plants, they want to do work where it's not "hot" (radioactive). You want to do work where it's not cold.

    Breaking the job up this way may seem like it takes more time -- and maybe that is true in ordinary weather conditions. But when it's very cold outside, this effort will reduce errors, improve safety, and reduce time to completion. As a bonus, this forced look at every aspect of the repair job will probably reveal ways to streamline the job for all weather conditions.

    For example, you might normally prepare individual wiring in the field. That involves cutting, stripping, labeling, and other steps that are more efficiently done in a shop environment. Changing out connectors for more rapid repair in cold weather will result in more rapid repair in all weather. Think of prefab you can do for wiring harnesses, control cabinets, and other assemblies. Look closely at procedures for steps to eliminate or simplify.

    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 quickly 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.

    NEC and Heat Tracing
    Heat tracing has been in use for decades. It's very reliable and has saved many companies a great deal of money. But occasionally, existing systems need repair, replacement, or upgrading. And facilities with existing heat-tracing systems may add heat tracing to accommodate process changes or new equipment.

    Some commonly overlooked points:

    • You must install heat tracing in a way that protects it from physical damage. Don't look just for what's present during summer months. Ice can hang from a platform or other structure, and present a physical hazard to the heat tracing below.
    • If you install heat tracing across an expansion joint, you must allow for expansion and contraction.
    • Heat tracing installed on flexible lines must also be flexible.
    • Do not misconstrue the word "grounding" in 427.23 and 427.48. In this context, the NEC means "bonding" and not "grounding." See the Art. 100 definitions of grounding and bonding.
    • Your system must have a disconnecting means and not just a temperature controller. However, a temperature controller with an "off" position satisfies both requirements (if it is not remote-controlled).

    OSHA and Cold Weather Work
    OSHA offers free tips for protecting employees in cold weather. These range from recognizing danger signs to specific steps for preventing injury and illness. For free copies of OSHA's Cold Stress Card in English or Spanish, go to or call 1-800-321-OSHA.

    Quiz Answers
    Answer to Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz
    This is a classic case of the incomplete repair job. Nobody identified the cause of the damage. Something appears to have cut the cable. Was it falling ice? Did a rodent chew through it? Did the pressure of a foot (human or otherwise) cause the cable to break?

    Leaving the precise cause undetermined may be unavoidable. But you cannot leave the integrity of the remaining heat-tracing system undetermined. With that severe temperature drop coming in just a few hours, you can't rely on the fact a failure isn't yet obvious. If a freeze would be catastrophic, you have no choice but to inspect the entire system while there is still adequate light for finding and repairing damage.

    Heat tracing is not problem-prone equipment. If something causes a failure, see if any other heat-tracing equipment has been affected -- before lines or vessels freeze.

    Show & Events
    It's Time to Hit the Beach
    If it's your job to make sure all systems are "go," you need to go to Electric West. This show and conference offers the right information and product mix to meet all of your information needs. Do you maintain and operate electrical systems in a facility? If so, you have to make plans to attend the Electric West conference program next year in Long Beach, Calif. Check out this event's 40+ seminars in the areas of power quality, safety, Code changes, and industrial applications, and make plans to meet 200+ leading suppliers. Or register now.

    Enter The "You Be The Electrical Inspector" Contest at The e-Tradeshow
    Here's your chance to win a $100 American Express gift certificate and show off your knowledge of the National Electrical Code by acting as an electrical inspector and citing every Code violation appearing in five actual electrical installations.

    Submit your respective list of violations and, if you're selected as a winner, achieve fame for your keen observation capabilities and NEC familiarity by having your picture posted in the EC&M booth on the e-Tradeshow exhibit floor. And, of course, the $100 gift certificate!

    Click here for information on accessing the EC&M e-Tradeshow, a virtual online exhibition and live conference center. Also available on the site is an archive of various past presentations, such as Claim Litigation and Harmonics: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedial Solutions.

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