Preventive maintenance: more valuable than ever

Schneider Electric

By Farokh Ghadially, Head of Sales and Marketing, Services
Monday, 29 August, 2016

Preventive maintenance: more valuable than ever

The ability to connect one device to another is a simple concept that’s making a huge difference.

While much has been made of this phenomenon in both the home and urban centres (in the form of smart homes and smart cities), the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is yet to be realised in the foundation of cities — buildings.

Underpinned by a market push towards an ‘always on’ digital economy, the IoT is infiltrating all types of companies across a range of industries, including education, health, mining, construction and utilities. As the role of IoT and demand for round-the-clock connectivity has grown, so too has the importance of electrical distribution systems. From lighting and HVAC to automated machinery and conveyor belts, these days virtually everything relies upon electricity to operate. Put simply, electrical distribution systems are the backbone of all modern businesses because without this vital equipment, everything stops.

Whilst it’s recognised facility managers of today are under mounting pressure to increase productivity, drive revenue and reduce costs, what is less considered is the maintenance of the systems that support this crucial equipment. Indeed, as businesses focus on driving efficiencies through the implementation of automated devices, IoT and other electronically powered solutions maintenance can fall by the wayside due to competing resources.

Out of sight, out of mind

Despite powering the machines and systems responsible for key processes, electrical distribution systems are often overlooked. When they’re not cared for, the systems become stressed, leading to malfunctions and system breakdown; continuity is disrupted, a specialised team is called in to carry out repairs, spare parts and labour are (more often than not) sold at a premium and costs fly through the roof. The consequent impact of business downtime can result in devastating loss of profits.

The bad news is that repercussions are not only financial. When electrical distribution systems are neglected, the probability of an accident increases, bringing about a host of OHS concerns and potential loss of human life. Equipment such as circuit breakers, protection relays or transformers ensures the safety and protection of employees and bystanders — and when they fail unexpectedly, the possibility of an unsafe situation rises significantly.

Without a routine maintenance program in place, a facility is effectively operating in a ‘run to failure’ mode; it’s only a matter of time before things go pear-shaped. In today’s highly competitive business environment, no company can afford disruption to productivity and, as such, the value of electrical preventive maintenance has never been greater. Given our reliance on electrical distribution systems is growing, what can you do to ensure the safe and efficient functioning of your business?

Inspect, detect and correct

A regularly scheduled electrical preventative monitoring (EPM) program aims to inspect, detect and correct electrical issues before they escalate and become major problems. Establishing an EPM program is a sound business decision that will significantly improve the productivity of a facility whilst benefiting its bottom line. If you think about your car, the cost of regular maintenance like an oil change is nothing when compared to the cost of replacing a blown motor. This principle holds true when applied to a facility’s electrical system, as studies show there is a direct correlation between the level of maintenance and the reliability of the electrical equipment.

Minimising the likelihood of system downtime by improving equipment reliability is just one of the many benefits associated with preventive maintenance. The key objective of an EPM is to ensure electrical parts and components are operating as their design intended — ie, at their optimum level. By regularly monitoring, identifying and resolving potential faults, optimisation is improved, fewer disruptions occur and facility uptime is maximised. Unlike reactive maintenance, preventive maintenance can be performed during off-peak business periods when there is less impact to the business, as well as the customer.

Maintained electrical equipment is also more energy efficient. Over time, normal wear and tear causes stress to components that can result in diminishing device energy efficiency. When a device is not routinely maintained, it uses (and wastes!) more energy while it is running.

Monitor, maintain and then monitor some more

Perhaps one of the best advantages of a preventive maintenance program is that it allows you to track results over time. Best practice involves the compilation of quality reports that provide detailed information around the ‘present state’ of a distribution system and its reliability relative to the present needs of a facility’s operators. By keeping a record of all maintenance and repair activities, facility managers can analyse trending data and better predict when a fault may arise.

Whether your electrical distribution system requires maintenance every week, month or year, the most effective programs take into consideration the state of the system in its entirety, regardless of there being equipment from multiple manufacturers. With conflicting maintenance procedures and requirements, this can be tricky; however, it is the only guaranteed means of ensuring the power distribution system is reliable and operating as intended. Specific maintenance of separate pieces can only be considered a bandaid fix — this disjointed approach is riddled with risk and should not be encouraged.

Another factor to keep in mind is that some facilities require more frequent maintenance than others. Facilities with unfavourable environmental conditions like humidity, excess dust, dirt or a corrosive atmosphere may demand more TLC than premises protected from the elements. Equipment with heavy loads or that run constantly will also need to be serviced more often. Every electrical preventive maintenance program should adopt a ‘made to measure’ approach that caters for the distinct needs and requirements of the specific plant or facility.

Prevention over cure

Whether you’re getting your car serviced or going to the dentist for a check-up, it’s safe to say that being proactive is almost always less costly that being reactive. For electrical distribution systems, reactive maintenance can be three to four times more expensive than preventive maintenance. In addition, it takes less time to carry out preventive maintenance with a scheduled outage than it does to conduct emergency repairs during an unforeseen one. The bottom line is that electrical preventive maintenance helps to reduce total cost of ownership (CapEx + OpEx) and creates more value for your business.

Faced with the burden of having to cut costs, operating expenses like preventive maintenance programs are too often first to go. Financially, this can be a huge mistake. Systems without a routine maintenance program in place are known to have a failure rate three times higher than those that do. With a fixed-rate maintenance agreement, it’s much easier to prove the value of an EPM to key decision-makers. When payments are made little and often, the bite doesn’t itch quite so much.

Smart business

When advocating for the implementation of a preventive maintenance program, it’s important to calculate and demonstrate the financial impact of an unplanned outage and what this means to the operation of a business. It’s also worth noting that, in the case of an incident or major event, the focus is on restoring power as quickly as possible — this almost always comes at a debilitating cost to the business. A preventive maintenance program will not only add to the life expectancy of your equipment, it will save you significantly on your expenses — it’s smart business and worth jumping up and down for.

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