Common generator problems - and how to avoid them

Conference also serves as yearly training event

By Clayton Costello / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
October 24, 2017

Generators need to run smoothly and efficiently to effectively power necessary equipment. However, there are a few common problems generators encounter that facility managers, OEMs and owners should be aware of in order to prevent downtime. 

Common generator problem no. 1: Neglected maintenance

The single most common generator problem is neglected maintenance. Think of the engine on an industrial generator the same as you would the engine in your car. It is well known that there are going to be problems if you don’t check the engine’s components for wear and tear in addition to preventative maintenance.

Proper engine maintenance is key to running your generator efficiently. Having a maintenance plan that coincides with the manufacturer and distributor’s recommendations will often comprise of routine, semi-annual and annual generator services. Often, this entails inspections and service to your:

• Cooling system

• Fuel system

• Air induction and exhaust

• Lube oil system

• Starting system

• Engine monitors, safety controls and control panel

• Automatic transfer switch

• Oil and fuel filter changes

• Water separator maintenance

• And more

Part of a proper maintenance plan is an annual load bank test. It will eliminate wet stacking in diesel generators by burning off un-burnt fuel, oil and carbon in the cylinders and exhaust system. It also will exercise and test the unit’s fuel and cooling systems and evaporate moisture from inside the generator and engine.

Common generator problem no. 2: Improper sizing and load

A common mistake is improper sizing of an industrial generator. Businesses often want to buy a larger generator than what is needed for their application as a way to scale for future needs. Unfortunately, running a generator with too light of a load can result in serious damage and wasteful inefficiencies. Whenever the generator is running, you have to utilize at least 35% of the load capabilities. Engine distributors commonly run into issues where a client says they will add additional equipment in the near future. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t happen fast enough, the generator they just purchased will run inefficiently and may see damage.

A prominent issue that results from improper loading is wet stacking. This commonly occurs when a generator doesn’t operate with a large enough load. As a result, the engine’s operating temperature doesn’t get hot enough for the expansion joints in the exhaust system to seal up properly. Running too light of a load doesn’t entirely burn the diesel fuel completely, allowing wet fuel to pool in the engine stack. Together, these issues allow wet fuel to leak through the exhaust, which can lead to major problems such as destructive fires.

Common generator problem no. 3: Fuel supply

Often, operators do not supply enough fuel when in operation. The obvious effect resulting from a lack of fuel is the generator shutting down because there is nothing to burn for power, but another, less thought of effect is the intake of air into the fuel system. Additionally, not running your generator on a regular basis can cause air in the fuel system. This can shut down a diesel generator due to tighter tolerances on Tier 4 fuel systems.

Businesses that don’t implement a regular maintenance plan combined with a lack of regular usage tend to have stagnant fuel in the tank. Stagnant fuel results in water condensation, which in turn, causes an acceleration of microbiological growth. This creates contamination and damaging sludge to appear, which can hurt fuel filters, create clogs and cause leaks.

Solutions to common generator problems

The easy solution to most generator problems is found in regular maintenance. Generator owners should have a planned service agreement with a company they trust. A planned service agreement is the key solution for mitigating and preventing problems associated with generators in industrial settings. Furthermore, working with the generator manufacturer and distributor will outline proper usage to ensure the correct load amounts are used regularly.

Trust the generator experts and work closely with them to ensure your generator runs when it’s needed, how it’s needed.

This article was originally published on the CK Power learning center and can be found here.

Clayton Costello has been working at CK Power for over 5 years with a focus in account management and operations.


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