Do you remember a few years ago when iPhones were having battery life issues? One minute my smartphone would have full battery, then I’d take a call, it would drain to 20% and then go blank. Shut down. No power.
For the most part the phone worked, it was still acceptable by technology standards, but it was becoming unreliable. I never knew if the next time I fired up the GPS if it would just leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. I felt like I was constantly ‘rolling the dice’ by relying on the device.
That’s the same way I look at switchgear in industrial facilities. Sure, the switchgear is working most of the time, but its aging and starting to become unreliable. And just like my phone, nothing works without power.
If your plant is experiencing regular unplanned downtime, your aging switchgear may be to blame. Here are three signs that point to needing a power distribution upgrade.
Loss of production time due to unreliable power or outages
If you’re a manufacturer, every unplanned outage is hurting your business in a number of ways including production time loss, product loss, repair material sourcing, expediting repair product to your location and more.
I like to compare it to a car. How much are you going to let that old Buick ‘nickel and dime’ you at the mechanic before you trade it in on a new model?
If your maintenance crew or outside contractors are regularly coming in to service the gear, you’ve got a problem. Are the breakers constantly tripping or overheating? Maybe the breakers won’t open or close?
No matter the issue, unplanned shutdowns impact the bottom line and the longer you delay addressing the problem, the costs will continue to climb.
If you’re losing production time due to reliability issues, step back and consider how much money you’re pouring into old equipment versus the cost of a new or retrofitted power distribution solution.
Breakers or product are no longer available
In this job, I hang out with a lot of gray boxes. I’ve seen gear that is 40 to 50 years old and even older. And if it’s maintained well, the switchgear may have no problems.
But the problem is the breakers. If one breaks – it’s likely no longer on planet Earth. And if you are lucky enough to find a couple, they’re old, and it makes you wonder exactly how long will this product will even work.
Now look back at your multi-million dollar production line. Do you really want your line relying on this outdated product to keep it running? That’s the kind of thing that keeps maintenance, facility managers and even CFOs up at night.
If this ancient part goes down, how will it affect your business? If the impact is great enough, it’s time to start thinking about a plan B.
Ready to grow and upgrade with new technology
In manufacturing, everyone wants to grow, expand and create more product. Maybe you want to add a new machine or a whole new line. If your switchgear is old, it’s likely you’re at capacity and it will be difficult trying to find the parts to expand.
Along the same lines, many manufacturers are looking to get more functionality out of their gear. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Having a more connected plant floor will provide analytics that can help your business assess system health and help you run the business more effectively.
Manufacturers are wanting to communicate with their gear remotely, monitor the power quality and bring power data into the building automation system.
Do you have a power distribution plan?
While it may be very expensive to replace your entire power distribution system to reap the uptime and IIoT benefits, you have a lot of options. Many manufacturers are opting to retrofit their existing gear.
If the metal is still good, you can replace the interior buckets and get new breakers, cradles and updated technology at a fraction of the cost. You can start small with a phased approach.
You’ll get a more current product, so if something breaks you can easily find a replacement, and you’ll benefit from new technology like metering or adjustable trip units at a cost-effective price.
It’s important to have a plan in place to get your operation up and running if something does happen. You can lean on a manufacturer or a specialty distributor like Graybar to come in and do a facility assessment of your power system.
Graybar can help you come up with a game plan in case something does happen or show you how to be proactive to address aging before it becomes a problem. Our goal is to provide solutions that can help your plant stay profitable, effective and efficient.
Randall Ringgold is a sales engineer at Graybar where he provides technical support for the sales organization, which includes developing business opportunities. Randall has developed hundreds of power distribution, energy management and safety solutions during his 28 year career in the electrical industry. Randall focuses his attention on helping electrical industry customers to create a more reliable, effective and efficient facility.