When looking into the true cost of replacing electrical switchgear, the concerns that facility engineers face with their aging low-voltage and medium-voltage switchgear largely center around safety, reliability and productivity, including:
- Spare parts are difficult to locate and expensive to purchase since they are priced as an aftermarket product.
- Unreliable equipment causes unplanned downtime and lost productivity, which raises the cost of ownership.
- Slow opening times in aging circuit breakers increase the arc flash hazard, causing safety concerns.
- Arc chutes of old circuit breakers contain asbestos, adding to safety concerns for maintenance personnel.
- Circuit breaker mechanisms need lubrication or reconditioning to reduce friction / overheating, an early indicator of potential issues.
- Low- and medium-voltage circuit breakers are beyond their expected useful life.
When facility engineers deem that ongoing maintenance for aging switchgear is no longer a reasonable course of action, they need to decide whether to replace or upgrade existing equipment. Recommended factors to include in their decision-making process include:
- the operating environment
- the impact of downtime
- cost of ongoing maintenance
- availability, and cost, of spare parts
- the need to increase fault or continuous current rating
- location of the existing switchgear
- unforeseen project surprises (addressed in my first blog)
A Modernization Calculator has been developed to assist facility engineers in the ‘upgrade or replace’ decision. User-friendly and intuitive, the calculator evaluates a facility’s substations and prioritizes options by total installed cost and lead time.
Additional features include:
- Default values that can be changed by project needs.
- Calculates cost to maintain (#) circuit breakers in the switchgear in a 12-year period, by adjusting cycle times for aging or new circuit breakers.
- Summarizes installed cost of each of the above options in a report that also details how each addresses cost, safety, reliability and downtime.
- Individual substation reports can be downloaded, saved, printed or emailed.
The Modernization Calculator is an excellent tool to help optimize CapEx and OpEx funds. In addition, a short quiz has been developed that addresses a facility’s specific pain points and provides a recommended action plan. Having the calculator documentation and quiz results available to present to management during budget planning sessions should make the maintain, upgrade or replace discussion go smoothly and result in a clearly-defined action plan.