Switchboards are assemblies of electrical components, such as fuses, circuit breakers, switches, residual current devices, and meters. Together, these parts allow safe and efficient electricity distribution in required sections of the electric system. If any component malfunctions, this can compromise the overall functionality of a switchboard. Therefore, To ensure switchboards and their components are safe, reliable, and compliant with regulatory standards, it is essential to maintain a healthy maintenance routine.
This article covers the basics of switchboard maintenance, including types, procedures, and the benefits maintenance offers.
Two types of Switchboard Maintenance
Switchboard maintenance allows electrical system operators to maximize system controllability and reliability proactively. There are two general categories for switchboard maintenance: preventive and regular maintenance.
1. Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance involves scheduled inspections, testing, and upkeep to identify and address potential issues before they cause breakdowns or safety hazards. For example, inspectors must check all new switchboards for signs of damage. Inspectors must take the appropriate action to prevent the damaged part from interfering with the switchboard functionalities if they discover any signs of wear. Performing preventive maintenance semiannually or annually is crucial to extending the lifespan of switchboard equipment through essential procedures and tasks. We created a checklist for standard preventive maintenance procedures, and you can find the “Maintenance Checklist” below to learn about preventative care, current care, and aftercare.
2. Regular Maintenance
Regular maintenance includes all periodic maintenance work, including minor cleaning, tightening, and repairs. It is less urgent than preventive maintenance procedures because it is performed more frequently to ensure proper day-to-day functionality. The main goal of regular maintenance is to help observe the condition of the switchboard after known intervals.
Four Tests that Verify Switchboard Functionality
The following tests are performed to verify the functionality of a switchboard:
- Insulation Resistance Tests: Insulation resistance is the total resistance between two points separated by a dielectric (insulation). It determines the effectiveness of the dielectric (insulation) in resisting the flow of electrical current and preventing it from flowing in unwanted directions. A megohmmeter measures the insulation resistance. If any signs of insulation deterioration are found, you should correct them immediately.
- High potential capability tests: Verifies insulation integrity to prevent current from circulating between unwanted points.
- Continuity test: This is performed to ensure no significant obstacle to current flow in the required path.
- Thermographic or Thermal Imaging Survey Tests: A thermographic device checks possible hotspots in switchboard conductors that may arise due to excessive loading. Thus, this test can detect signs of corrosion, loose connections, and shorted/overloaded circuits, making it a valuable tool for diagnostic and maintenance work.
- Functional tests: These tests ensure proper circuit functions. For example, two standard functional tests are the RCD and Trip button tests that verify the operation of RCDs and circuit breaker trip buttons.
The best cadence to perform maintenance and testing is having a set schedule and checklist. A typical checklist can include items for different stages, such as before, during, and after maintenance procedures. You’ll find a standard checklist demonstrated below:
1. Before maintenance
Before maintenance can begin, the switchboard must be de-energized entirely and isolated from the electrical system to avoid any risk of electric shocks to technicians and equipment damage. The procedures that must be ensured before maintenance include:
- Work with an energy authority to de-energize the main switchboard.
- Coordinate with management to minimize business or facility interruptions.
- Test the main switchboard with certified equipment to confirm its de-energized state.
- Install safety isolation tags and locks.
- Lock the main switchboard power circuit breakers.
2. During maintenance
Some common preventive maintenance procedures include:
- Checking the tightness of switchboard fastenings.
- Internal cleaning to clear out accumulated dirt/dust.
- Verify the integrity of insulation and replace damaged conductors.
- Verify circuit breaker operations.
- Test conditions of gaskets and weather seals.
- Examine control wiring and replace wires as required.
3. Other routine maintenance procedures include:
- Keeping the assembly dry.
- Ensure cable and bolted panels are secured.
- Ensure vents remain open.
- Visual inspections on the front and rear of the switchboard to look for signs of warping, loose parts, or undue vibration.
- Ensure a visual inspection of different meters and other components inside the switchboard.
4. After maintenance
After performing the maintenance procedures on the switchboard, it is time to return it to its intended state. Upon completion, the next phase involves re-energizing the switchboard. For guidance, we have provided a list of steps:
- Re-verification of the completion of the maintenance tasks.
- Perform insulation resistance tests to confirm no short circuits or faults in the switchboard assembly.
- Replace and fasten all covers to their correct positions.
- Removal of Lockout tags by the technicians who installed them.
- Keeping a record of the tasks performed.
Benefits of Switchboard Maintenance
Regular maintenance of switchboards and their components can offer several significant benefits, including:
- Enhancing Electrical System Reliability and Performance: Proper maintenance of switchboards ensures that they operate optimally without power disruptions.
- Minimizing Downtime and Costly Disruptions: Regular inspections catch potential issues early before they become long-lasting and costly problems, thus enabling proactive repairs and minimizing expensive downtimes.
- Improving Electrical Safety: Well-maintained switchboards lower the risk of electrical hazards, thus safeguarding occupants and personnel from accidents.
- Extending Component Lifespan: Regular maintenance tasks such as cleaning and inspections are crucial in identifying signs of wear within the switchboard components. This preventative approach helps pinpoint older parts that need replacement, thereby extending the overall life expectancy of the switchboard.
- Ensuring Compliance: Regular upkeep ensures switchboards comply with the relevant safety standards and regulations, thus preventing penalties and legal problems.
Switchboards are a critical component of modern-day electrical systems. We must maintain them regularly to ensure their smooth operations. However, switchboards have many moving parts interconnected. Due to their complexity, skilled, licensed professionals must perform the maintenance tasks. Besides these tasks, the staff must record all evaluation and restoration works and recommend upgrades to ensure safety and productivity.
At Meta Power Solutions (MPS), we understand the importance of switchboard maintenance and offer comprehensive services to help electrical system operators achieve an electrical infrastructure that is safe, reliable, and compliant with relevant switchboard standards.