Continuing on with the theme of 10 things people can do to improve reliability at your site, I will focus today’s article on Electrical Technicians.

As technology continues to improve, our world becomes ever more dependent on electrical systems, controls, and components and as a result, the role your Electrical Technicians play in ensuring equipment reliability has become highly important. As technology improves, this creates a couple of challenges that can have adverse effects at your site, and while some of the things we need to do to address this may be seen as long-term strategies, if we don’t start working on them today, reliability will continue to suffer. This being said, there are also a number of basic things we can do every day to improve reliability.

1. Keep Drawings up to Date – Fact, the time spent troubleshooting failures that results from outdated electrical control drawings by far outweighs the time it takes to repair or replace the item that actually fails. In performing RCM analyses for different companies, each year I encounter a shockingly high percentage where participating Technicians state that their main frustration at work is the time it takes to identify failures because their drawings are out of date or non-existent. Having lived and worked through this problem where I first worked as a journeyman, I can also say the way out takes a small amount of training and simple discipline. Start getting your drawings in order today by assigning the review of critical asset electrical control drawings with a goal of completing 1 per month. At the same time, develop/educate your Technicians in sound MOC (Management of Change) processes for future changes and drawing revisions. Accurate electrical control drawings will reduce the troubleshooting downtime by a significant percentage by taking the average electrical failure downtime hours from several hours to less than an hour.

2. Stop Creating Failures – This second item happens to be my pet peeve when it comes to electrical failures. While I believe this problem begins with the good intention of reducing the downtime of a single failure or improperly diagnosed series of failures, the end result is typically far worse. The problem is dirty, leaking, contaminated electrical cabinets and this can be caused by a couple of things. First is not installing all the door screws or bolts and the second is a worn or embrittled door gasket. Electrical cabinets that leak become contaminated with water, moisture, dirt, and dust. This contamination will result in poor electrical connections, shorts, and premature component failure. The solution is simple, if you want to reduce the amount of electrical failures at your site, keep your electrical cabinets clean and tight.

3. Develop and Implement a Good Electrical Cabinet Inspection Procedure – Having addressed item number 2, it’s still a very good idea to develop a good inspection procedure for high, medium, and low voltage cabinets. Where applicable, these procedures should include the use of Airborne Ultrasound and IR (Infrared Thermography) to identify arching, tracking, corona, and hot spots. At the same time, the procedure should be made as non-invasive as possible by eliminating old school practices such as pulling on connections, tightening connection screws, or blowing out dirt and dust with plant compressed air as each of these practices have been proven to cause more failures than they eliminate. Keep in mind that while we want to have clean and tight cabinets, the ultimate goal is to eliminate failures and not have to open cabinets so frequently. Understanding that there are several different types of cabinets, including some that have cooling fans and filters or quick latch door handles, take caution in that you don’t make one generic procedure that attempts to cover each and every type.

4. Walk Down, Identify, and Address the Obvious – I have to admit, if your company is in the position of performing 70% or more reactive maintenance, many of the items I am listing might be difficult to address. This item, however, can be addressed on a day-to-day basis. As you work in the plant, keep an eye out for electrical failures that are about to occur, exposed wires, missing cover plates, open cabinets, loose brackets, cracked flex connections, dirty motors, damaged fans… This list could go on and on, but the point I am trying to make is that we walk by potential failures on a daily basis and because we are busy, we don’t address them in any way. Make today the day you walk down the equipment at your plant; identify, tag, and list potential electrical failures; and create a goal to have each Electrical Technician knock one item off the list each day. In a short amount of time, this list will be reduced and so will a measurable amount of your emergency work.

5. Switch Mounting Brackets – While limit switches, proximity switches, and photo eyes each perform important functions for controlling your equipment, one of the most common failure modes we assess in performing RCMs at various plant sites are these switches failing to detect an item due to being bumped, loose, or out of adjustment. In most cases, the actual cause of these failures is that the mounting brackets and hardware supplied by the manufacturers of these components are not robust enough for many manufacturing environments. As a result, we often identify the need to make and install mounting brackets that will hold the switch securely as well as the use of Loc-Tite and/or lock washers to hold the switch, reflector, target, or striker securely in place. With a small amount of thought and work, I have yet to find one example where we could not design and install a mount that didn’t completely eliminate this failure mode.

6. Eliminate Jumpers and Temporary Repairs – Is it time to admit we have an elephant in the room? While the culture of emergency and demand maintenance may have let this beast in years ago, today might be the day we should finally admit it is here and we need to do something about it. Properly trained and coconscious Electrical Technicians understand jumpers are something used for troubleshooting. However, Electrical Technicians working under the stress of an emergency/demand culture often find themselves under the pressure to leave a jumper or temporary repair in place because it made the equipment run. Almost like they can reproduce on their own, one jumper turns into dozens and as sure as sunrise, failures will follow. Being real, I understand the pressure of working in a manufacturing environment and I know this problem will never fully disappear, but let’s be honest – not only will the jumper fail at some point, jumpers can result in severe safety issues and/or catastrophic equipment damage. A good MOC process should address this and the best I have seen required an Operations Manager or Supervisor’s signature and a date in which the jumper will be removed. Interesting enough, the plant that instituted this process had zero jumpers in place the week I performed the RCM analysis and had used a total of 3 jumpers in the past 12 months.

Elephant in the room

7. Get Educated and Involved With the Use of Reliability Tools – One of the top 3 RCM Facilitators I ever had the pleasure of working with is an Electrical Technician. He got his start as a Facilitator by volunteering to participate in an RCM analysis and as a member of that team, he immediately saw the value of the process and wanted to learn more.

A good Reliability Centered Maintenance analysis requires the experience and input of the experts who work directly with the equipment we are analyzing and participating in the process will also improve your skills as a technician. Root Cause Analysis requires the same skill set and will enhance troubleshooting skills and your ability to recognize potential failures before they occur.

If you have not been involved in using these reliability tools to date, today is the day to begin learning. Sign up for some training, and if you can’t get the training, begin reading everything you can find on these powerful tools. Search the web; you will be amazed at the number of articles and free webinars you can sign up for. Start with

Having received my college education at night, I have often said the most important thing I learned at RIT was that an education is meaningless without experience. Having worked nearly 12 years as a tradesperson in a manufacturing environment before I started, nearly everything I learned somehow applied to my work experiences. Remember, it’s never too late to learn and those who stop learning stop growing!

8. Identify and Understand the Impact of Hidden Failures – Hidden failures are the failure of a component in a state that will allow the equipment to run with the component in a failed state. These failures are not evident to the operating crew as they perform their normal duties. A good example would be the failure of an e-stop button in a closed state. With the e-stop failed in this state, the equipment will continue to run and should some type of emergency occur when the button is pushed, the machine will not stop. While all types of components have hidden failures, most are electronic components. Identifying which electronic components at your site have hidden failures and what the potential consequences are will greatly reduce the probability of health, safety, or environmental incidents as well as the probability of catastrophic equipment failures provided you identify and perform an appropriate failure finding task at the correct interval.

9. Get Involved in Design/Review of Control Logic and Alarms Packages – Early in my career as an RCM practitioner, we performed an analysis on a piece of automated equipment that ran in a dark room environment. The machine had well over 200 components and the completed analysis generated well over 600 failure modes, each giving the operator the same alarm: “Line Full”! Now, put yourself in the shoes of anyone who works directly with this equipment from the Operator to the Maintenance Technicians. The machine operates in the dark and suddenly it stops; the operator checks his feed spool, film thread, and incoming parts hoppers; and each is found to be ok so he/she contacts maintenance. The Technician begins troubleshooting in the dark, checking for the most likely culprits, and after some period of time they have to make the decision to light the room and figure out which of the possible 600 plus failure modes occurred. Time is ticking. The real question in my mind wasn’t what caused the machine to stop, but how in the heck did they get here? Let’s be real here, having just 1 alarm for a machine that has over 600 failure modes borders on insanity.

We got to that place by not involving the maintenance Electrical Technicians in design reviews of control logic and alarms, and once those machines hit the floor and started spitting out good product that produced income, we no longer had the time to make it right. The crazy thing is I see examples like this in over 50% of the customers I work with.

As an Electrical Technician, today is the day you need to insist on being involved in the design reviews of new equipment and control upgrades. While some might believe they don’t control these decisions, only you know how much time you waste identifying failures because of inadequate programming, controls, and alarms. Today you can begin recording the information you need to show what it costs your company to leave you out of the loop. In gathering this data, compare the time difference between troubleshooting a machine that has good controls and alarms against those that don’t, remembering the cost of equipment downtime typically is far more costly than that of the component and repair time.

10. Use the Right Tools for Each Job – I earned my stripes on the mechanical side of the skilled trades and to this day, I still enjoy the goodhearted ribbing that exists between the electrical and mechanical tradespeople. Having said this, the topic I am about to address really applies to all trades. We need to ensure that each and every job we do is performed with pride and precision. To accomplish this, we need to make sure we use the right tools to perform each job we do and complete the work to a level of craftsmanship that makes future maintenance and troubleshooting easy for you or the next person. Remember, the first haphazardly routed wire in a control cabinet gives the next guy an excuse to do the same, and in no time you will open the door to a rat’s nest of wires that makes troubleshooting and maintenance a nightmare. Take pride in your work and don’t be afraid to hold your peers to this same standard!

As usual, please feel free to comment and offer additions. As we all know, continuous improvement depends on learning, innovation, and our willingness to accept change.

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15 Responses to 10 Things an Electrical Technician Can Do Today To Improve Reliability

  1. Wow!!! What a great blog for electricians. You have explained very well the way to improve their reliability. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Mirah says:

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  11. Cheryl Rose says:

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  12. steve jones says:

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  15. 247 Electric says:

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