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Stronger together

Nov 2018 General | Comments Off on Stronger together
Stronger together

Schneider’s electrical protection minimises the risk of failure that could harm a company while saving energy, increasing revenue and extending the life of equipment, says product and segment marketing manager Gary Buckingham

The world has never been more connected. Technology such as WiFi, undersea data cables, connected devices and electrical circuitry are a part of modern life, underpinning the services we’ve come to rely on.

But our reliance on this invisible fabric makes us vulnerable: a break in any single thread, no matter how small, can cause serious damage to an organisation’s operations. Given the competitiveness and speed-of-light nature of modern business, it’s never been more important to prevent disruptions or failures in these countless electrical networks.

Prevention is always better than the cure, which is why modern maintenance focuses so much on predicting and protecting against potential problems. Nowhere is this more important than in a business’s electrical assets. Any failure can take hours or days to diagnose and fix, potentially causing a huge ripple effect that can affect systems far and wide across the organisation’s network.

This is why many businesses are now looking to the latest cutting-edge solutions that can help to enhance circuit protection and facilitate an alternative predictive maintenance strategy. These innovations in circuit-level energy monitoring are crucial to ensuring a superior level of operational building intelligence, maintenance and circuit protection. So, what are these new innovations and how do they work?

New demands, new solutions

Technological progress can often seem like both a blessing and a curse for today’s building managers. While these cutting-edge solutions offer them countless efficiency benefits, they also multiply the potential points of failure within the business.

A great example is the advanced sensors that are an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Connected devices have transformed a huge range of industries and operations; in building management, for example, they are used in everything from heating and lighting control to security and energy management.

Moreover, the IoT has made business and buildings smarter, since it provides a huge volume of real-time data on operations, often enabling organisations to identify potential problems before they occur, while also enabling more accurate and informed decision making. Being able to monitor connected sensors at all times allows for building managers to prepare to cut costs, while growing revenues.

This is possible by improving maintenance practices and efficiency to extend the lifespan of their equipment and keep track of the health of their equipment. Yet when it comes to circuit and equipment protection, many are simply going through the motions. Facing limited resources and an endless, expensive cycle of maintenance, organisations would greatly benefit from being able to predict problems such as electrical faults, cable overloads, short circuits and insulation faults before they become a costly issue.

To overcome this challenge, building managers must have full oversight of their electrical assets at all times. While this is impossible physically, connected devices coupled with remote monitoring offer unrivalled visibility over all electrical assets.

This is where advancements in IoT technology come into play. The ability to analyse large amounts of data through the IoT has made it a no-brainer for businesses and homeowners to embrace smart distribution and smarter solutions. Insight-led IoT improvements can be made in the home, in the office and even on the factory floor. We’re already seeing connected consumer units, distribution boards, circuit breakers and sensors fuelling progress in both safety, efficiency and maintenance.

Smart solutions

Another area that has seen exciting advances is in intelligent circuit breaker technology. Thanks to embedded sensors, these can now form the foundation of a more effective, conditions-based approach to asset maintenance. Leveraging operational and environmental data is key to protecting electrical circuits and reducing the costs associated with outages or frequent repairs.

The advantage of smart solutions, such as Schneider Electric’s PowerTag, is their connectivity. Connected to the Building Management System through IoT, they provide building managers with real-time data on power flow, energy and device health in the moment. They are able to detect problems, such as unstable loads, and identify the source of the issue before it can snowball into a larger crisis.

Connected sensors like Schneider Electric’s PowerTag can also be easily attached to the intelligent distribution boards. These can be used to leverage operational and environmental data to detect problems such as overloads in real time, helping managers address them before they snowball into bigger issues – while enhancing safety and reliability.

The Acti9 Isobar P is an example of a smart circuit board. As well as being faster and cheaper to install, it is also fully integrated with EcoStruxure connected devices and software.

When positioned to maximum effect, these devices are able to collate the most granular of data from previously untapped and inaccessible parts of a facility’s infrastructure. By analysing this data and learning how and when the energy is being consumed across the building, a clearer picture of the infrastructure’s overall health can be collected; providing alerts to faults, power overloads or even energy waste. This allows the building manager to make informed decisions based on the real-time data they are receiving, from any location at any time.

The newest smart circuit breakers also include a choice of advanced monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. This can include high accuracy power and energy metering, harmonic distortion measurements, event and alarm logs and messages, trip history, and traceability of setting changes.

One of the most exciting innovations to emerge for smart circuit breakers are downloadable digital modules. These offer the ultimate in flexibility, as a breaker can be upgraded with new functionality either during commissioning or after it has been put in service. Upgrading is typically done fairly seamlessly, such as over a USB connection from a laptop, without taking the breaker out of service. Digital modules might offer additional protection functions, power or energy measurements, or power quality capabilities (eg waveform capture and harmonics analysis). They may also include smart ‘assistant’ functions, for example to help facility teams perform breaker operations or restore power faster and more safely.

Connected sensors increase the reliability, efficiency and condition of key electrical assets by helping to monitor and measure currents, voltages, power factors and energy. This is necessary not only for accurate monitoring of a business’s energy consumption, but also as a means to maintain equipment health.

To also ensure ease of installation and long-lasting protection, products such as Schneider Electric’s Easy9+ consumer units offer straightforward flexibility and generous space for electricians to work. Reversible enclosure doors allow greater access, and semi flush mounting designs allow the consumer units to be embedded within the building’s structure. This offers electricians maximum access while also keeping wiring and end users safe.

A predictive approach

The cost of maintenance and servicing, particularly around switchgear has been an almost universal problem for building managers. However, rather than resulting from the innate challenges of the building itself, high costs more often stem from failings in the current maintenance schedule.

Traditionally, building managers have followed a maintenance plan composed of regular, scheduled check-ups and corrective repairs once a breakdown occurs. The main drawback of this system is its inattentiveness. Equipment is checked at a set time periodically and regardless of its actual health. Wear and tear, damage and faults can certainly be detected using this approach, but it is mostly left to chance whether they are discovered before the damage is done.

In the worst case, faults and electrical damage are found after the event and must be repaired, at great cost and disruption. It is important for building managers to embrace more connected technologies – to help them better prepare and plan for any potential costs, damages and downtime.

This is why the more effective ‘predictive’ approaches need to be understood. These approaches utilise connected sensors to detect faults and use environmental data to predict when an asset is likely to fail. Corrective action is then organised automatically before, and not after, business disruption is caused. The predictive approach prevents asset and facility downtime and can result in considerable savings and efficiencies, again, helping to keep pace with the competition.

Remote monitoring takes this approach to the next level, while accommodating the changing role of the facility manager. As their working practices evolve, building managers may find they are spending more time off-site or working between different sites as their responsibilities increase and the number of sites they control grows.

However, remote monitoring tools, such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Facility Expert, allow teams to keep on top of monitoring no matter where they are. They can keep track of usage patterns at any time and any place, from the convenience of a mobile device such as a phone or tablet and especially when they are outside of the facility.

With a centralised Building Management System (BMS) and control capabilities, managers can adjust environmental settings in an instant – for example, with a simple swipe of a phone. This is a massive time saver and prevents building managers having to rush over to a building should they be alerted to any fault. Not only does this create significant efficiencies for the building manager, but it also means any problem can be responded to quickly and in real-time.

There’s no denying that the benefits are second to none. Using connected devices seems like an obvious choice. In fact, using them at the circuit level helps to ensure the safety of the building’s assets. It does so by gathering and sharing the necessary environmental data of a building at speed, in real-time, to anyone who needs access to it.

The ability to collect as much data as possible is a no-brainer. The more data a building manager receives, the more insight they get. The benefit of this is the ability to make more informed decisions and target a response appropriately. This is why increasingly connected devices are beginning to play a more central role in circuit protection.

However, it is crucial to remember that safe installation methods must be implemented so that businesses can maximise the benefits and rewards of these smart devices. This is why it is recommended to do this at the final distribution stage. This means that the safety of the building and those within it can be guaranteed. By implementing these smarter technologies and more connected devices, the aim is to be able to gather and analyse data as quickly as possible. In doing so, businesses can expect to benefit from much faster maintenance and increased safety.

The technology that makes up the tapestry of modern life can seem overwhelmingly complicated at times. There is so much that can go wrong, and the effects of failure can be far-reaching and potentially catastrophic. Technology, however, is providing its own antidote to these complexities, not least by enabling businesses and building managers to monitor and control their equipment, to predict and identify faults, and to gather critical intelligence on operations.

What connects these technologies is that they enable us to ‘see’ the once-invisible threads that connect people, businesses, buildings and appliances, as well as the internal workings of the devices on which we rely. This visibility is key to transforming our relationship with technology itself – enabling any organisation to improve reliability, make maintenance more intelligent, cutting energy usage, and lengthen equipment lifespans, among a host of benefits. Above all, these technologies provide us with something infinitely precious: the ability to be confident of hassle-free, future-proof operations without fear of disruption.