Keeping healthcare facility electrical systems up to date with the latest equipment is one of the most difficult challenges facility managers and electrical personnel face, and one of the most critical aspects of facility upkeep. Electrical systems age quickly, decreasing their reliability over time and increasing the risk of power disruptions that may result in costly downtime. In a healthcare institution, this scenario is more serious as failing electrical systems don’t just cause facility interruption, but could directly affect a patient’s health. However, given facility managers frequently have limited budgets and restricted resources, it often becomes necessary for them to maintain existing power infrastructure, including switchgear, for as long as possible rather than conduct a complete overhaul. This can often be a challenge, made even more difficult when facility electrical systems are constructed from a mixed bag of equipment from different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
It is common practice for many facilities to source their electrical switchgear from a variety of vendors. When power systems are maintained over several years, facility managers often reduce costs by installing switchgear sourced from the “lowest bidders.” However, while this practice might save budget in the short term, future system maintenance can become more difficult and expensive over the long term.
This article outlines how implementing modernization solutions can help improve the overall effectiveness and simplification of an electrical system comprised of mixed-OEM equipment.
1. Simple and lower-cost switchgear
As an alternative to a full new equipment installation, facility managers should consider modernization solutions for their aging equipment – retrofill or direct replacement solutions that can fit into the existing cell with little to no modification.
Modernization solutions are typically easy to install – taking anywhere from just 15 minutes to only a few hours – and cost less than a total electrical system replacement. In addition, they also help to standardize systems to the most current standards and require fewer financial and staff resources to maintain. An added benefit? Facility managers will also see an increase in reliability and safety of their power distribution systems as risks associated with aging equipment decrease.
2. Lowered maintenance requirements
When a facility’s electrical infrastructure is comprised of equipment from different OEMs, the maintenance needs for each piece of equipment varies. This complexity can result in personnel letting certain maintenance requirements slip through the cracks, reducing the overall reliability of the switchgear. Employing modernization solutions ensures all the equipment in a facility operates and racks in the same way, regardless of what had previously been installed.
3. Reduced inventory management with fewer spare-parts
With equipment being sourced from different OEMs, it may oftentimes be necessary to manage a stockpile of spare parts for replacements. Modernization solutions reduce this need: once the modernized solutions are installed, there is only one set of spare parts for all frame sizes, regardless of how many OEM pieces of equipment there were originally.
4. Streamlined after-sales vendor management
By implementing system-wide switchgear modernization, an entire facility’s switchgear would be under the same warranty or extended warranty from the same vendor. Additionally, if equipment is modernized simultaneously, facility managers could expect each piece of equipment to have the same lifecycle. With more streamlined vendor management, it is easier to assess and replace aging switchgear as necessary.
5. Standard and modernized capabilities across switchgear
As aging equipment continues to be phased out, modern equipment is being integrated with IoT-enabled remote monitoring and other emerging technologies. By integrating this technology into switchgear, facility managers can rely more on automation to reduce the need for human-machine interaction, enabling safer, more standardized maintenance.
In addition, modern equipment enables more effective:
Arc flash mitigation: Circuit breaker or relay settings near the power source may have delays for coordinating downstream devices. Newer optical relays, by contrast, can visually detect fault conditions and enable a quicker clearing time.
Intelligent relays with metering and communications: Modern switchgear accommodates engineered controls that can reduce the risk of arc flash.
Remote racking: Remote racking allows operators to perform racking operations at a safe distance by placing them further from the potential “blast envelope.”
Higher circuit interruption: Breakers within certain OEMs can be replaced with a higher interrupting version.
Shutters on low voltage equipment: Some replacement breakers may provide shutters for an additional layer of insulation between people and the electrical switchgear.
Sourcing equipment from a variety of OEMs may seem like a quick and low cost option initially, but can present a variety of challenges to facility managers over the long term. Complex, costly and time-intensive maintenance on a variety of different equipment, combined with the need to carry a significant amount of stock and the potential for complications adhering to standards can overwhelm even the most seasoned facility manager.
With modernization solutions, facility managers can expect the complications of a mixed-OEM system infrastructure to subside as their facilities become more standardized. Modernization solutions can simplify the replacement of switchgear as well as make it more affordable. They can ease the maintenance requirements facility managers are expected to keep up with as well as reduce inventory management. The more current solutions are also equipped with modern technologies that can keep employees safer. By using standard modernization solutions to replace aging switchgear, facility managers can see improved reliability and safety in their electrical systems.
Doug Robling is a business development manager at Schneider Electric.
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