The task faced by today's electrical wholesaler is by no means an easy one. Growing  environmental concerns, the current economic climate and ever-changing regulations, have made it even more important for wholesalers to provide their customers with easy access to the newest and smartest innovations. In order to meet this demand in the most competitive way, it can be all too easy to make price the deciding factor when choosing a product. However, the quality and safety of any goods can only be ensured by going back to the start - guaranteeing raw materials and manufacturing processes are not just effective, but completely ethical. Here Steve Havell from Newey & Eyre, talks through his recent visit to the Far East in search of lighting solutions

China is just one of the countries we have visited to seek out the best solutions for our customers and we have years of experience working closely with many of the world's leading manufacturers. We regularly investigate all the latest groundbreaking technologies from suppliers, as well as their manufacturing processes and ethics - ensuring they meet our high, exacting standards.

Investigating innovation - research and development
Innovation is the watchword for the modern electrical wholesaler. At Newey & Eyre, we are fully committed to remaining at the forefront of technology and constantly trying to improve our offering. So, we take time to look at all the products our manufacturers have in the pipeline, so we know what they will be bringing to market over the coming months.
"During a recent visit to China, I also attended the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair - one of the world's leading exhibitions when it comes to experiencing the latest green solutions. The event showcases the latest lighting ranges from the world's top quality brands - providing an insight into which products will be coming into the UK.

Ethical product lifecycle and quality assurance
As we are all aware, the continued outbreak of cheap, counterfeit, products created from substandard components remains a major problem for the UK electrical market. Looking at new lighting technologies, for example, counterfeit options tend to carry a risk of a shorter lamp or projector life and, worse still, can even represent a danger to users. To guarantee consistent quality, we demand rigorous product testing and packaging procedures are in place, ensuring only top quality products leave the factory.

Subsequently, there is the delivery process to consider. It is imperative to ensure this is managed effectively and procedures are in place to enable full traceability. For example, some more unscrupulous manufacturers may attempt to supplement the volume of good quality products with substandard goods, so thorough analysis is crucial.

Safety first
Health and safety in the factory is imperative and as wholesalers, we have a responsibility to ensure products are manufactured in a safe working environment.

As a starting point, asking a senior representative at the factory to demonstrate the sort of checks they have in place to help maintain the globally recognised standard ISO9000 certification is key. This measures an organisation's quality management and covers all major processes. This includes monitoring systems to ensure they are keeping adequate records, as well as regularly reviewing individual procedures and the quality system itself for effectiveness.

Employee welfare and training
Working for a company that takes corporate social responsibility very seriously, we always have an active interest in the employee welfare at our manufacturers' facilities. The best approach is to explore the company culture and work ethic, as well as training programmes and staff benefits, to examine how effectively they are passed onto employees. We also request to see the staff canteen and accommodation, speaking to as many employees as possible along the way to see things from their perspective.

Another good indicator for a contented workforce is to look at the employee relationships, how leaders manage their team, ownership of the equipment and the general morale. After all, a good team spirit typically denotes a good working environment and, in turn, a good quality end-product.
From factory floor to market
Just as we utilise product literature and the internet to promote our product offering to customers, manufacturers also see the internet as a big opportunity to grow their business. Although informative websites act as universal tools for us to seek out new producers, it is the responsibility of wholesalers to look further into a company's credentials and take steps to verify their claims.

While it's important to see how the manufacturers bring their own products to market, it's also crucial to understand how they ensure the products are delivered to us. This gives us confidence to guarantee quality products are delivered on time and as promised, to our customers back in the UK.

Working together for a brighter future
Sustainable success cannot be achieved by one company alone. The future of our planet must be tackled on a global scale, with all countries coming together to discover and support the efforts of the most promising manufacturers, innovators and individuals, so we can accelerate the transition towards a sustainable world. By approaching this in a truly ethical and effective way, we as wholesalers can build solid working methods today, which may make all difference in the future.

Long before most electrical apparatus fail, signs of trouble appear and can be detected  by oil tests!

The condition of generation, transmission or distribution transformers can be determined by the analysis of electrical insulating oil. These fluids circulate as a dielectric and coolant and can be sampled, in most cases, while the equipment is energised. With outages minimised in modern times, this is a key attribute.

Oil testing can detect developing apparatus problems such as, local overheating at a loose connection or electrical discharge between turns, so problems can be managed and catastrophic failures prevented. Oils and other insulating materials degrade during their life as a result of heating, oxidation, and in more serious cases, from discharge activity. Accelerated or excessive degradation of the oil can be detected, but more important is to detect abnormal conditions or faults that can result in failure of the apparatus.

There are a variety of tests that can help detect problems with the insulating materials and the apparatus. Because diagnostics from oil data is so good today, condition-based maintenance is possible. With good knowledge of the condition of transformers, attention can be focused on problems so they are managed to minimise out of service time while reducing risk of a catastrophic failure. By understanding the true condition of transformers and how they age, proper maintenance can be used to extend the life of such important assets. To use oil tests effectively requires accurate data, background information as to where the sample was taken, nameplate information, and a good understanding of the diagnostics.

Oil Quality Testing
Colour (ASTM D 1500, ISO 2049): Insulating liquids darken with the presence of oxidation byproducts and foreign materials and are an indicator of ageing.
Dielectric Breakdown Voltage (ASTM D877 or 1816, IEC 60156): A low value indicates the presence of contaminants such as water, dirt or other conducting particles in the insulating liquid.

Interfacial Tension (ASTM D 971, ISO 6295):  Monitors the progression of oxidation and detects contaminants such as soaps, paints, varnishes and byproducts of insulation ageing.
Acidity / Neutralization Number (ASTM D 974, IEC 62021-1): Monitors the progression of oxidation by detecting acidic compounds which accelerate deterioration of the solid insulation and are precursors to sludge formation.

Visual (ASTM D 1524, IEC 60296): Visual inspection identifies foreign material in the insulating liquid, which may lower its dielectric strength.
Power Factor or Dissipation Factor at 25°C (ASTM D 924, IEC 60247): High values indicate the presence of contaminants like carbon, polar compounds, metal soaps and byproducts of oxidation.

Water Content (ASTM D 1533, IEC 60814):   Excessive moisture is one of the primary causes of low insulating liquid dielectric breakdown strength. High water content may be detrimental to the transformer under a variety of conditions. Reporting results in concentration (ppm) and percent relative saturation gives more effective interpretation of results
Specific Gravity or density (ASTM D 1298, IEC ISO 3675): Helps identify different types of insulating liquids.

Diagnostic Testing
Dissolved Gas Analysis (ASTM D 3612, IEC 60567): The single most important test you can perform to detect problems and head-off potential transformer failures. It monitors gas generation in transformers for advance notice of developing faults to properly manage risk. It's a good way to detect thermal and electrical problems and determine their severity.
Furanic Compounds (ASTM D 5837, IEC 61198): Since the paper is the most important dielectric component of the transformer, having the ability to assess its condition is a must. When the cellulose breaks down, furanic compounds are generated and can be used to detect accelerated ageing and localized problems.

Metals-In-Oil (Various methods): Dissolved and particulate metals such as copper, iron, zinc, and lead can be detected and can be indicators of incipient-fault conditions, potential bearing wear from pumps or other wear metals from vibration of components.

Keep up to Date
Corrosive Sulphur - There are sulphur compounds in oil that can be corrosive resulting in the formation of copper sulphide on conductors and in insulating paper. On conductors the copper sulphide is too resistive and causes overheating. In the paper copper sulphide is too conductive and can results in a dielectric failure. Copper sulphide particles can bridge insulation gaps resulting in dielectric failure in the oil.

Paper Quality Testing
Degree of Polymerization of Paper (ASTM D 4243, IEC 60450): This test provides a measure of paper ageing, and correlates with important physical properties like resistance to tearing and bursting. This is a critical factor in estimating the real ageing of the main transformer insulation. This test does require a paper sample so is used opportunistically when internal inspections are needed.

Doble Engineering Company
For accurate and reliable oil testing and professional diagnostics by a team of chemists and engineers come to Doble Engineering Company. We can help with creating a cost-effective test programme and diagnostic services. Specialised testing is available to analyse problems beyond the typical tests. When transformers develop problems Doble is there to help with you with the testing, assessment, and action plan.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: 01483 514120


In the same way a blood test can provide a doctor with a wealth of information about  their patient, taking an oil sample enables service engineers to learn a great deal about the condition of a transformer. This can play a key role in the effective management of a vital network asset for extended life and enhanced reliability. Liam Warren, ABB's general manager power service explains

The oil in a transformer acts as both a coolant and insulation for the internal components. In doing this it bathes almost every internal part. As a result, the oil contains around 70%  of the available diagnostic information for the transformer. The challenge is to access this information and analyse it effectively to provide an early indication of a developing condition such as tap-changer arcing.

Obtaining a representative sample
The data generated from an oil sample is only as good as the sample itself. A poorly drawn or contaminated sample can invalidate the test results or even lead to a misdiagnosis. At ABB we have recently upgraded our sampling procedure to use the TFSS (Turbulent Flush Sampling System). This compact, self-contained system provides several benefits including:
- promoting turbulent flush
- standardizing flush volumes
- producing a representative sample
- preventing sample contamination
TFSS ensures the sample is representative of the oil inside the transformer, rather than any contaminates that might have settled into the valve.

Transformer condition assessment (TCA)
Traditional oil-testing programmes utilise only a few diagnostic parameters, leaving a vast amount of potential oil-based information unexplored. Yet surveys of failed transformers reveal many failures can be attributed to problems that could have been properly managed with an early diagnosis through a more detailed analysis of the insulating fluid.

ABB bridges this gap by working with a leading test laboratory to provide TCA (transformer condition assessment). TCA offers a comprehensive assessment of the dielectric and mechanical state of the transformer including:
- Dissolved gas analysis (DGA)
- Insulating fluid quality analysis
- Particle analysis
- Furan analysis

DGA - a view of operational condition
Hydrocarbon (mineral base) oils are frequently used as insulating fluids in high voltage power equipment such as transformers because of their favourable dielectric strength and chemical stability. Normal degradation of the oil usually occurs due to oxidation. This is generally a slow process. However, under the influence of an electrical or thermal fault, the oil can degrade to form a variety of low molecular weight gases that dissolve in the oil (such as methane, ethane, ethylene, acetylene, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide).
The composition of the breakdown gases depends on the type of fault, while the quantity depends on its duration. Hence by dissolved gas analysis (DGA) it is possible to distinguish such transformer fault processes as partial discharge (corona), overheating (pyrolysis) and arcing.

DGA involves two steps - extraction and chromatographic analysis. In the first step, the gases are extracted by subjecting the oil sample to high vacuum. The volume of the extracted gases is measured and a portion of the gas is transferred to a gas chromatograph.

The great sensitivity of the chromatographic process enables low detection limits for each gas - at the parts per million level. The remarkable sensitivity and precision of this method ensures a high measure of reliability for the diagnostic interpretation of DGA data.
Based on the dissolved gases in the transformer oil it is possible to indentify faults such as corona, sparking, overheating and arcing.

Corona - is a low energy electrical fault that results from the ionization of the fluid surrounding the fault. Typically, this is characterised by an increased level of hydrogen without a concurrent increase in hydrocarbon gases.

Sparking - is an intermittent high voltage discharge that occurs without high current. It is characterised by increasing levels of hydrogen, methane and ethane without a concurrent increase in acetylene.

Overheating - can arise from a variety of causes, such as overloading, circulating currents, improper grounding and poor connections. It is characterised by the presence of hydrogen together with methane, ethane and ethylene.

Arcing - the most severe fault process, involves high current and high temperatures and may occur prior to short circuit failures. It is characterised by the presence of acetylene.
Faults involving cellulose insulating materials, such as impregnated paper, wood and pressboard, result in the formation of carbon dioxide and possibly carbon monoxide. In load tap-changers, thermal problems are characterised by elevated levels of ethylene.
Interpretation of DGA data can be a complex process because of the large number of equipment parameters and operating conditions that affect gas formation. It is important to take into consideration the operating philosophy and past history of the transformer. Establishing baseline values for a transformer against which future DGA tests can be compared is a very effective diagnostic testing procedure. Monitoring the rate of gas generation makes it possible to assess the progress of the fault process.
Insulating fluid quality analysis - a view of how the transformer is being managed
There are a number of routine tests on the insulating fluid that provide a useful indication of how well the transformer is being managed in service. They cover a number of key parameters including PCBs, moisture, acidity and dielectric strength.

PCB content
Although not related directly to the transformer performance, it is still important to identify the presence of the chemicals known as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in the insulating fluid. PCBs were very popular in the late 1950s/early 1960s as an alternative to mineral oil thanks to their excellent insulating properties. They are however highly toxic and have been outlawed for many years. Unfortunately, PCBs were in service for long enough to cause some cross-contamination with mineral oil stocks and it is relatively common to find some background traces in older transformers. No immediate action is required at levels below 50 ppm. At levels between 50 to 500 ppm the transformer needs to be taken out of service when possible so that it can be flushed and re-filled with fresh oil. At anything greater than 500 ppm immediate action is required.

An increase in the oil's moisture content can degrade its insulating properties and result in dielectric breakdown. This is especially important when a transformer is subjected to fluctuating temperatures, possibly when in intermittent operation, as the cooling down process causes dissolved water to come out of solution, reducing the insulating properties. In addition, cellulose-based paper is in common use as insulation for the transformer windings and the presence of excess moisture can damage this paper.

Increased acidity not only cause the oil to attack the many copper components in the transformer as well as corroding the steel tanking, it also degrades the paper insulation. Acids can also cause the formation of a sludge that blocks ducts and cooling galleys, resulting in less efficient cooling - resulting in further degradation of the oil. As a general rule, the oil must be replaced when the acidity exceeds 0.5 mg/g KOH.

Dielectric strength
The dielectric strength of the transformer oil is a measure of how effective an insulator it is. Factors that can cause a significant reduction in dielectric strength include the presence of contaminants that result in an increased content of free-ions and ion-forming particles, such as water, oil degradation products and cellulose insulation breakdown products.

Particle analysis
One of the major advances in extracting a higher level of diagnostic information from transformers has come from the identification of suspended and sedimented  particles found in the oil. When the DGA analysis indicates the presence of a possible fault, particle analysis will provide corroboration and pinpoint its location. For example, in one analysis the DGA results suggested that heating gases and carbon oxide gases were present, indicating a hot spot. The microscopic analysis confirmed the hot spot condition with the presence of charred paper in the oil.

Furan analysis - a view of remaining life
In general, the life of a well maintained transformer with no serious operating defects will be determined by the condition of its insulating paper. As the paper degrades it produces organic compounds known as Furans. There is a direct relationship between the amount of Furans produced and the strength of the paper insulation. Furan analysis can therefore provide a useful estimate of the transformer's remaining service life.

Oil sampling becomes most useful when carried out on a regular basis so trends may be identified. So it is useful to take a benchmark sample when a transformer has been energised or an oil treatment performed and to then take further samples at regular intervals so that any variation in quality can be measured in order to monitor developing faults.

The battery of sophisticated analysis techniques available to monitor the quality of the oil form a valuable diagnostic tool that provides an indication of the general condition of a transformer, how well it is being managed and how long it can be expected to function before requiring a major service or replacement. Perhaps most importantly, it can be used to anticipate severe faults, enabling preventive action to be taken before they occur.

Originally, UPS systems were implemented as a standalone, monolithic design. In  today's business climate, where pressure on and demand for quality electrical power has become much greater, modular UPS systems have become increasingly popular. Alan Luscombe of Uninterruptible Power Supplies looks at how this topology has evolved, and why users like it 

The advent of modular topology has arisen from the conjunction of three factors: The technology developments that have made it a practical proposition, the technical and commercial benefits it bestows, and the changes in the business environment that have made those benefits important.

Enabling technology
Modular topology ultimately owes its existence to advances in the semiconductor industry. The monolithic double conversion on-line UPS systems that first appeared in the seventies were referred to as transformer based UPSs. They used a rectifier to convert incoming raw AC mains to a DC voltage, which was used to charge the UPS backup battery and to feed an inverter for conversion back to a clean AC output waveform. However an output transformer was needed to step up the inverter output to the level needed for the critical load.

By the mid nineties however, advances in power semiconductor technology and the arrival of the insulated gate Bipolar transistor (IGBT) allowed a different, transformerless approach. In a typical design, an IGBT based DC converter boosts the rectifier output to a much higher level, allowing the inverter to directly produce an AC voltage sufficient to drive the critical load. 

Many UPS advantages derive directly from transformerless design. These include greater efficiency, higher input power factor, lower input current harmonic distortion (THDi), reduced capital and operating costs, lower audible noise and enhanced battery life. But elimination of the transformer also yields very significant reductions in physical size and weight. For example a 120 kVA system footprint shrinks from 1.32m2 to 0.53m2, while the weight is reduced from 1200Kg to 370Kg. This scale of reduction and cost saving allows a different, modular configuration in which the critical load demand is met by a number of smaller UPSs operating in parallel rather than one large monolithic unit. This modular topology offers further improvements in efficiency as well as great benefits in resilience, availability, uptime and easier maintenance.

An ever more demanding business climate
The arrival of these benefits is very timely. Even when businesses mainly used computers as internal tools to automate commercial, manufacturing and engineering functions, losing data processing capability to a power outage or transient voltage spike would still have been serious. Today, when enterprises must typically support 24/7 online transactions with external customers and suppliers, such a power event would be catastrophic or even fatal in business terms. Accordingly, ever since technology rendered modular systems possible, their development has been driven hard by customer demand for the highest achievable power availability. Similarly, the improved energy efficiency of modular systems is of vital importance to users facing continually rising energy costs together with increasing legislative and social pressure to cut carbon emission.

A modular configuration example
We can see how users can best access these benefits by looking at a typical example. Suppose a data centre has a load requirement of 80kVA, and because of its critical nature, a redundant UPS configuration is essential - i.e. a configuration that will continue to deliver power even if one UPS unit fails. Such a requirement could be fulfilled by two 80kVA standalone UPS cabinets sharing the load. If either cabinet should fail, the other has sufficient capacity to support the 80kVA load until the faulty unit can be repaired.
Alternatively, a single rack containing three modular rack mounting 40kVA UPSs can be installed. This is also a redundant system, because if a single 40kVA module fails, the remaining two modules together have a capacity of 40+40=80kVA - enough to drive the critical load. In fact both systems can be referred to as N+1 redundant systems, where N is the number of UPS units required to meet the critical load demand; one in the standalone example and two for the modular systems. The extra ‘1' provides the UPS installation's resilience, as a single UPS unit failure will be invisible to the load. Extra redundancy or resilience can be provided if the load warrants. Systems with N+n redundancy can be built, where n is the number of redundant modules.

The first and most obvious advantage of the modular system is that it is smaller, with an implementation in a single rack rather than two cabinets. This is an important saving for modern data centres where floor space is at an increasing premium.  However, there are also many further benefits, of which energy efficiency is one. Each UPS unit in the standalone example supplies half the load, 40kVA, during normal operation so is therefore 50% loaded. By contrast, each 40kVA module is more heavily loaded at 66.7% of its capacity. Because UPS efficiency increases with loading, the modular units run with 96% efficiency compared with 91% for the standalone units. This improved efficiency not only reduces direct energy cost; it brings further savings through reduced cooling costs. The total energy savings in this example would amount to £16,700 over five years - or possibly more, depending on electricity pricing.

Increased availability is another benefit. Each UPS unit's availability can be defined as a ratio between its mean time betweenfailures (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR). And, whereas a standalone unit takes typically six hours to repair, some modules can be simply swapped in less than half an hour. This reduced MTTR gives a ‘hot swap' module an availability of 99.9999% (‘six nines') even before allowing for the resilience provided by the N+1 configuration. This level of power protection is key to users, but cost savings accrue as well. Inventory cost for specialist parts is reduced, and the need for highly skilled on site technicians is eliminated.

During the UPS installation's operational life, scalability can emerge as a further advantage of modular topology. Suppose transaction traffic growth increases our example's load from 80 to 110kVA. A brief effort in slotting another 40kVA module into a spare rack location will restore the system's N+1 redundancy status, without degrading the UPS loading too severely and with no interruption of power to the load. The UPS remains ‘rightsized'. Further growth in load demand can be conveniently accommodated by further modular increments of the UPS system capacity. The rack's capacity for further modules is known as the UPS system's vertical scalability. If this should become exhausted, horizontal scalability can be achieved through the addition of further racks.

By contrast, adding another standalone 80kVA standalone unit always means having to find more floor space, laying more cabling and carrying out a nontrivial installation exercise. The gap between the load kVA and the UPS units' rating would also widen, to the detriment of the UPS system's energy efficiency.

Lifetime savings and benefits
A modular system can cost more than a standalone installation in terms of initial capital cost. But this will be offset by the modular system's reduced operating costs, especially when factors such as initial transportation and infrastructure costs, spares and maintenance are taken into account. In addition to reduced costs, the modular approach offers a smaller footprint, greater flexibility, easier manageability, inherently greater availability, and scalability throughout its operational life.

Now the future of the Machine Safety Directive has been agreed, system designers and machinery manufacturers need to decide how to proceed in future months. Paul Considine of Wieland Electric puts the case for embracing the new standards

Following months of speculation, confusion and reversed decisions, the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) has opted for a two year transition period where machinery manufacturers can either comply with EN 954-1 or EN ISO 13849-1. Consequently, the new Machinery Directive will not be fully implemented until 31 December 2011.

This provides designers of machine safety systems with something of a quandary. Do they continue with EN 954-1 for as long as possible - on the grounds it is easier and cheaper to work with? Or do they make the switch to EN ISO 13849-1 (or the alternative EN (IEC) 62061) now? In my view, it makes sense to embrace the new standards as soon as possible, and there are several reasons for this. And, as is discussed later, new technologies can be employed to make compliance considerably easier and more cost-effective than many people realise.

In this respect, it's important to consider the reasons for introducing the new Machinery Directive in the first place - as well as the implications of carrying on with the old standards.
EN 954-1 is being phased out because it hasn't kept pace with the changes in technology that have been applied increasingly to ensuring and managing machine safety. In particular, EN 954-1 focuses on calculated risk using a simple category system, whereby system behaviours are set against categories.

The issue here is the wider implementation of programmable electronics in safety systems means such a simple system is no longer appropriate. So essentially, the new Machinery Directive brings the regulations into line with what is already current practice. In addition, the new systems that comply with EN ISO 13849-1 or EN (IEC) 62061 will be able to provide information on the probability of failure, enabling potential problems to be nipped in the bud before they become actual problems.

Given the general recognition EN 954-1 is no longer suitable for many applications, there is clearly a health and safety issue to be taken into account. This, in itself, is a good reason for adopting the new standard as safety must be of paramount concern to all companies.
Because of this, end customers that understand these implications are likely to insist on machines that comply with the new Directive, so to some extent that will determine the route forward for many manufacturers. Added to this, even when the end customer isn't fully acquainted with all of the facts, I would argue specifiers and suppliers have a responsibility to provide accurate advice on the options open to them.

There are also other commercial reasons for taking on the new standards as soon as possible. In the past where European regulations have been phased in, different EC members have responded in different ways, so adopting the new regulations will increase the likelihood of acceptance throughout Europe. Ultimately, this could also have a bearing on CE marking.

In fact, CE marking is an important consideration, as any alterations to the system in future may require it to be CE marked again. If it is compatible with EN 954-1 after this standard has been withdrawn in 2011, such alterations will doubtless be more complex and expensive. It's also important to note that, although the Directive applies principally to new machines, any modifications to existing machines will also be covered by the same requirements as cover new machines. Therefore, just as a new machine should be accompanied by a Declaration of Conformity to the Machinery Directive from the manufacturer, so any company carrying out such modifications may also have to issue such a declaration.

This is because the requirement applies to any organisation that ‘places a machine on the market' - and in this context modifying a machine counts as placing it on the market. So, along with the Declaration of Conformity, there needs to be a technical file that can be made available to the authorities on request.

Consequently, adopting the new standards will ‘future proof' the system against such difficulties.

Looking beyond Europe, it's also important to bear in mind that EN ISO 13849-1 and EN (IEC) 62061 are both international standards - in contrast to EN 954-1. Thus, for end users with global facilities that want to standardise across their estate, this will be an important consideration.

Staying safe
Returning to the important issue of safety, this is where I feel most of the benefits come from adopting the new standards. It is accepted within the new Machinery Directive that zero risk is not achievable in the real world, but arriving at an acceptable residual risk is feasible. In practical terms, this means safety control systems must either be designed to ensure the probability of functional errors is acceptably low - or any errors should not bring about a loss of the safety function if the former cannot be achieved. And that's where the harmonised standards come in.

EN ISO 13849-1 takes its core from the familiar categories in EN 954-1:1996 by examining complete safety functions, including all the components involved in their design. However, it goes beyond this qualitative approach to include a quantitative assessment of the safety functions, based on a performance level (PL) that builds on the category approach.
The components and devices that make up the system require the following safety parameters:
- Category (structural requirement)
- PL: Performance level
- MTTFd: Mean time to dangerous failure
- B10d: Number of cycles by which 10% of a random sample of wearing components have failed dangerously
- DC: Diagnostic coverage
- CCF: Common cause failure
- TM: Mission time

The standard also describes how to calculate the PL that can be achieved when several safety-related parts are combined into one overall system. Any deviations from EN ISO 13849-1 are referred to IEC 61508.

As noted above, EN ISO 13849-1 will be operated in conjunction with EN 62061, which is a sector-specific standard under IEC 61508. Based on quantitative and qualitative examinations of the safety-related control functions, it describes the implementation of safety-related electrical and electronic control systems on machinery. It also examines the overall life cycle from the concept phase through to decommissioning.

In EN 62061, the performance level is described through the safety integrity level (SIL) and the safety functions identified from the risk analysis are divided into safety subfunctions. As a safety-related control system is made up of several subsystems, these safety subfunctions are assigned to the actual devices (hardware or software) that are the subsystems or subsystem elements. The safety-related characteristics of these subsystems are described through the SIL and Probability of Dangerous Failure Per Hour (PFHD) parameters.

Cost effective compliance
There can be no doubt, therefore, the new regulations will make a significant contribution to improving safety in the workplace, in line with modern systems and working practices. At the same time, it's just as clear they bring with them a higher level of complexity and potentially increase the workload of those who are responsible for managing safety. However, as mentioned above, there is an opportunity to deploy newer safety system technologies to ease this burden without compromising on safety.

For example, in ensuring safety systems are operating properly at every level, higher efficiencies can be introduced by ensuring that all levels, or sub-functions, can be addressed through the same system. This is also more convenient.

In addition, such technologies can be very effective in ensuring that any downtime resulting from safety shut-down is kept to a minimum. This can be achieved by integrated fault diagnosis into the system that is responsible for safety-related control functions. So, rather than faults being traced manually by engineers before they can rectify them, the diagnostics can narrow down the search and often resolve the problem without calling in specialist engineers. And even when specialist input is required, the faster fault tracing means they spend less time on site, thus reducing costs.

Of course, electronic monitoring systems have been available for some time but they have tended to be expensive so that the return on investment calculation didn't stack up in many situations. Now, though, there are low cost systems employing advanced technologies that won't break the bank yet will provide continual monitoring of every aspect of safety - from post-top emergency buttons to light beams on conveyors - as well as facilitating fast location and diagnosis of faults. Furthermore, they operate from a centralised computer so that all of the information is readily accessible at any time.

Over and above these benefits, the same system can be used in the early design stages to simulate operation before the safety system goes live, so many potential problems can be designed out in advance.

All of which boils down to a smarter way of doing things that not only ensures legislative compliance but also offers ongoing time and cost savings. So it makes a lot of sense to take a fresh look at the technologies available and how they can be implemented to best effect.

Advances in electrical safety testing data collection and management systems have significant benefits, says Jim Wallace of Seaward

With advances in technology making everything faster, smarter and smaller, and computer programs streamlining data management for even greater efficiency, the needs of those contractors and engineers involved in test and measurement work have never been better catered for.

Advances in test instrumentation mean new lightweight, Bluetooth enabled hand held instruments complete safety test sequences very quickly and with the minimum of fuss - no matter whether installation testing or portable appliance testing is involved.

Over time the introduction of advanced microprocessor based testers, powerful software-based record keeping systems and PDAs, mobile phones or specialist modems to transmit test results, have succeeded in helping the test engineer or contractor to provide a faster, more efficient electrical safety testing service.

All these advances have been made in recognition of the need to improve and also to enable them to add value to the test process. The result has been not only better operating efficiencies, but also an enhanced relationship with customers and end users, generating important new business opportunities in the process.

With the ever present need to undertake inspection and testing quickly without compromising quality, there is increasing importance on the linkage between test instrumentation used in the field and central test records systems that produce test certification and other test reports.

Rather than simply ‘electrical testers', in broad terms the most advanced 17th edition testers and portable appliance (PAT) test instruments might now be regarded more as test data collection tools - gathering the important measurements and checks carried out on electrical systems and equipment.

On a practical level there is now greater emphasis on the ability to enhance the transfer of this data between the tester and the database - and particularly on how the collected data is acquired, interrogated, managed and presented for more effective control of safety testing programmes.

In this respect new innovations in both test instrumentation and record keeping software programs have not only brought electrical engineers and PAT service companies opportunities to provide more efficient test services, but have also created a means of real differentiation between the services offered by different electrical contractors.

17th edition testing

For example, in 17th edition testing the latest specialist instrumentation incorporates an electronic copy of the inspection and test certificate within the hand held tester - and in the process becomes a combined multi-function electrical tester and data logger.

Onboard electronic certificate software enables electrical installation test and inspection data to be recorded directly by the tester using a replica of the inspection and test certificate which is displayed on the instrument.

During inspection and testing, the user can navigate around the onboard certificate and when measured values are required, the results are automatically placed in the correct certificate fields.

Once all inspection and test data has been collected, onboard software scans the certificate and warns the user if any fields appear to be incomplete or invalid. The integral ‘certificate assistant' also holds many of the commonly used tabulated values, such as earth loop impedance tables, avoiding the need to take bulky reference material onsite.

When inspection and testing is complete, the certificate held inside the tester can be transferred to main PC records for the completion of certificates which can be printed or supplied in electronic format to customers in line with the 17th edition wiring regulations.
The latest version of this program enables test results obtained from larger individual sites, such as shopping malls or commercial office complexes, can be merged onto one certificate.
Another new feature is the ability to ‘clone' certificates from an existing master document. This allows the user to select an existing certificate and use this as a template to create multiple certificates for identical or similar electrical installations - for example of the type required for a housing development of the same type of properties and electrical systems.
As a result, not only does the combined inspection, testing and certification system eliminate the need to record results on a dummy certificate while inspection and testing is being carried out, it also means that the often cumbersome and problematic use of PDAs, smart phones and laptops for test data transfer is avoided. 

The new instrument incorporates Bluetooth download and upload of data to and from PC certification and record keeping systems and a wide variety of certificate templates can be loaded into the tester using the accompanying PC software.

The specially developed software program includes all required 17th edition certification and can print onto ECA, NAPIT and NICEIC stationery.

The result is a highly efficient and effective 17th edition inspection, testing and certification system with full traceability and reduced likelihood of human error in the recording and transfer of test data.

Portable Appliance Testing
In the PAT testing sector powerful test data management packages are available to facilitate the two-way transfer of data between the tester and the test records software.

In this way engineers can pre-program or upload their testers directly from the PC with the necessary equipment details and testing information required before the day's work begins and then download updated results directly into the records programme at the end of the shift.

The same software programs can also be used to create asset registers for customers, print test certificates and output test reports in different formats.

The use of Bluetooth enabled testers further enhances this flexibility and means that for large PAT service and contracting organisations the effective use of data management software can greatly improve the margins associated with operating efficiencies gained for remote or off site working.

For more specific monitoring of PAT productivity in the field special software is also available that works alongside the PAT results database to provide a clear picture of tester usage.

Special time manager software provides clear information on the test activity of individual users and engineers - providing such details as time of test, number of tests undertaken and time between jobs.

Analysis of such information enables service or contract managers to understand how often testers are being used, identify improvements in staff training and help field staff to test faster and work more efficiently.

In terms of customer service improvements, another innovation is the use of PAT management software to identify and plan re-testing schedules quickly and effectively.

This feature works through specialist software that constantly monitors the test records stored in a PAT results database, automatically triggering re-test notices for those that are approaching the next test date.

The pre-trigger feature enables re-test schedules to be highlighted prior to appliances becoming overdue for test, with special e mail alerts being sent to customer contact personnel to give advance warning of the presence of any potentially unsafe electrical equipment in the workplace.

The system can also be configured to submit formal re-test price quotations with the alerts for a complete test scheduling and costing proposal, boosting repeat business and enhancing the levels of customer support provided.

For all types of electrical test and measurement activity, the combination of innovative test instrumentation with sophisticated record keeping programs provide real practical benefits to contractors - reducing costs, increasing revenue and improving productivity.

In addition, integrated test systems can also play a significant role in enabling a contractor to provide a truly professional approach and this can only help in the long-term development of their business.

Most engineers would agree breakdown testing provides the most reliable indicator of the condition of the oil in a power transformer. There is, however, far less agreement about whether the testing should be carried out on site or in the laboratory. Paul Swinerd of Megger looks at the arguments for and against each of these options

The condition of the oil in a power transformer is a major influence on the transformer's reliability, operating life and even safety. A dependable and convenient method of assessing oil condition is, therefore, an essential adjunct to transformer operation and maintenance.
Various options are available to meet this requirement including, for example, the Karl Fischer coulometric titrimitry method that can be used to quickly determine the moisture content of the oil. This test is used frequently as water contamination is the most common cause of oil degradation. The most direct measure of the oil's ability to perform adequately as a dielectric medium is, however, given by breakdown testing.

In breakdown testing, a sample of oil taken from the transformer is transferred to a test vessel, which is then loaded into the breakdown tester. Typically the instrument will then carry out a series of tests in a pre-programmed sequence determined by the oil testing specification appropriate to the application.

In addition to the application of test voltages - usually in the tens of kV range - to electrodes immersed in the oil, the test sequence will also include predetermined stirring and standing times.

Breakdown test sets that operate in the way described are available in laboratory versions, and in portable versions that are designed for convenient use in the field. Some manufacturers, including Megger, also offer instruments that are equally well suited to use on-site and in the laboratory. But which is preferable - laboratory testing or field testing?
In order to understand the arguments for and against each approach, it is first necessary to appreciate contamination of the oil sample has a large effect on the accuracy of the results obtained in a breakdown test, with even a tiny amount of contamination making the results unreliable and, therefore, unusable.

Some engineers argue this means it is best to carry out testing on site. Their rationale is that, for laboratory testing, the oil sample has to be bottled and sent to the laboratory, and there will always be doubt about whether the bottle was adequately cleaned before use, and whether it was sufficiently well sealed to guard against contamination in transit.

There are other engineers, however, who will point out the sample is at most risk of being contaminated while it is being collected, and that the contamination risks associated with bottling and transportation are, by comparison, relatively small. Their conclusion is there is no significant difference between the overall contamination risks for on-site and laboratory testing.

Proponents of laboratory testing will also argue, once the oil sample reaches the laboratory, it will almost certainly be tested by a skilled technician who will fully understand the procedures and precautions involved, and will follow them carefully to ensure accurate results are obtained.

On the other hand, tests on site are frequently performed under less than ideal conditions, and there is often pressure to complete the testing process as quickly as possible. These factors are conducive to error, especially if the person performing the tests carries out breakdown testing only infrequently.

Nevertheless, there is one important issue that most definitely favours testing on site, and that is the speed with which results can be obtained - typically within an hour of the sample being taken, and often much faster.

This almost immediate availability of results has two important benefits. The first is that if an unexpected or obviously incorrect result is obtained, the test can usually be repeated at once. The second benefit is, if the tests confirm the oil is in poor condition, the transformer can be taken out of service straight away, thereby reducing the risk of failure.

While important, however, these benefits should not be interpreted to mean on-site testing is always to be preferred. There are most definitely cases where on-site testing is impractical, or where the certainty of tests being carried out consistently and with a high degree of precision outweighs the advantage of obtaining immediate results.

The best advice for those considering the implementation of breakdown testing for transformer oil is, therefore, to consider both the laboratory and on-site options carefully in relation to the application in hand, before making a decision.

Suppliers of oil test sets will undoubtedly be pleased to provide assistance in making this decision but, to be sure of receiving impartial advice, it is most certainly advisable to choose a supplier, like Megger, that offers both portable and laboratory instruments.

Elinore Mackay talks to Megaman MD John Murphy about the challenges his company faces in 2010 and the drivers behind the development of new products in the lighting sector

What have the main barriers been in convincing both the public and the retail sector of the benefits of energy efficient lighting? Has light quality been a sticking point in the case of CFLs?

The main barriers certainly include preconceptions relating to the shape and size of CFLs, along with the need to convince consumers the return on investment is going to be worth the initial cost of the lamp. There have also been some health and safety concerns relating to mercury content so we have been very pro-active in educating the public about the safe liquid free mercury amalgam found in all Megaman CFLs.

Some members of the public have a perception that the light quality from CFLs is lower than incandescent light sources, but the important thing is to recognize that low energy lighting is a different type of light source, so a direct comparison isn't very meaningful. However, we are seeing strong signs of increasing acceptance. In fact, many of the objections have come from the way the EU Directive was communicated - a natural response when people feel they are being told what they can and can't do by a large, impersonal body.

What challenges do you envisage Megaman UK facing over the next two years? Will these challenges also be faced by Megaman globally and the energy efficient lighting sector as a whole?

Like almost every other company we recognise the long-term effects of recession will continue to impact on our business over the next few years. We have experienced a period of tough trading over the past 12 month, especially when it comes to collecting money from some of our smaller customers. However, the fact we are selling low energy products that save people money puts us in a strong position compared to some sectors. In that respect, we would like to see more education aimed at the consumer market to reinforce the benefits of CFLs and they fact they are constantly improving. Megaman is now working on groundbreaking technologies to provide the best quality product to satisfy a larger variety of lighting requirements.

What part will LED technology play in the imminent future of your company?

Our view at the moment is there is certainly a market for both CFLs and LEDs over the next three to four years. Megaman's recently launched LED range is very much focused on reflector applications, including spotlights with GU10 bases, as we feel this is currently the perfect application for LEDs. Over the next year or so we plan to look at LED lamps with more  of a ‘light bulb' appearance, to provide all round illumination using LED technology but at the moment it is more a directional product. The next challenge for LEDs is the price point, because LEDs are still too expensive for the residential market. Hopefully, with the rise in commercial demand, we will see prices fall so that LEDs become more affordable for the home.

What would you say are the biggest drivers in the development of new products in the lighting sector? Are incoming building regulations and legislation as big a driver as a general desire to save money and be seen to be more 'green'?

Improvements in building regulations and legislation are always welcomed by Megaman as, ultimately, it enables us to sell more products. However, there is also a growing desire to be green, as exemplified by the various energy-saving and carbon-cutting consumer campaigns promoted through the press recently. Megaman has just become one of the first organisations to join the 10:10 consumer campaign that has been recruiting consumers throughout the country. We believe the public is buying into the green philosophy and we want to be able to offer them the best product possible, which is why we drive to develop high performance products, in the right shape with quick starting technology and no liquid mercury!

Philips has recently become the first lampmaker to enter a global competition launched by the US Department of Energy to create the 'superbulb' of the future. Is this the kind of scheme Megaman would become involved in?

Of course Megaman would always be interested in global campaigns that aim to educate the public on the benefits of low energy lighting.

What differentiates Megaman UK from other UK lamp companies? Is there a particular advantage you feel you have over your competitors?

Megaman prided itself on its innovation. We were the first in the industry to launch the classic and candle-shaped compact fluorescents, which provided the market with an energy saving alternative for decorative use. By 2002 Megaman had successfully launched the world's first CFL GU10 reflector as an alternative to conventional halogen spots, which in turn led to the design and development of an additional 21 innovative, energy saving lamps. The most recent is the introduction of the Megaman LED Reflector series, which offers  true direct replacements for halogen. We always strive for improvement and will continue to do so in the future with our new 2010 range.

What is Megaman's policy on lamp recycling, and are you affiliated to any one particular scheme?

When the new Weee legislation was introduced we felt it was a confusing time for Megaman and as such we found ourselves signed up with a compliance scheme that we were not happy with. So we took this decision to join forces with Weeeco to create our own Weee Compliance scheme called Weeelite to offer a real alternative on the market and a cost effective service. The scheme was formed in Jan 2009 and now has a membership base of 43 members with an obligation to recover in 2010 approximately four million CFLs,  245,ooo fridges, 120,000 television sets, 200,000 videos and 20,000 cookers. Its growth is purely down to its commitment to provide environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility and cost effectiveness of the producers (members) distributors (wholesalers and retailers) business end users and consumers. The growth of WEEE Lite will be further boosted by an agreement to deliver compliance services for the Lighting Association membership which include a significant share of the UK's lighting industry. WEEE Lite currently operate an innovative new lamps for old scheme whereby the customer returns to 950 stores in the UK are tested and if working are place back into the market place via charities and housing association. It is interest to note that 45-65% of lamps returned to a retailer are down to the purchaser by the wrong bayonet fitting or other similar factor such as too bright/dim.

Seems our grumpy old man John Houston is easily wound up at present. An innocuous passing comment from our editor has got the wind up him good and proper this month.

I was prompted to write this month's diatribe by our esteemed editor's recent comment on the difficulties of getting planning permission for a wind turbine to be erected in many (most) homes in Britain. My issue is that, unfortunately, there is little point in bothering to jump through the hoops or navigate the loops of the planning authorities in the first place.

While energy prices are unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future, it still makes little economic sense to install wind generators in domestic dwellings. If one has an environmental social conscience and plenty of loose cash to splash, then by all means make the highly obtrusively visible green statement, literally, in your own back yard. But don't think you are economising in any sense or scale.

I have shopped around and it seems that, planning consents besides, most wind turbines with anything like the capacity to satisfy a typical suburban semi will cost in the region of £40,000 to erect. That's assuming a generating capacity of 5kW, which is certainly insufficient in winter months for a home with exclusively electric heating. At current prices (pun intended) that gives a payback on the initial investment of between 10-15 years depending on consumption and energy prices. Moreover, since one cannot sell excess power back to the Distribution Network Operators at anything like what they charge consumers, there is little incentive to make more electricity than one uses.

What is more there are no accurate figures, at least anywhere I could find, for the running costs of a wind turbine. However, judging by the mean time between failures (MTBF) of most domestic equipment (washing machines, domestic heating pumps and so forth) it seems likely the repair and maintenance bills for a turbine that's exposed to all the elements will not be inconsequential. After all, bearings will wear, lubrication is required and so on - plus no doubt maintenance labour charges will be punitive given the nature of the beast.

Moreover, however much we bemoan our British climate, the fact is that in anything but the most elevated or exposed locations, we don't get that much onshore wind. I lived for years in Dulwich where we managed to grow tropical plants in our garden and the last strong winds in that locale were in the ‘hurricane' of '86. Then, had we had a turbine erected it would, in all likelihood, suffered much the same fate as our roof which ended up as a garden ornament in our neighbour's newly formed tile strewn rockery.

While I personally support any measures to aid our beleaguered planet, we can't do this by home grown generation measures. In fact, I'm afraid I have rather converted to the ‘why not use nuclear power - it's safe, clean and environmentally friendly' school of lobbyists. I say yes, let's have wind generation, yes, let's harness the waves and even yes to solar power, but the real panacea lies in economically viable and attainable bulk energy generation.

While Sainsbury and EdF are to be applauded for pioneering the availability of energy saving equipment to the masses, I really don't think the supermarket chain's penchant for placing a few wind turbines on the tops of its stores is anything more than green posturing and much the same can be said for the concept of home generators.

Having lived through the blight that saw flocks, or should that be gaggles, of satellite dishes spring up in the 90s, I dread to think what our urban landscape might become if wind generators were good enough and cheap enough to prompt a ground swelling uptake.

Unfortunately, rather like the only way to lose weight is to eat less, the best way to save the planet is to consume less. Switching off lights is a simple solution, but so too is eating less chocolate until one tries it. Unless they are environmentalists with the commitment of a zealot, most of those with the cash to erect wind turbines are the least likely to switch things off!

Following a year in which education and training were closely examined by the press, Ann Watson, Managing Director of awarding organisation EAL, looks back at 2009's key moments and reveals her hopes for 2010

Last year was an interesting time for education and training, with the recession having a huge effect on those involved in our sector. The year saw a sharp rise in graduate unemployment, a record number of university applications, and thousands of new apprenticeship places created as the government attempted to combat rising unemployment. 2010 looks to be equally interesting as these new incentives bear fruit. With an election and potential change of government also on the horizon, this looks set to be a fascinating time for the education and training sector.

The university system was featured regularly throughout the year, and sadly not always in a positive way. Back in the spring, the newspapers reported large numbers of cutbacks in traditional graduate job areas, one assumes as a result of the recession. This will have a significant impact on the graduates of 2009, potentially the hundreds of thousands of graduates embarking on new careers. Despite this, the summer and autumn brought news of rising university applicants, as the younger generation were pushed towards higher education in hope of boosting their employability.

Away from the world of university, apprenticeships occupied significant column space when the government created thousands of new places, enticing employers to invest in the young professionals of the future. Incentives like the £2500 "golden hello" mentioned in December's White Paper are a step in the right direction, but a better move would have been to offset apprentices wages against companies pre-tax profits, or to offer the sum as a contribution to the apprentice's first year salary.

While there will always be questions around the various enticements, any pro-active moves by the government relating to apprenticeships are warmly welcomed, due to their largely positive effect on raising the profile of apprenticeships. This directly benefits the young people who may not have considered this route by making them aware a way of entering their chosen industry in a way which allows them to earn a living while they study. The government has seen an increase in apprenticeship places of more than 165,000 since the 1996-97  academic year, and these numbers will hopefully increase following the introduction of the Young Person's Guarantee at the end of 2009. It would be great if 2010 saw apprenticeship numbers continue to rise as the gap in numbers of people studying vocationally and at university continues to decrease. This may be a hard ask as employers, who provide vital apprenticeship places, continue to feel the squeeze as a result of the recession. 

I hope this year will also see the recognition of the value of NVQs. Despite being used across a wide range of industries for more than 20 years, in some quarters they are not being given the recognition they deserve. Shadow education secretary David Willetts' comment in September 2009 that "NVQs have negative value on the labour market" was uninformed. His view dramatically underplays the value of the qualifications, which are accessible to a wide range of learners. They often form a key aspect of the apprenticeships which play a valuable role in the development of the next generation of skilled workers. As well as providing proof of competence, they give the individual confidence in their own skills as they receive recognition of their accomplishments. I hope that 2010 will see these qualifications gain the respect they deserve.

The endorsement of apprenticeships and the skills sector by the Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and higher education John Hayes MP at EAL's recent Skills for Economic Success debate was most welcome, if a little at odds with his colleague's views. Given the vital importance of training as a means of safe-guarding the future success of our sector, any new policies must be carefully considered before they are introduced. Regardless of which party is in power, there needs to be a cohesive party line if legislation affecting the vocational sector is going to be brought in.

2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year for education and training, and we welcome the challenges which it may bring. We are proud of the fact apprenticeships are becoming more commonplace as a means of entering a new industry, and hope that their growth will continue to have a positive effect on the way in which vocational training is regarded. For those who are currently in training or considering it I urge you to take any opportunities offered to you in 2010 that will broaden your skill set.

NET Business Development Manager, Stephen Plant, explains why the AM2  assessment has been modernised after consultation with the electrotechnical industry

The AM2 has been the gold standard for the electrotechnical industry for the last 25 years, but as technology grows at a pace, the assessment must change to reflect the demands placed on today's electricians. From April 2010 we will be introducing a new AM2 assessment, which has been modified after a two-year consultation period. We hope the modifications to the assessment will further boost the next generation of electricians' confidence in their own abilities, while reinforcing AM2 as the evidence that they and their employers are capable of providing the best level of service to their clients.

Contrary to many people's understanding, the AM2 is not solely a standalone qualification; it is an assessment of occupational competence, which forms an integral part of an electrician's apprenticeship, as well as being available to those who need to undertake it in other contexts, such as adult trainees. Passing the assessment is a useful proof of proficiency at a time when standards are becoming ever more demanding.

Updating an established assessment such as the AM2 presents an interesting challenge, namely how to maintain the assessment's standing within the industry. The AM2 has provided valuable proof of competence for tens of thousands of electricians, so it was imperative any modifications to the assessment did not affect its position as the industry's benchmark of occupational competence.

Over the last two years, NET has carried out a systematic consultation process involving apprentices, employers, practising electricians and examiners. We took every opportunity to get as much feedback as possible before we made any changes to the assessment. The review presented an opportunity not just to look at the assessment itself but also the marking system, administration and candidate guidance.

One of the conclusions that came from the consultation was the need to make the assessment reflect current working practices, including the use of modern connection and wiring systems. As a result, the revised assessment is now entirely competence, rather than systems, based. It encompasses methods of installation and termination, safe isolation, risk assessment, inspection, testing and fault finding.

We have also updated the marking system, reflecting the need to make the assessment more efficient and provide meaningful feedback. In the past, some candidates undertook the assessment before they were fully prepared. The new assessment will have much better candidate guidance to ensure, whilst it remains challenging, candidates can better assess their state of readiness.

We have introduced a recommended pre-requisite checklist. This will allow candidates to check their competence against the individual elements of the assessment. When they feel comfortable with each component of the assessment, as outlined in the checklist, they are then ready to undertake the AM2. We have also increased the level of support and guidance that we provide candidates before, during and after the assessment.

Those who already possess an AM2 certificate will not be required to re-qualify against the new assessment. However, due to the change in content, those who need to re-sit the current assessment must do so before April 2010 before the new assessment is introduced. We would urge all those who need to book their re-sits to do so as soon as possible to ensure that they are assessed under the present system. NET's mobile assessment centre (pictured) will be deployed on a regional basis to support AM2 centres in delivering an effective service to those requiring re-sit facilities.

Altering something which has become a benchmark for an individual electrician's competence was never going to be simple, but we feel that the changes we have implemented reflect the skills required by the electricians of today and future.

The focus of modern design and specification software needs to be on adding value to  the engineers' role and freeing up time for focusing on achieving the optimum design, suggest AMTECH's Philip Grace (Design Engineer) and Ian Elmer (Specification Expert)

Over the last few years a combination of changing legislation and evolving technical standards has served to increase demands on building services engineers. For example, there is often a need for greater collaboration between designers, contractors and end users in considering a range of design options. All of which leads to a requirement for higher specification outputs from everyday design software.

In parallel, therefore, it's important that the software used by building services engineers evolves to support these changing roles. To that end, delivering the basic functionality is a given; it's the added value functionality that makes a real difference on a day-to-day basis and enables users to add value to their own engineering services.

Given the requirement for ever more sophisticated designs it's worth looking at electrical design software as a case in point. And later on in this article we'll discuss how the same principles apply to specification software.

Starting with electrical design, it's clear that a ‘more than fit for purpose' program needs to offer supporting functions above and beyond the basic design calculation role. For instance, in the development of a distribution schematic there are certain functions that should be expected as ‘basic'  such as an intuitive interface, an extensive symbols library and tools to facilitate fast viewing.

Additional features, such as the ability to enter cable data quickly using a familiar spreadsheet format, avoiding the need for multiple screens, will go even further in facilitating fast and accurate production of the schematic.

Of course, if the software incorporates and maintains most, if not all, of the standardised symbols that are likely to be needed, it has the potential to save considerable time, money and CAD resources. In addition, some software contains extensive, up to date databases of specific manufacturers' cables, protective devices and busbars, rather than just generic items.

Similarly, direct links from the software to free online industry information services make access to specific product information much easier and quicker.

Another time-saving benefit is the ability to save a circuit diagram as a template, so it can be used again as the basis for similar circuits in the future, without having to start from scratch each time. Although this sounds obvious this is either not possible with all design software or users may not be aware of this functionality.

As each schematic starts to come together it's handy to be able to quickly double check details - for instance by simply ‘hovering' the mouse over each item to get an instant display of key information. This information can include details such as correction factors, voltage drops (for both total and individual circuits) and earth fault loop impedances.

Another major benefit is when the software checks the correct cable sizes are being used, in line with the latest version of BS 7671 (ie. the 17th Edition Wiring Regulations). This is a great help in avoiding both under-specification and over-specification - particularly when the software is ‘pro-active'. For example, with circuit protection it may evaluate the type of connection and select the appropriate disconnection time to help with RCD selection.
A similar ease-of-use approach can be applied to the selected cable installation methods, as determined by BS 7671. Here, the software can add value by illustrating the installation type for each cable, where the diagrams are similar to those shown in the Wiring Regulations. So, at a glance, you can see the correct installation method has been chosen, in line with the regulations.

At this stage, it's also useful to be able produce ‘what if' scenarios, try out different design ideas and model alternative sources of supply with just a few clicks. The important thing here is the results are available within seconds, so the impact of different designs can quickly assessed and acted upon. These ideas can also be presented to clients to illustrate the options available and the implications of each.

Clients will also be interested the ‘green features' available that affect the environmental impact of the design, so the software should facilitate fast calculation of conductor energy losses and assessment of related CO2 emissions.

Sharing information
Sharing information between different software functions is clearly a major time saver. For instance, the ability to input the design details straight into co-ordination software for checking overload discrimination and device settings will quickly highlight potential problems. Then it's very easy to switch back to the design package where all the changes made in the co-ordination software are automatically incorporated. The importance of this level of integration between packages cannot be exaggerated providing the engineer with absolute control, improved accuracy and instant results. Whatever type of software is being considered it is important to ask how it integrates with other types of software to allow for an easy upgrade path if future requirements change.

Once everything else has been done, it will be necessary to produce the appropriate test and inspection documentation. On a large project this can entail several days of entering information from the design into the relevant certification software. So clearly the ability to share information between the design software and the certification software can add yet another dimension to the time-saving features that add real value.

The same concepts that have been described above - essentially harnessing the ‘number-crunching' capabilities of software - apply equally to the production of specifications. This can be a very time-consuming process when done manually by copying and pasting from various information sources and specification software can eliminate much of the donkey work. At the same time it will also ensure maximum accuracy, so there are even greater benefits.
A major element of such software is that it contains a full library of standard specification clauses, as well as facilitating the creation of specialised specifications for particular sectors. Obvious examples of the latter would be to incorporate the specialist clauses that are unique to the health sector, or to residential projects.

Clearly, up to date information is vital in this respect - basing a specification on three-year-old information from an out of date technical library is a recipe for disaster that could prove very costly.

So a specification software tool that has a central, regularly updated database - incorporating the latest information from key bodies such as CIBSE and BSI - is a vital tool when working smarter and maximising productivity. It also makes it easy to keep up to speed with the latest developments, including the area of renewable energy, which is developing rapidly.

In parallel, just as with design software, links from within the software directly to key information providers and industry websites - along with the ability to customise additional hyperlinks, provide even greater ease of use.

In this respect, if the software is structured using a recognised classification system such as the Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) this will ensure  specification meets current industry standards and nothing is overlooked.

As with design software, tools that speed up the routine tasks allow users to focus more of their time on the strategic issues and many engineers work with master templates that can then be modified for each project. Needless to say, it's vital that any such master templates and specifications can be easily updated when new information is available in the database.

Another time-saver is the use of audit logs to integrate quality assurance into the process of creating the specification, rather than QA being a retrospective process. Also, when editing work sections a pre-edit question facility will make the whole process simpler and easier to use. And if the project does not have a requirement for external lighting or extra low voltage, for example, these clauses can be removed prior to editing the document.
In all cases, once the required clauses and options for the project have been selected, the software should automatically compile the specification, building on the template that has already been created.

As we noted at the beginning of this article, there is a growing demand to share information between members of a project team, and very often they will not be using the same software. So the ability to export specification information in common formats, such as PDF, goes a long way to easing communication.

For all of these reasons, it makes sound business sense to evaluate any software products you're thinking of investing in very carefully. Those that add value to the engineering function will not only help you improve your service to customers, they will also deliver a much faster return on investment.