Getting smart

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 Paul Stead, head of sales and marketing at Saftronics Ltd, examines how the smart industry is affecting switchgear.

With over 40 years’ experience of design and manufacture of low voltage switchgear, Saftronics Limited has kept at the forefront of electrical distribution technology. With the digital transformation of infrastructure, buildings and industry, power distribution, IT and the internet are all converging – resulting in a trend for analysis of energy consumption and monitoring the condition of electrical equipment.

Traditional switchgear provides very little data and maintenance is based on planned schedules that may cause downtime for process industry and disruption to power supply. This can lead to high annual costs and additional personnel to perform regular maintenance, and if switchgear is not maintained, failures or blackouts could occur.

As operators are constantly looking for new ways to reduce energy costs and gain higher productivity and efficiency, reducing maintenance costs and preventing downtime is a priority. Continuous monitoring of switchgear can give operators an understanding of how the electrical system is performing and when and where maintenance is required. With the evolution of Industry 4.0 and digitalisation, the focus has been shifted to digital or smart switchgear.

In its simplest form, switchgear manufactured with condition monitoring equipment gives a different approach – not only with maintenance tasks, but it can also identify load peaks and optimise the energy consumed in a production facility or building environment.

So how does it work?

Designing and planning power distribution switchgear for industrial plants, infrastructure and buildings is becoming more complex and demanding in the requirements. Whilst some OEMs of electrical components are still in the initial phases, there are solutions already available for digital transformation of switchgear.

Digital switchboards can be fitted with components that provide greater visibility of not only current and voltage, but also power, power loss, temperature, operating cycles and other measured values or calculated data. Once these facts are recorded and analysed, operators can start to optimise and reduce maintenance that in turn will have an effect on running costs of the asset, as well as lifetime costs.

Modern switchgear fitted with these components can collect all the energy relevant data and increase the transparency of the electrical system, recording accurate power consumption and operational information. These values via communications interfaces can be made available in an automation or building management system.

As an example – in a data centre, if a server load is increased, this would be communicated to the automation or building management system. Cooling fans could be adjusted at an earlier stage to prevent the system failing due to overheating.

Switchgear can also be fitted with devices that continuously monitor the temperature of busbars and cable connection points. Faults and failures are frequently caused by poor connections, that may not be apparent at the time of installation. 

Poor electrical connections can result in the effects of arcing or cause a fire in the switchgear. Periodic thermal monitoring with the use of an infrared camera will only give a snapshot, but continuous monitoring with infrared cameras and temperature sensor data can be recorded, and with smart technology, alert the plant operator 24/7.

Staying appy

The data and information of the switchgear’s condition monitoring system can also be communicated to a cloud-based system. There are already many apps and tools available for operators to view, and configure the information that is more meaningful to their performance of the facility or when maintenance is required.

An online app condition monitoring tool compares the current data to historical trends and other relevant data, to allow the operator to run the electrical system, optimise and reduce scheduled maintenance. This in turn will have a positive effect on the switchgear’s lifetime running costs. 

The switchgear will still require maintenance – however, with the use of smart components, it is possible to reduce the switchgear’s operation and maintenance costs by 10 to 30%. Shutdowns for maintenance tasks can be better planned and in a production facility, this is key to gaining higher productivity and efficiency.

With digital switchgear and predictive maintenance, operators and maintenance teams can move away from the traditional time-based maintenance activities and simple monitoring tools, and let the smart components do the work. Utilising smart solutions in switchgear with condition monitoring and data collection capabilities provides transparency into the electrical system and, combined with knowledge, it can be possible to identify failing components before they become an issue, causing unscheduled downtime or blackouts. 

Like a smartwatch can monitor your body’s performance, help you identify areas for improvement and increase your performance, smart switchgear is a powerful new way to keep electrical systems healthy, in peak condition and keep annual maintenance costs low, allowing you to focus on other important tasks within your business.