Recent data on the U.S. electrical industry seems to indicate that the growth outlook has improved. Similarly, overall production is rebounding in the European market, thanks largely to growth in automotive and automation industries. This is good news for the electrical industry, including panel builders hoping to increase their opportunities and profits.
To keep up with this growth and stay competitive, it’s more important than ever for panel builders to find ways to optimize efficiencies and keep costs down. This includes choosing equipment that is simple to assemble and wire. But it also means finding ways to speed up final configuration and factory acceptance testing.
Currently, many panel building shops are faced with a number of challenges during these final steps. First, in testing communications, there may be no clear information on the connection architecture, including device groupings. It’s also time consuming to configure alarm, protection, and meter settings. In addition, special requirements for setting up ‘smart’ devices might not be available. Ultimately, if a panel is not working, it’s not easy to determine what might have gone wrong with the assembly or setup.
During the following testing phase, test engineers often need special expertise. The process typically takes a lot of time, as it can be difficult to resolve any communication problems and to check numerous non-compatible products with different firmware versions. If the panel builder is working on the newest smart panels containing smart protection and metering devices, this can require special knowledge to test properly. Finally, if test reports are requested by the customer, most panel builders are still building those manually.
Smart apps to the rescue
Fortunately, new smart applications are making panel builders’ lives a lot easier, while also offering benefits to contractors during commissioning, and facility managers during operation.
Once a panel is assembled and wired, the technician can run the smart app on their laptop to run through a series of simple steps. First the app will automatically connect and discover all devices. Some apps provide a clear graphical view of the communication architecture, including groupings of devices. They may also offer a single-click communication test that will quickly check for any communication wiring errors.
The app can then be used to configure all of the components in the panel, and will typically support a very wide range of device types, including the newest smart circuit breakers, meters, communication interfaces, etc. The app will enable fast setup of alarm settings, protection settings, meter CT and PT ratios, and other parameters. Using the same software to configure multiple kinds of devices helps reduce time and complexity for the technician. The app can also help check the consistency of settings across multiple devices and panels.
The technician can also use the smart app to perform functional checks, such as meter measurements, and basic breaker operation. There is also typically support for device password reset, as well as a device firmware compatibility check and the ability to do firmware upgrading, if necessary.
Reporting made simple
Once these tests have been performed, the most comprehensive apps will provide a single-click generation of a detailed factory acceptance test report. The report will act as clear proof of testing with time-stamped results, showing the onsite contractor that the panel is ready for commissioning. The report will also include all settings for each of the individual components. All project and device data can be stored, safe and secure, in the cloud.
Ecoreach from Schneider Electric is an example of a smart application that makes it simple and easy for panel builders to setup, test, and report on a panelboard with smart devices. Panel builders can expect to enjoy a 70% time savings in testing and reporting. With support for all families of Schneider Electric protection, metering, and communication products, Ecoreach will also share device details with the EcoStruxure™ Facility Expert (formerly known as Facility Hero) maintenance logbook app.
Watch for my next post, when I’ll talk about apps that are simplifying commissioning requirements for contractors.