by Alan Ross
As professionals in the field of electrical system reliability, we have a choice.
We can follow the leaders, or we can follow the losers.
It may seem harsh to say that there are “losers” out there, because that’s one of the words that nobody likes to hear. Well, I don’t mean “loser” in the same way kids do when they hold up an “L” on their foreheads on the playground (see above). I mean it in the literal sense. A loser is someone who has experienced loss.
So, to be called a loser you must have experienced a loss.
And while the failure of a transformer is in itself a loss, the more substantial loss we ought to be afraid of is the loss of production. Most any other piece of equipment used in manufacturing operations is designed with maintenance built into it. The reliability and maintenance aspect is part of the design function. It’s one of the key tenets of reliability. Reliability starts at the design stage.
But that is not necessarily true of transformers. Transformers, other than those with Load Tap Changers, have no moving parts. There has never been the need to design maintenance and standards into it at the design stage. Transformers were designed and built to run for 10 or 20 years and then be replaced. The fact they have lasted so much longer, with the average life of power transformers in the US estimated at over 38 years, is a testament to how well they have been “overbuilt.” We believe that if you maintain the oil in a transformer, which in turn protects the paper in a transformer, you can get 50 years or more life out of it. That increased life creates true “loss avoidance.”
Another loss to consider is the loss of capital. If we can double the life of our transformers, then we don’t have to spend capital on replacing assets.
However, extending the life of a transformer is only really a good thing if you’re extending the reliable life. Risk and reliability are closely related. If you’re just extending the life of an asset but increasing the potential risk from failure of that asset, most risk managers would tell you that is not acceptable trade-off. It is important that we extend the life without adding more risk.
Sadly, we are seeing a new trend that is adding even more complexity to the potential risk of lost production. In the past decade, we are being told by the insurance industry that new transformers are failing at a much higher rate than what our historical trends have shown. That is adding a third loss to consider, the loss of confidence in our system.
Let’s avoid following the losers. Let’s not follow those who have failed to properly test, maintain or monitor these critical assets and who have, as a result, experienced major production losses. Don’t be the person responsible for huge financial burdens on your company. I’ve written and spoken about this before. A company that experienced a $50 million loss due to the loss of a 38-year-old transformer that, even though considered a critical unit, had not been properly maintained. That’s about the worst it gets. Tragically, that loss was followed by a much more personal one, the loss of a job. Yes, the professional who was responsible and who did not consider the risk was held accountable of the loss.
Those who are responsible for transformer reliability are the people who are responsible for production, and they have to do whatever it takes to avoid those kinds of losses.
As electrical reliability professionals, we have to.
Because if we don’t?
Our company will lose. We’ll be the ones responsible for those losses.
Alan Ross is the President of the Electric Power Reliability Alliance (EPRA). He is responsible for leading the alliance to build electric system reliability in the industrial and commercial marketplace. Formerly, Alan was the Vice President of Reliability at SD Myers.