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Bright Spark – How to cut down time and costs

By Carl Johnson, Electrical Technician

You don’t invest in machinery for it to sit there looking pretty – every machine you have is there to make you money. So if it’s not working, it’s not doing its job – and it’s therefore losing you money.

Simply by following a few simple maintenance rules, you can keep down time and the cost of repairs to a minimum.

1.    Do you have drawings for the machinery – in particular any control panels? If you do it’s a good idea to keep an electronic copy just in case they ever go missing. More often than not, drawings are kept in the control panel itself; if they aren’t in the panel it’s a good idea to locate them now. We get called out to hundreds of machine breakdowns every year and 
if the machine has a drawing you are half way to fixing the fault before you start. Good accurate drawings are the difference between it taking 30 minutes or a few hours to identify a fault.

2.    Have you noticed that machines always break down when you need them the most? So if you can’t find or don’t have any drawings, get some done now, at a convenient time, instead of waiting until your machine has broken down. This involves tracing individual cables in the control panel and on the machine itself – it can be time consuming, but at least by proactively tackling the problem you’ll be prepared for any future break downs. The alternative is an engineer trying to trace a fault just when you need your machine.

3. It’s also a good idea to write down and keep safe the settings of any inverters and other programmable equipment. Some equipment can
be quite complicated, with dozens
of parameters to set to suit your application. If the equipment fails and you need to replace it like for like, knowing the settings can save a lot of hassle.

4. Keep the panel well maintained. The most common fault in my experience is a contact that isn’t making or breaking as it should and the environment inside the panel has a massive influence
on this. Make sure the panel door is closed properly to stop dust and grime getting inside; likewise, ensure any holes in the enclosure are correctly blanked off. It is also vital that the control panel isolator is working correctly. The isolator should interlock the door closed, so that access can only be gained to the panel by isolating the electrical supply.

5. Keep motors clean and dust free. Most motors have a fan on the back, which blows air over the body of the motor
to reduce the build up of heat. If the fan is blocked or broken, the motor can overheat and burn out, or run at excessive temperatures, causing a fire risk.

6. Look out for cables pulled out of glands. If this happens, the earth to the motor could be removed. The cable is more likely to be damaged and could be dangerous if not glanded and terminated correctly.

7. You don’t need to be an electrician to see that cables either aren’t connected or aren’t properly supported. Sometimes when machinery is worked on by fitters or other contractors, the earth cables don’t get connected back up again when they finish. It is important to make sure these essential cables are connected where they should be. Cables that aren’t properly supported can cause increased stress on connections. A loose cable or disconnected core can cause your machinery to stop working, so check to see that all cables are secure.

8. Keep some spares, whether it be fuses, contactors, relays or anything else. If the machinery is vital to your operation, it makes sense to identify the most likely points of failure and keep spares to hand. By sourcing these in advance, you’ll be able to shop around and get the best price, rather than having to pay through the nose because you need them in a hurry.

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