Market Heats Up
The Southwest market region, consisting of Texas,
Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas, ranks as the third largest industrial
region in the country, according to marketing information resources
company Industrial Information Resources (IIR). Last year, the region
saw 53 plants startup operation. This year the region is forecasting as
many as 105 unique plant locations where commercial operations are
planned to begin. IIR reports that more than half of these new plants
are already in the engineering or construction phase.
The industrial manufacturing industry leads the charge with an
estimated 40 plants. Although the food & beverage industry comes in at a
distant second with 17 plants, this number is twice as high as the past
two years and significantly higher than its average over the past ten
years. One growing sector to keep an eye on is the pharmaceutical &
biotech industry. The pharmaceutical industry is finding Texas a very
attractive area for its business due to its transportation routes,
technology base, and skilled labor pool.
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Taking Care of
The typical policy for distribution transformers is "set
it and forget it." You set the transformer in place, wire it up, and
then forget about it until a lift truck hits it or line 3 loses power.
There is a better approach.
Most of these transformers are dry type, which means you aren't going
to be doing transformer oil analysis or other maintenance associated
with oil-filled transformers. But there are maintenance tasks you can
do. For example:
- Check the vent temperature. This requires only a few seconds
and a temperature gun -- so periodic checks are easy. If your facility
has given even the slightest nod to efficient maintenance practices, you
have a computerized maintenance management system. Use that system to
record and trend data points. If you check transformer vent temperature
at roughly the same load conditions (e.g., normal operations and roughly
normal ambient temperature), you'll know when the transformer is running
unusually hot. This can indicate any of a number of potentially costly
- Check the waveforms. Excellent instruments that have come on
the market in recent years allow you to quickly and easily look at --
and analyze -- voltage and current waveforms. These instruments give you
the opportunity to spot a variety of transformer issues -- such as core
saturation -- and take corrective action. Otherwise, you may be forced
to stay late and perform emergency repairs instead of going to your
kid's baseball game.
- Monitor the power. Take advantage of the abilities of today's
power monitoring equipment to keep tabs on the load of each phase of the
unit. Consult with your power monitoring equipment vendor or a power
monitoring consultant about other points to monitor, based on your
infrastructure, priorities, and budget.
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The facility has ten production lines, all in the same
building. Eight of them never experience problems. Two of the lines,
made by different vendors and not adjacent to each other, experience
regular failures. Both vendors joke that you are using circuit boards as
fuses. What is the most likely cause?
The answer to this question appears at the end of this
Production equipment troubleshooting guides typically
help you troubleshoot down to the board level. You identify the board
that contains the failed component(s) and replace it. For critical
equipment, you probably have a spare board. For other equipment, you
probably pay expedited shipping costs to get a replacement.
But this process is not complete troubleshooting -- which means the
associated repair is also incomplete. The board failure was a symptom,
not the problem. To complete the repair, you must identify why
that board failed. Sometimes, this seems impractical -- the failures are
infrequent and the cause is expensive to track down. Have you considered
the downtime costs?
Some checks to do while the equipment is down for board replacement
Checks you can do while the equipment is running include:
- Board socket. Look for corrosion, cracks, excess dust, bent
contacts, and carbon tracks.
- Backplane. Same as board socket inspection.
- Chassis. Look for loose mechanical and electrical
- Enclosure. Look for a ground rod connection. If it's there,
you are looking at the number one cause of board failures. Address this
issue after closely reading IEEE-142 and NFPA 70, Article 205, Part
- Incoming voltage. Use a power analyzer (or, at the very
least, a DMM with high-low memory) to check for low and high voltage on
each phase. Also look for voltage imbalance -- if it's more than 2%,
contact the equipment vendor for advice.
- Waveforms. Use a power analyzer to look for waveform
distortion at the input to the equipment. If you find distortion, follow
it back along the electrical infrastructure to its origin.
SureTest® Circuit Tracer Takes Testing to a New Level
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maximizes the ease-of-use when identifying breakers, tracing wires and
finding opens/shorts. For more information on our circuit tracer kits,
here to download a PDF.
NEC at the
One of the topics of Article 225 is disconnects. In a
new facility, you generally don't find problems with disconnects for
outside branch circuits and feeders. However, that situation changes as
a facility ages and modifications accrue.
Typically, the load increases and there's a need to add another
feeder. And another. And another. A relatively inexpensive way to add on
is to mount another disconnect on the wall to supply a new switchgear
enclosure. If this is standard practice, you quickly reach the
six-disconnect limit. This approach also makes it hard to conform to the
requirement that these disconnects be grouped (which allows first
responders to quickly kill the power).
How can you avoid violating Article 225 when you need to add
capacity? Typically, people come to this "fork in the road" when the
existing switchgear is very old and should probably be replaced anyhow.
Or when the company needs added capacity because business is booming.
Either way, the best solution is to replace and upgrade the switchgear.
Consider an extended bus architecture when you upgrade.
Implications of OSHA 1926.403, Part 1
"The employer must ensure that electrical equipment is
free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious
physical harm to employees." That sounds fair enough. Just keep those
covers on the switchgear, right? Actually, it's a bit more complicated
than that. OSHA provides extensive detail on what you must do to meet
this general requirement.
Consider, for example, "Suitability for installation and use." How do
you determine if equipment is suitable? OSHA instructs you to look for
listing, labeling, or certification for the purpose. It does not mention
anything about "field modifications that seem OK." Nor does it allude to
the idea that "if it doesn't blow up it must be suitable." OSHA and the
courts take a dim view of unauthorized equipment modifications and of
applications for which the equipment was not intended. This applies to
everything from ladders and cords to transformers and circuit breakers.
We'll look at more details in the next issue.
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Electrical Troubleshooting Quiz
The most likely cause is each vendor's installation
manual required an "isolated ground," and whoever installed this
equipment dutifully complied. This defiance of the laws of physics is
the most common reason for board failures in production equipment. Most
likely, these two machines are serving as the return path that should
instead be provided by the bonding system.
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