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Six Factors to Consider in Switchgear Modernization

Switchgear performs essential safety functions in industrial, medical, military, and other environments. Switchgear, among other purposes, improves safety, protects equipment, and minimizes power outage downtime. Since they serve such vital functions, it only makes sense for switchgear to operate at its expected capacity. To ensure ongoing reliability, occasional modernization is necessary.

While some switchgear components, such as bus bars or protective relays, are relatively unaffected by obsolescence, advances in technology mean that there can be vast differences in switchgear’s safety and functionality. Switchgear modernization delivers a range of benefits, including:

  • Improved safety (due to newer or more effective components)

  • Reduced costs (from equipment downtime and lost productivity)

  • Extending manufacturer warranties (which reduces liability)

  • Reducing components (replacing obsolete with newer, mult-function components)

  • Delivering broader functionality and reliability (reducing training requirements)

While the benefits of switchgear modernization are clear, there are some important considerations to take into account before and during a retrofitting project.

Six Factors to Consider in Switchgear Modernization

1. Site Assessment

This is the initial phase of switchgear modernization. During this phase, needs are assessed, and an installation plan is created. It’s important to gather as much information about the retrofit requirements as possible, including equipment photos, service history documentation, and manufacturer manuals. It’s also important to get a full spectrum of views from all teams on how the equipment is operating. This helps an engineer assess needs regarding the minimum required, maximum possible, costs, and timeframe.

2. Level of Retrofit Required

Various degrees of switchgear modernization may be required for your existing equipment. The level of retrofit has implications for safety, cost, potential downtime, and project completion, as higher levels may necessitate more parts or expertise for installation.

Switchgear in need of retrofit

The levels can be roughly described as follows:

  1. Individual parts. This is where only certain obsolete parts need replacing.

  2. Major components. In this instance, an entire set of components, such as a PLC, needs replacing. This can take between 2-6 weeks from assessment to completion.

  3. Replacing all controls. This means removing obsolete controls in the switchgear, leaving only the “power envelope” (bus, power cables, breakers, and sheet metal). This is the most common type of switchgear modernization and can take 8-12 weeks to finalize from the initial assessment.

  4. Total replacement. After the site assessment, the conclusion may be reached that the existing equipment is non-salvageable and must be replaced in its entirety. This rare occurrence can take up to 20 weeks from assessment to project completion.

The timeframes for projects include designing and acquiring components. Actual equipment downtime is only during installation unless the equipment poses a serious safety risk.

3. Component Obsolescence

A core requirement for switchgear modernization is upgrading components that have become outdated. This can range from a better version being available (i.e., a nice-to-have upgrade) to a component being an active safety risk (i.e., replacement is absolutely necessary.)

Examples of components that get retrofitted with upgrades include filament to LED indicating lamps, single-function meters to multi-function devices, older PLCs with proprietary languages being changed for modern devices, and governor controllers or import-export controls being integrated into a single device. Retrofitting obsolete components also includes replacing components where the pieces aren’t made anymore (like certain protective relays) or PLCs that no longer have factory support.

4. Costs

Naturally, cost is a major consideration with any retrofit or refurbishment project. However, switchgear modernization costs should be considered in terms of the project cost and the “hidden” costs of not upgrading switchgear. Failure of electrical switchgear means not effectively transitioning to backup power, meaning mains power loss will result in equipment downtime and lost productivity and revenue at the minimum. In some cases, electrical switchgear failure can cause major safety concerns for employees and extensive equipment damage.

5. Regulatory Compliance

Maintaining your facility in compliance with all relevant regulations is essential for the safety of employees and equipment and minimizing risk from negligence. There are certain standards for electrical switchgear in general, such as UL 891 and UL 1558, while others, such as NFPA 110, outline the legal obligations for critical loads (concerning human health) and conditions, such as how long before a generator kicks in, which apply to environments such as healthcare facilities.

Old switchgear

6. Appearance

Switchgear modernization doesn’t just focus on obsolete components but also on insufficient signage or safety features. When it comes to inspections, handwritten notes on a component are not viewed very favorably. An equipment upgrade should include updating decals, safety notices, and physical features, such as reducing wiring and amalgamating functions or installing locking doors to prevent unnecessary access.

Retrofit with Enercon

Switchgear modernization brings several benefits to an organization, such as improved safety, reduced risk of liability and equipment downtime, and delivering greater functionality and reliability. There are several factors to consider before and during a switchgear modernization project, including the level of retrofit required and cost.

Enercon has been a trusted partner for organizations looking to modernize their switchgear for decades. We are proud to deliver retrofits that meet requirements in improving safety and reducing risk. To learn more about how Enercon can help you with your switchgear modernization, contact us to discuss your project.


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