The electrical distribution system is often taken for granted until the lights are off and production has ground to a halt. When that happens, system drawings and operational plans are critical to recovery. In this article, we will discuss 5 electrical distribution system mapping methods to improve your electrical documentation on design, settings, and operational configurations.
1 – Start With Existing Documentation
This can be a daunting task, particularly if you have little background or historical knowledge of the plant to support you. Step back and take a methodical approach. Are there any old system drawings available? You may need to search amongst old and dusty file boxes, through network system folders, or through past employees’ desks and laptops. What are you really looking for? Often components will arrive from vendors with component drawings, and these may help with some details later. Put these aside where you can find them and, if there is no existing filing method, start developing one now. Ready access to these is crucial when component failures require immediate troubleshooting. System one-line or schematic drawings, however, are your true target. A well-constructed one-line drawing will be the key to operating and troubleshooting your electrical system, therefore they are crucial to include in your electrical distribution system mapping. These will provide the framework to understand how and where components are installed, connected, and integrated into your plant. Protection and control systems will be documented here as well, providing a comprehensive understanding of the operational and safety methods employed in the design of your distribution system.
2 – Update Your Map Based on What You See
Once you have found and cataloged what is available, it is time to walk the plant. Whether you are comparing an old drawing to the existing system or starting from scratch, the best place to start is always the incoming source or sources. Do not forget secondary feeds or backup generators in this review as these can dramatically alter protection and paralleling scenarios within your system. Search out major components such as transformers and switchgear. Nameplates on this equipment are invaluable to determining system ratings as well as component age and capabilities. Walkdown the connections between them and start revising or building your one-line drawing. While this may be a time-consuming and tedious task, you are also investing in a complete review of maintenance, repair, and replacement needs. Once you understand the distribution system throughout the plant, start adding loads. Large motors, VFDs, and capacitor banks should alert you to power quality and voltage considerations within your system. This data will prepare you to develop an effective and comprehensive maintenance plan.
3 – Leverage Vendors for Help
Have you had any contractors in the plant recently? Reputable providers seeking to maintain a good business relationship will consult and share what they already know about your system. They may be able to provide a range of historical information such as drawings, studies, test reports, and construction history, cutting your research and development time dramatically. Do not forget to leverage these resources and maintain these relationships. When failures occur, strong relationships result in rapid and efficient service. Without strong partners and relationships, service providers will need all the documentation you can provide to assist quickly and efficiently. Lacking these resources can be difficult to overcome when you need them the most.
4 – Hire an Electrical Distribution System Mapping Partner to Help
What if you have no existing relationships to leverage? How do you choose a firm to help you and what type of firm do you require? An electrical contractor may be able to assist with system modifications and repairs but may not have the specific skills required to assist in researching and defining what you have now. An engineering consulting firm will have the expertise to define and document your electrical distribution system but may lack expertise in maintenance schedules and testing while also being expensive on an hourly basis to contract. A firm that specializes in commissioning, testing, and maintenance may be the best fit for your situation. Experts in this category are skilled in troubleshooting systems, testing equipment and establishing current condition of equipment and systems, and determining and performing required maintenance plans. Often, all three types of firms maintain strong relationships with partners that cover their skills deficiencies, so check out websites and find one with the broadest array of skills and experience and a solid industry reputation. The right partner will bring along their partners, providing you with a deep bench of broad experience.
5 – Use an Arc Flash Study to Close the Gap
Paying for information that should already exist is a tough sell when budgets are already cut to the minimum. Ideally, your efforts will also advance plant reliability and safety, making this more attractive when seeking budgetary approvals. If during your survey of the plant you noticed the lack of arc flash labels on your electrical equipment, this could be an excellent opportunity to resolve several issues at once. Utilizing either a commissioning, testing, and maintenance firm or an engineering consulting firm to perform an arc flash study will result in a system model, comprehensive understanding of your electrical distribution system, and recommendations for improved safety and maintenance priorities. Arc flash equipment ratings are also mandated by NFPA 70E code and a critical aspect of your plant electrical safety program, making the budgetary case much more compelling. When contracting to have this study performed in your plant, make sure that the contractor you select provides the system model generated in an electronic format that you can access and retain for your records. This system diagram will be an accurate one-line representation of your plant and a great basis to establish your records and documentation.
Establishing a solid understanding and documentation for your plant is critical to your ability to operate and maintain the electrical distribution system safely and efficiently. Possessing accurate and detailed documentation is not always a given, but can be established if you take a methodical approach to researching your system, dusting off your resources, and calling for help when you need it.
Southwest Electric Co. is here to assist you with all your transformer and electrical distribution system mapping needs. Our highly skilled and trained technicians and in-house engineers can help you understand and maintain your distribution system regardless of the circumstances. We excel in hunting details and failures when they are hidden. Give us a call or an email to start the conversation with us.