Maintenance - Important for Safety

Electrical distribution systems serve us on a daily basis, regardless of if we are sitting in our home, driving down the road, or at work. This important infrastructure must be maintained, if not for longevity sake, then for safety sake.

Maintenance is a part of each of our lives in many aspects. One good example is the automobile. We invest in vehicle maintenance not only to ensure it lasts, but because we don’t want to be driving down the road listening to tunes on the radio and find that we need our brakes to avoid a hazard and they are not functional because we didn’t address worn brake pads or low brake fluid. The electrical distribution system is unfortunately not thought of in the same manner, and all too often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves to perform reliably over the life of the facility it serves. A good friend of mine calls me every now and then and begins his dialog with, “Thomas, there are opportunities all around us . . .” Maintenance is one of those opportunities that not only can increase safety in our industry but also help individuals, such as the electrical contractor, establish a continuous revenue stream. Maintenance contracts can be a win-win for everyone involved.

When I first started with Eaton back in the mid-90’s, I worked at a help desk taking phone calls and supporting our electrical equipment, such as circuit breakers, communication systems, programmable logic controllers, and more. One day, I received a call pertaining to our IQ 1000 II motor protection relay. The caller on the other end of the phone asked for my assistance in disabling the motor ground fault protection. After a general overview of the product and the purpose of ground fault protection on a motor circuit, the customer insisted on a way to turn the protection to the off position. At that time, the best way to defeat ground fault protection for the relay was to increase the setting to a much higher value, which the customer had already performed and resulted in a device that still tripped on ground faults. At some point late in the call, it was finally revealed that the reason he wanted to turn ground fault protection off was because he wanted to burn up the cable and the motor so he can replace them. I was advised that this was a salt mine and over time in salt mines you get a buildup of salt on motor terminals and electrical equipment, which will cause ground faults to flow. In this particular salt mine, they did not have a budget to maintain their electrical equipment, but they did have a budget to replace damaged equipment. When I hung up the phone after the call, I chuckled and told the story to the other guys on the team. In reality, there is no humor in that situation nor any other that puts individuals in a position to work with or around electrical equipment that is not properly maintained.

JUSTIFYING THE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM

A maintenance program for any facility doesn’t come free, but it will cost much less than repairing the problems that may result due to not performing regular maintenance. The program can only be successful when supported by the top levels of management within the organization, as it will demand an allocation of resources and funding.

To understand costs, let’s use a standard pickup truck as an example. Let’s say we purchased a brand new truck for $31,106 and took it home for general use. Over the first five years of ownership, experts tell us that we will spend approximately $4,562 in maintenance and $1,073 in general repairs. Over those first five years, we spent approximately 18% of what we paid for the vehicle just to keep it on the road and doing what we need it to do. Let’s say we don’t invest in the proper maintenance of this vehicle. I’ve never tested it, but I can’t imagine it would take a long time for an engine without proper fluid changes to stop functioning. After doing a little research, I found that if I were to not replace the oil in my engine and perform other regular fluid changes, replacing