Before I joined Schneider Electric recently, I spent 25 years in the semiconductor business, first as an equipment maintenance engineering manager for a manufacturer and later as operations manager for a field service group. In both roles, I experienced first-hand what it takes to plan for the long-term maintenance of expensive equipment.
Time and again I saw people buy a costly piece of manufacturing equipment, for example, then be surprised 3 or 4 years down the road when that machine needed some form of maintenance that was no longer covered under a service contract. When I was managing the field service team, I saw the same thing from the other side – customers who came face to face with not only equipment downtime but expensive repair bills that they hadn’t planned for.
The lessons I learned apply well to the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that Schneider Electric sells. Like most equipment of pretty much any type, UPSs need periodic maintenance, including battery replacements, fan adjustments or replacement, cleaning and the like. We know this. It should not come as a surprise. The only real question is how do you want to deal with it?
The way I’ve always approached that question is to back up and examine why you bought the piece of equipment in the first place. For a UPS, what is it that you need it to protect? How much of a problem would it be if the UPS was not available when you needed it to be, meaning that whatever it was supposed to protect went down due to a power failure or interruption? What would the net effect be not only on your customer, but on their customer?
For example, maybe you work in a hospital, so your “customers” are the hospital employees, including doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. Let’s say you’ve got a UPS protecting an MRI machine and the UPS fails due to a battery issue. Now, it doesn’t take a complete power outage to cause problems in such a situation, because an MRI machine is delicate and requires good, clean power. Any kind of sag or distortion may cause problems. If that’s what happens, then your customer – the specialist running the machine – will certainly not be happy. But neither will the specialist’s “customer,” the patient being scanned, who now has to come back another time. Not good for anyone involved, and certainly costly to the organization.
Thinking about your customers, and your customer’s customer when applicable, may keep you from making short-sighted decisions. In this case, it should be clear that a reactive maintenance plan, where you only fix things after they’ve broken, will not suffice.
Another option is to keep to a maintenance schedule. That’s better, but still not really strategic or sufficient. A UPS doesn’t know it’s on a schedule. A part may fail before the schedule says it should, potentially resulting in downtime. Or it could last much longer than expected, which means you’ve unnecessarily spent money repairing it.
A more strategic approach is a predictive maintenance plan. Most sophisticated devices these days, and certainly UPSs, can produce all sorts of diagnostic information on their own health. Using tools that collect and analyze this data, you can now predict when a component really is in danger of failing because it’s showing characteristics that are out of the ordinary. Then you can take steps to remedy the situation. It’s a more strategic approach because you’re fixing a real, known problem, not (potentially) wasting money by replacing components just because a schedule says you should.
It’s healthy to walk through these sorts of discussions and scenarios with your UPS vendor at the time of purchase. Make a plan for how you’re going to maintain the equipment over the course of its expected lifecycle (and potentially even beyond, given it’s often possible to essentially refurbish a UPS to get more life out of it). Doing so will help ensure your UPS is able to perform the job for which it is intended, and that you’re not surprised by unexpected repair bills.
To learn more about the topic, check out the free Schneider Electric white paper, “Predictive Maintenance Strategy for Building Operations: A Better Approach.” It should help you protect your customers, and theirs.