Cheaper doesn’t mean value for money

Last year our NSW team quoted maintenance on Power Factor Correction equipment for a large Sydney shopping centre, we were unsuccessful because the client had received a cheaper price from a large electrical franchise group.

This year we’ve been asked to price it again and they’ve forwarded the report from the franchise group that attended last year. The readings they have recorded largely don’t make sense, they have passed things that are clearly faulty, and made comments like “Programming Issue”. Call me old-fashioned but if someone is there for maintenance on a piece of equipment they should know how to configure it.

We see this time and time again with companies who work in the general electrical space that try to work with specialised equipment that they just don’t have the experience on. The “maintenance” they perform usually amounts to whether the equipment is turned on or not, and has it caught fire or not. There is so much more to these complicated electrical systems that engaging someone who does not understand the equipment runs the risk of failing to identify a potentially serious fault that may be about to occur.

Power Protect don’t do general electrical work. If we receive a call to install a power point in someones home the answer is no. Our service team are qualified electricians so we can do it, but its not what we specialise in so we leave it to those companies that do this work every day.

For this client with PFC equipment we’re discussing now what should be happening during a routine maintenance:

  • A full functional test of each stage including thermographic scan and condition assessment on fuses, contactors, reactors, and capacitors
  • A full check of the programming parameters to ensure it is configured and working correctly, and adjustment of the parameters if required
  • A detailed report provided including an assessment of the condition, performance, and the thermographic images recorded.

While all electricians are technically qualified to open the door on a Power Factor Correction cubicle, most don’t have an appreciation for how these systems work or the knowledge on working with them.

Just because someone can offer a cheaper price for a “maintenance” doesn’t mean they can deliver the same service as a more expensive provider. I implore businesses out there with equipment to maintain to not just look at the dollar figure at the bottom of the quote, but to see what value you’re getting from the service provider and to make sure they specialise in the equipment you need maintained.

Right to Repair

Late last year the Productivity Commission released an issues paper for their inquiry into a consumers’ ability to repair faulty goods and to access repair services at a competitive price. This is an issue that’s close to my heart, the practice of OEM’s restricting access to basic settings in equipment and charging inordinate amounts for “authorised service” was one of the contributing factors to starting Power Protect and something that guides which manufacturers we do business with, and what products we promote to our customers.

Banner from the Productivity Commmission website

I still remember the moment, as a Field Service Engineer for a multi-national equipment manufacturer, trying to explain to the customer that I wasn’t that one that set the pricing or made it so I had to plug a laptop in to clear an alarm. But there I was, taking the brunt of the customer’s frustration, while they forked out for a substantial expense that they really shouldn’t have had to incur.

A lot of these manufacturers will cite intellectual property as the reason for so tightly restricting their proprietary software but the reality is this software is just the means of resetting alarms and making minor setting changes.

Many years ago I was warned that I was “making a rod for my own back” by dealing with a particular manufacturer. This prediction came true when for no reason other than completing service training on behalf of another vendor the manufacturer cut our access to their proprietary software and with that limited our ability to support the products we had supplied to our customers. To this day we’ve retained and supported those customers because it is the support of our company that they value not the name on the badge on the front of the equipment.

I’ve made my submission in support of Right to Repair legislation that I hope will limit these restrictive practices used by OEMs to ‘capture’ the service market for their products. I encourage anyone who feels the same to provide a submission or brief comment via the feedback portal.

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Today, the ability to provide ongoing support without the restrictions of proprietary software is a key criteria for Power Protect in selecting whose products we take to market. In fact, in the unlikely event that customers aren’t happy with our service, there are other companies trained and authorised by the OEM that can provide support on their equipment. I challenge anyone to get the same response from the most of the major equipment manufacturers in our industry.

Adelaide office is now open

Given the year that 2020 has been, Power Protect have been very fortunate not to be impacted heavily by the uncertainty that COVID-19 has thrust upon us. In fact never has there been more need for reliable power and communications from the data centre right through to the network edge, ensuring that businesses large and small can continue to function either in their normal place of business or working from home.

This continued demand for our services along with the opportunity to work alongside Tier 1 UPS manufacturer ABB has presented the opportunity to expand from our current east coast reach into South Australia. Our timing was very fortunate with the short term lock-down that occurred recently not impacting our starting date this week and we were able carry on as planned welcoming our new SA State Manager, Scott Traver to the team.

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Scott is an experienced sales professional with a long history supplying solutions to his client’s critical power needs. Combined with Power Protect’s track record in delivering and supporting reliable power systems across Australia we’re confident our offering will be a welcome addition to the South Australian market.

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Our Adelaide office is based minutes from the Airport and close to the city. With modular equipment up to 80kW held in stock locally and systems up to 500kW in stock and available through our other warehouses we’re positioned to respond quickly to customer’s urgent needs.

As we head towards the Christmas season we’d like to thank our customers and supplier partners for their support throughout this difficult year and look forward to working together more in 2021 on some big and exciting projects.

Until then, as always you can find out more about our products and services by visiting powerprotect.com.au or calling our office on 1300 877 626.

Power Protect achieves ISO accreditation

Today Power Protect was officially certified against the international standards for management practices ISO 9001 Quality, ISO 14001 Environmental, ISO 45001 Safety. Accredited by Sustainable Certification this achievement demonstrates that Power Protect operates to international standard and delivers consistent outcomes in Quality, Safety, and Environmental management.

Generator Refuelling

Diesel generators play a critical role of supplying emergency power when there is a loss of power. Emergency diesel generators are typically designed to be able to operate for extended periods of time before refuelling. Whether small or large volumes, diesel fuel must be stored on-site in order to meet the operational time requirement in supplying the load.

However, during the long periods of non-emergency these generator systems are operated and tested a lot less frequently. This generally results in a very small volume of diesel fuel consumed during a 12 month period. Therefore the storage time of on-site diesel fuel can be in excess of 12 months, which is classified as long term storage. Diesel fuel that is stored for longer than 12 months, especially when not maintained full and topped up, has the potential to undergo fuel degradation and contamination that could adversely affect fuel quality, which can in turn affect the operability and reliability of your emergency diesel generator.

It has been made evident that small amounts of organic sediment and microbial contamination that have formed in diesel fuel stored over long periods of time had to be removed by means of filtering or polishing the diesel fuel in order to keep the bulk-stored diesel fuel clean and suitable for immediate use and so it should be tested and treated regularly and flushed and refilled when necessary.

Regardless if diesel fuel is being stored for domestic, retail or mission critical applications, exposure to contaminants, storage conditions and the surrounding environment can influence the long-term quality and condition of the diesel fuel stored within the tank. Ideally all diesel fuel storage should be maintained full, dry and cool at all times, however this may not always be possible and practicable. This is where Power Protect comes in. We can keep your fuel storage topped up at all times to keep the air space at the top of the tank to a minimum to prevent condensation in the tank, remediate a microbial contaminated fuel system with an effective biocide and drain water accumulated in the tank that promote microbial contamination. If your fuel is degraded to a point where it must be all used or removed, Power Protect will flush, clean and refill the tank to make it suitable for long term fuel storage again.

The team at Power Protect have come across contaminated generator fuel systems that have had their diesel fuel stored for extended periods, in some cases the original fuel that had been filled and left sitting in the base tank during the install of their generator many years ago. With a simple but effective fuel quality assurance program and maintenance to continuously monitor fuel quality along with the rest of the generator system, Power Protect have been able to resolve unreliable mission critical and emergency power systems that did not perform when called upon to become reliable systems that they can expect to protect their power at all times, every time.

Whether you need your diesel fuel tank flushed, cleaned and refilled. Or to prevent getting to that point by implementing on-going fuel quality testing, polishing and maintenance, give Power Protect a call on 1300 877 626 or email service@powerprotect.com.au.

UPS maintenance detects faulty battery links

We’ve written before about our use of thermal cameras to improve the level of faults we can diagnose during a UPS maintenance visit.  A recent maintenance uncovered problems with poor crimping on the battery interlink cable lugs.

Power Protect recently won a contract maintaining hospital UPS equipment and were conducting our first maintenance visit when the problem was uncovered.  The UPS had been in service for a number of years already and had been routinely maintained by others so we were somewhat surprised to see that such a fault had gone unnoticed.

The images show two battery links after a 20 minute discharge test with 11 amps flowing.  Fortunately for the site the 40kVA UPS has a very low load.  A higher load would mean much more current and much more heat, this could have been catastrophic to the site.

The fault was initially expected to be due to a loose connection on the battery post however after isolating the battery bank the bolts were found to be correctly torqued.  The links were removed and heat-shrink cut away from the crimp lug to inspect their condition.

Upon cutting away the heat-shrink one of the lugs slipped straight off the cable.  The crimp looked to have been compressed by a chisel strike, rather than using the correct crimping tool which left the connection loose and subject to failure.

The faulty crimps where replaced with new crimp lugs correctly crimped with a hexagonal compression tool.  The correct tool marks the lugs with the size it has been crimped to.  This allows verification that the correct crimp setting has been used.

Is your current UPS maintenance provider as thorough as Power Protect?  Our in-house team of qualified electricians are factory trained in UPS and battery technologies and use modern tools and diagnostic methods to ensure your battery backup systems are available when you need them.  We pride ourselves on our high standard of maintenance and look forward to the opportunity to maintain your uninterrupted power supply equipment.

If you’d like to find out more about our support and maintenance contracts call us on 1300 877 626 or email service@powerprotect.com.au.

UPS battery temperature logging – just part of the service

A single bad battery in a UPS battery string creates a risk of downtime for datacenter and critical power applications, and the biggest killer of batteries is excessive temperature.

We’ve seen many installations with inadequate temperature control but for the service engineer performing routine maintenance checks, determining the extent of the problem can be difficult.  In 2013 Power Protect introduced temperature logging for all maintenance contract customers, with a logging thermometer installed in all battery rooms.

The temperature loggers are programmed to display an alarm indicator when the high temperature set-point is reached telling the service engineer that they need to interrogate the logger to determine the extent of the problem.

On the spot, our service engineers can determine the extent of the excessive temperature and how long the high temperature lasted.  This information allows our engineers to engage directly with site staff to further identify what may be causing the high temperature.

This is just one of the benefits of engaging Power Protect to maintain your UPS assets.  Our service engineers don’t just check to see if your equipment is still working, they seek out opportunities to improve the reliability and resilience of your critical power systems.

Call Power Protect on 1300 877 626 or email service@powerprotect.com.au today to talk to us about maintenance for your UPS and battery systems.

Thermography in UPS Maintenance

Not so long ago the practice of thermography was limited to scientific applications primarily due to the cost and difficulty in setting up and using the equipment. These days the cost of thermal cameras has come down sufficiently for them to be a standard part of the service technician’s toolkit.

Power Protect purchased our first thermal camera in 2012 and the benefits to our service team were instantly obvious. Shortly after we made the thermal camera and standard item supplied to each and every one of our service techs.

While having a thermal camera is a good first step, it is just as important to have the training in how to collect and interpret the thermal images that we use for the basis of our service recommendations. This has led us to a combination of in-house training, accredited training through the University of Melbourne, and certification with the Australian Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (AINDT)

Armed with the right tools and training for the job, we’ve found many issues that could have gone unnoticed if not for our use of the thermal camera on each and every UPS maintenance visit. Here we have a collection of some of the images that have been captured.

As part of a commissioning on a new 80kVA UPS, the system was subjected to a discharge test to confirm the batteries were performing in line with the manufacturers specifications. While the batteries performed as required a scan of the batteries during the discharge test identified that the positive post on this block had a higher temperature than others in the string. The battery itself did not show any signs of an issue with the float and discharge block voltage consistent with those around it, however the post temperature clearly indicates that the internal post connection is a higher resistance than it should be while under load. After being presented with this image the manufacturer immediately authorised a warranty replacement, and just like preventative maintenance should the problem was fixed before it became a problem.

This output filter capacitor is from a smaller UPS and features ‘spade’ style crimped connections. These are notorious for spreading apart leaving a poor connection. While not warm enough to leave a visible mark on the crimp’s insulation, the elevated temperature would at best shorten the service life of the capacitor and at worst fail completely potentially damaging the UPS or customers equipment.

Here is another spade terminal, however on a battery this time. UPS batteries systems are made up of a string of batteries in series. The inherent weakness is that an open circuit failure at any point along the string will render the entire string out of service. Being able to see the poor connection on this battery link allowed us to replace it straight away as part of the preventative maintenance.

Finally, this image shows a loose termination on an external maintenance bypass switch. The bypass switch in this image is for the ‘A’ UPS on a 2N (or A/B redundant) system. This means that a failure of the ‘B’ system would result in a doubling of the load on the A UPS and its bypass switch. With the temperature rise shown for 50% of the site load it is unlikely this would have survived long if required to support 100% of the load.

Power Protect specialize in design, installation, and maintenance of critical power systems. Putting the ‘prevent’ in preventative maintenance every one of our service team carry and use thermal cameras to inspect and diagnose equipment operation. If you’d like to find out more about our support and maintenance contracts call on 1300 877 626 or email service@powerprotect.com.au.

Evolution of a generator control schematic

I mentioned in my previous post about the generator control system upgrade, the process of carefully documenting the existing installation due to a lack of any drawings or information about how the current system works.

Here I thought I’d provide some insight into the process as it moves from not really knowing how the control system operates to having a fully developed schematic.  When you’re faced with a mess of wires, a bunch of unlabelled contactors, relays and fuses, all you can really do is pick a point to start work your way through until you have identified how every component comes together.

Initial on-site control system sketch
Initial on-site control system sketch

The first step is to give everything a logical name and label the physical component, this helps to ensure consistent component labelling on the drawing.  It can be tricky to keep track of all the ‘branches’ in the circuit, as you will inevitably find terminals and junctions with wires heading off in all directions.

You can just about guarantee the first version of your drawing will not look anything like the finished product.

Revised sketch...still not complete
Revised sketch…still not complete

Only once you understand how all the components tie together can you determine the best way to layout your drawing.  Over a couple of coffees the confusing sketch drawn out in front of the panel can be converted into a much more understandable drawing.  In this case the drawing above was used (and adjusted slightly) to wire up the new control panel as we needed to provide the customer with a working standby generator system without delay.

Final drawings from CAD software were the next step for submission with the Operation and Maintenance Manual.

AC Generator schematic
AC Generator schematic
DC Generator schematic
DC Generator schematic

As you can see the final drawings are a long way from the initial on-site sketch.  Along with the Deep Sea controller operators manual and a detailed description of how all components of the generator control system tie together, these drawings are included in the manuals provided to our client.  We also provided laminated drawings at the control panel for easy reference.

If you have issues with your generator control system, don’t have confidence the generator will work when required, or don’t have documentation on how the system operates, give Power Protect a call on 1300 877 626 or email service@powerprotect.com.au.

Help! – our generator doesn’t work

This job started out as a fairly routine call to our Sydney office, the customer indicated they were having issues with their standby diesel generator not operating correctly. They had a weekend test scheduled and wanted us along to see how the system was performing and advise what could be done to improve its reliability.

One quick look at the generator controller and anyone could tell this wasn’t going to be a simple fix but apparently those that came before us were not so quick to put forward a solution. The test run was completed which allowed us to see the full operation (and failure) of the generator, controller, and transfer switch. Without a doubt the only fix for this was a re-wire of the control system.

We proposed keeping the existing control cubicle to keep the project cost down, and quoted to install the Deep Sea 7320 auto mains failure generator controller.

Deep Sea 7320

The first step was carefully start disconnecting and documenting the existing control system. With no drawings, wire numbering, or documentation available we had to determine the function of each and every wire in the cubicle. Drawing a wiring diagram as we went (this will be the subject of a later post) we managed to identify all the cabling and could begin the clean up and design process for the new controller.

Back of Deep Sea Controller

As the new controller was installed all the interconnecting cabling was renewed and clearly labelled to match the wiring diagram that would be provided to the client at the end of the project.

After image of Diesel Generator Controller

While still a little squeezy the improvement over what we faced originally is obvious. Now the customer has a reliable generator control system complete with instructions, wiring diagrams and clearly labelled cabling. Another happy customer for Power Protect.