No matter what kind of facility you’re responsible for, any amount of downtime is expensive. Employees sit idle. Servers and communications go dead. Data can be lost. Machinery stands still. Continuous processes and assembly lines freeze, costing lost productivity as well as wasted materials. Any length of interruption is too long for occupants and management and, depending on the size and type of your facility, every minute can cost your organization between thousands and millions of dollars.
Electrical power disruptions are a common source of downtime. For example, they account for almost 20% of plant shutdowns in petrochemical refineries. If the source of the disruption is on the power utility side, onsite backup systems can keep things going for a while. But if the source is internal, due to a short circuit, overloaded cable, or insulation failure, it’s entirely up to the facility maintenance team to get things running again as soon as possible.
Restoring power has typically been a very manual and stressful process. Facility teams first need to identify the source of the problem, then take the appropriate steps to correct the issue or essentially quarantine that section of the power system while restoring power safely to the rest of the facility. With no power and very little information to go on, determining next steps often requires a lot of guesswork, and time.
Smarter means faster
Fortunately, the trend in digitization is helping address this challenge. Low voltage circuit breakers are becoming smarter, with integrated monitoring, analysis, and communication capabilities. The transmission of circuit breaker data to special mobile apps and system-level analytics is delivering deeper insights more rapidly. This is giving maintenance technicians the tools they need to isolate root causes and resolve outages much more quickly, often in only a few minutes.
Imagine that a power outage occurs throughout a large facility. The facility manager begins receiving calls from people in the dark throughout the building. A maintenance technician is dispatched to the main electrical room. On arrival, the technician can see the main breaker has tripped and there is still incoming power available, but no power beyond the main breaker. So, it is evident the problem is somewhere downstream. In this situation, it’s difficult for the technician to determine the cause of the trip.
Connect and understand
Fortunately, some smart breakers now store a large amount of data. By simply holding a smart phone near the breaker – even if the breaker is de-energized – data is conveniently transferred to the device. An app on the phone displays information that describes whether the breaker has tripped and, if so, due to which kind of fault. The app will then lead the technician through a series of steps to check further conditions of the breaker, such as discharge, reset, and other indicators and controls.
At this point, the technician may need to consult with the head operations office. If further information is required, the breaker may offer other ways to extract information. For example, a battery pack may be used to power up the smart trip unit to enable data to be transferred over a secure Bluetooth connection. This deeper level of information could include an alarm history and captured waveforms, detailing the sequence of events that occurred immediately before the outage. This data can be quickly emailed from the smartphone to the engineer at the operations office.
Reclosing made simple
Armed with this information, the maintenance team has the clues needed to locate the source of the problem. The technician will then take steps to isolate the faulty section and return to the main breaker to restore power. The app also offers help with this stage, delivering step-by-step instructions to reclose the breaker, such as ‘reset’ or ‘charge spring’. As an additional safeguard, the smart phone app will enable hand hands-free execution of these operations.
This combination of advanced circuit breaker intelligence, connectivity options, and dedicated apps is helping facility teams respond to outages more effectively, more safely, and with far less stress. Clear instructions delivered through a mobile device also eliminate the need for complex documentation and lengthy training.
The MasterpactTM MTZ from Schneider Electric is the first of this new breed of smart circuit breakers. The product offers extensive on-board monitoring, diagnosis, alarming, and waveform capture, local NFC (near-field communication) and Bluetooth connection to mobile apps such as Power Restoration and Operation Assistant, and Ethernet connectivity. These capabilities make the circuit breaker one of the pillars of the EcoStruxureTM Power solution. To learn more about the Masterpact MTZ low voltage air circuit breaker, visit the dedicated website.
This has been the second post in our series on how the newest smart circuit breakers are helping improve operational efficiency and reliability. Watch for the next post in this series, where we’ll see how smart circuit breakers can make routine checks safer and more comfortable for maintenance managers.