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Switchgear Maintenance in Industrial Environments

Switchgear failures in industrial settings can be catastrophic for both human life and equipment functionality. In industrial environments such as factories or power plants, the failure of switchgear components can lead to arc flash, fires, short circuits, or burning oil or gas being ejected (in the case of oil-filled switchgear). At the least, switchgear failure will lead to expensive machine downtime and repairs, hitting productivity and delaying orders.

That’s why switchgear maintenance is such a crucial element of any general maintenance and facility management plan. Switchgear operation and maintenance in industrial settings can pose unique challenges, so we’ll look at the specific risks involved and the best practices for performing industrial switchgear maintenance.


Switchgear Maintenance | Enercon

Why Switchgear Maintenance Matters


There are several reasons why switchgear maintenance in industrial settings is essential for managing risk and costs; these include:

  • Health and Safety: Electrical switchgear features components like fuses, relays, circuit breakers, and disconnect switches. These features work to prevent short circuits and current overload and also allow for the safe powering down of equipment. When electrical switchgear fails, operators and people in the vicinity are put in danger of events such as arc flash, fire, or coming in contact with electrified equipment. The results of these events can be serious injury or even death.


  • Expensive Repairs: Failure of electrical switchgear and the resultant disruption of power flow, short-circuiting, or overheating can cause significant equipment damage. The goal of switchgear maintenance is to extend the lifespan of that equipment without the need for costly repairs while ensuring the safety of the equipment and machinery it is serving.


  • Equipment Downtime: Following accidents, disruption to power flow or damage to machinery operations must be stopped for repairs or replacement. This downtime can have significant knock-on effects throughout the rest of the facility, leading to the under-utilization of labor, lost productivity, and potentially damage to customer relationships.


  • Regulatory Compliance: Workplace accidents lead to litigation and increased insurance costs. By law, factory owners must maintain electrical switchgear in such a way as to avoid danger as far as is reasonably practical, which means following best practices and set standards throughout maintenance planning and operations. Some of the legislation applying to electrical switchgear maintenance include the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in the UK and the NFPA 70B Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance in the United States.

Challenges for Switchgear Maintenance in Industrial Settings


Like all mechanical equipment, switchgear is subject to wear and tear and component degradation over time. This can be exacerbated in industrial settings as opposed to low-risk settings, such as a university or office block, creating unique sets of conditions and considerations for maintenance teams. Below are some unique challenges faced by switchgear in industrial settings.


Dust

The constant wearing of raw materials and equipment in industrial settings creates coatings of dust. This dust gets everywhere, including into electrical switchgear. However, it is the type of dust that becomes very important for switchgear maintenance. As similarly laid out in the UL698A standard for industrial control panels, combustible dust can come in many forms and present significant dangers to equipment and operators. This includes combustible metal dust, combustible carbonaceous dust, and dust from materials such as flour, starch, and wood.


Switchgear Maintenance | Enercon

Proximity Effects

The impacts of nearby machinery can also create issues for switchgear and their maintenance. These include the vibrations and heat created, which have knock-on effects on switchgear equipment, potentially affecting their layout, lifespan, and function. Switchgear maintenance can also be impacted by the physical logistics of getting complete access to the switchgear housing.


Chemicals

Chemical vapors do not just pose a significant fire threat but can also have major impacts on the equipment itself. Certain chemicals react with the metals in equipment to cause corrosion. Silver-plated parts, in particular, need to be observed in environments with chemical vapors to ensure no hotspots are developing, which could later lead to a failure point.


Humidity

Water is a dangerous conductor, and the existence of high levels of humidity or vapor in the air can lead to water build-up within control panels and electrical switchgear housing. Where this is the case, visual inspections should be performed regularly, and ventilation checked to ensure dust or other elements aren’t blocking the free flow of air.


Elements of Switchgear Maintenance


There are several features of regular inspections and corrective and preventive maintenance programs that help ensure electrical switchgear is capable of operating for its rated function. These include:

  • Tightness Checks: Always check for bolt tightness and that of insulation coverings and electrical connections. Looseness over time can create heat build-up.

  • Thermal Imaging: Infrared thermography is a non-invasive technique that can be deployed to check electrical switchgear and identify hotspots, loose connections, and other anomalies.

  • Lubrication: Lubrication is necessary to ensure the correct function of moving parts such as switches, isolators, hinges, and auto reclosures. This prevents wear and tear and extends their lifespan.

  • Insulation Testing: Power factor testing is used to assess the insulation condition of electrical switchgear. It can identify deterioration, contamination, or moisture in the component insulation, which reduces its performance and reliability.

  • Ventilation and Climate Control: Ensuring the free flow of air through a switchgear system can prevent heat or moisture build-up, while climate control can ensure temperatures are kept within rated levels.

Conclusion


Switchgear maintenance in industrial settings faces a number of unique conditions that mean extra care and consideration have to be taken. These are necessary to reduce risk to operators and machines in order to prevent accidents and machine downtime while ensuring regulatory compliance.


Enercon is proud to offer a team of highly qualified Field Service Engineers to support your needs 24/7. Our experts are knowledgeable in many aspects of switchgear installation, servicing, and repairs. Contact our service department to learn more about how our preventative maintenance programs can help keep your equipment running at peak performance.

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