Veronika Oliinyk |
Dreamstime M 195783323

Keeping Dirty Power Out of the Plant

Oct. 14, 2020
Explore the different power anomalies that most commonly affect manufacturing equipment, and how a proper power quality solution keeps systems online and production rolling.

Manufacturing and test equipment involve some of the heaviest, highest-stake investments for engineering managers as they seek to maximize efficiency and throughput in the plant. Yet, unplanned downtime due to power quality issues can interrupt production flow, resulting in productivity losses, increased maintenance, and erosion of customer trust. With productivity losses due to downtime tracking anywhere between 5% and 20%, zero unplanned downtime has become a top priority among manufacturers. In fact, studies have reported the cost of equipment downtime averaging as much as $260,000 per hour, with larger businesses pushing that figure into the millions.

With so much at risk, there is increasing pressure to ensure equipment performs at its optimum every time. As such, time-consuming and costly maintenance, errors, and damage are a key source of frustration for managers and equipment manufacturers alike. While some disruptions might be expected throughout the lifespan of equipment, and while some warranty service calls and errors may be legitimate, it’s important to never count out one of the most misunderstood factors plant operators face when diagnosing trouble with manufacturing machines—the power environment in which they are situated.

Highly calibrated, intensely used equipment requires high-quality power to operate seamlessly. But even the most advanced and carefully engineered equipment is inevitably impacted by the electricity that enables it to run. When your manufacturing environment is impacted by dirty power, trouble ensues, including system lockup, undetected data logic errors, and slow degradation of system components. Performance degradation of fine-tuned machinery can stem directly from weaknesses in power infrastructure and disturbances from other devices within a facility. Everything from the HVAC system, to the elevators, refrigeration systems, other equipment in the plant, and nearly everything in between can contribute to dirty power.

The Most Harmful Threats Are Invisible

What does all the equipment in a manufacturing plant have in common? It all relies on the power supply to operate. With today’s increased demand for deliverables and a truncated timeline for bringing products to market, downtime has no place within manufacturing facilities. You would typically think that power anomalies with visible consequences, such as surges or outages, would cause the greatest amount of damage to systems. However, it is actually the disturbances you cannot see that are most common—and can be the most harmful.

Disturbances are constantly happening within your plant’s power environment, including those that can cause major errors, degradation, and disruptions that slow down or even entirely halt manufacturing operations. A whole slew of power anomalies, including sags, spikes, surges, electrical impulses, high-frequency noise, and high voltage transients are present to some degree all the time. Most components and systems used by manufacturers, on their own, are not designed to stand up to this constant bombardment of power disruptions. These disruptions have a rippling effect on manufacturing timelines and can greatly impede the equipment’s ability to perform by slowly degrading sensitive instrument components or even causing system failures.

With the presence of so many invisible anomalies on a day-to-day basis, it should come as no surprise that up to 88% of service calls are triggered by these hidden power irregularities, as they are often overlooked and left to wreak havoc on equipment. These disturbances can cause a whole range of challenges—breakdowns, data errors, inaccurate measurements, shortened equipment life, and increased service calls—resulting in major time, money, and effort investment spent on maintenance that has nothing to do with the quality of your equipment, and everything to do with the quality of power being fed to the factory. Even worse, the extended timelines associated with system downtime and the risk to the integrity of products caused by power anomalies can hurt your company’s reputation, the hardest to repair of all.

Don’t Be Haunted by Ghost Errors

Fortunately, there are power quality solutions designed specifically to diagnose and protect against the hidden day-to-day power disturbances caused by normal operations, as well as visible power disruptions. By leveraging a proper power quality solution, managers of manufacturing facilities can ensure uptime for max throughput, max efficiency, and max protection of their equipment investment. In turn, this keeps operations and maintenance costs down, drives productivity, and promotes safety within the manufacturing environment.

Power quality systems act as a filter between your equipment and its electrical supply to ensure the smooth performance of connected equipment. To ensure optimal protection and power conditions, a solid power quality system should include three technologies: a surge diverter, a low impedance isolation transformer, and a noise filter.

Most of the power quality solutions on the market include a surge diverter, a noise filter, or a combination of the two. However, the presence of a low impedance isolation transformer is critical to ensure clean power. It isolates the power between the outlet and the connected equipment to separate ground and neutral voltage at the source. As a result, the solutions ensure only clean, reliable power consistently enters the equipment, keeping systems online and free of errors caused by power disturbances.

(Protect) The Bottom Line

Increased downtime for manufacturing equipment due to power quality issues disrupts the flow of business, reduces productivity, and most frighteningly, threatens customers’ trust in your brand. When it comes to your valuable manufacturing equipment, the stakes are too high to neglect the issues an unstable power environment can cause. With so many invisible anomalies that can threaten your equipment straight from the power source, it is critical that you approach your power environment with a proactive mindset.

Power protection is about proactively mitigating and managing the risk to your equipment from power-related failures including performance degradation, erosion of sensitive or even microscopic conductors and circuits from low-amplitude power disturbances, and surges. Proper power quality protection is therefore a highly effective risk management strategy when it comes to protecting your equipment, your investment, and the integrity of your brand.