Conducting regularly scheduled maintenance is a good way to prevent unplanned outages and other loss of revenue events.
“The secret to a successful planned outage is right there in the name,” says Michael Childers, Area Manager for the North Texas Branch of National Field Services. “Planned. With proper planning, you can minimize disruption to your business, streamline the process and ensure that all the safety controls are in place. You can also save a lot of time, money and headaches.”
Here are five steps that will ensure a smooth and successful outage for your facility:
Ideally, planning should start about six months before the scheduled outage. Some municipalities require that you have a permit in hand before any shutdown, but verify with your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). This is the responsibility of the facility or the electrical contractor. Permits are the first thing you should check on when planning an outage, and you should have them in hand two weeks before your outage start date.
Your planning should include having an accurate one-line diagram. If it’s not accurate, alternate power sources and cross ties may still be energized — which could lead to serious injury or death. You’re also required to have an arc flash study completed within the past five years. This critical information will tell you where you can and cannot do the switching, and what personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required.
Isolate the Power and Switching
Have the electrical testing company conducting the outage walk the site in advance. Identify all power sources that need to be isolated to make the switchgear safe to maintenance. Identify the cross ties, check the emergency generators, and evaluate how and if the power sources can be isolated.
If it’s necessary to isolate at the utility service entrance (or metering point), you’ll also need to coordinate with your electric utility provider.
Have Adequate Spares on Hand
During the outage, it’s not unusual to find circuit breakers in need of repairs that can’t be performed in the field. Having spares will help you avoid downtime, especially in critical areas of operations. You should also have generators and extra lighting available, particularly if there are elevators or enclosed spaces that the contractor will need to use or access.
Open lines of communication between customer and contractor are crucial at every phase, from initial planning to the actual outage. Everyone involved needs to be on the same page, especially if you are only shutting down part of the facility.
During the outage, the lead electrical contractor should have sole control of the electrical lockout-tagout (LOTO) operations. No one else should work on the conductors without first getting clearance from the maintenance contractor.
One More Word of Advice
Hire a team that has a depth of experience in handling planned outages similar to your facility. They will generally have best practices in place that can help create efficiencies and control costs. For example, National Field Services handles several outages a week.
“Typically, we’ll send in smaller advance crews to handle isolation and grounding a few hours before the full maintenance crew arrives,” says Childers. “This helps keep personnel labor costs down. We also have the ability to pull in switchgear and circuit breaker technicians for onsite repairs, which can help cut costs and reduce downtime.”
For a successful outage, just remember the three most important words: Planning, planning, planning. Everything else will fall into place. If you have a planned outage on the horizon and would like to discuss how to best prepare for it, contact National.
Return to Fall 2019 FieldNotes