Reducing Unplanned Downtime with Predictive Maintenance
May 07, 2015
Tim Ford
Customer Feedback, Advanced Manufacturing and Industry Expertise Help Shape GE’s New, Predictive Low-Voltage Molded Case Circuit Breaker Line
In the oil, gas, offshore and marine industries, system downtime can be detrimental; surprise power outages can create severe issues, often requiring timely and costly repairs that drastically increase overall operating expenses. Even standard maintenance to electrical equipment and power supplies can produce unwanted downtime. In 2013, 19 percent of U.S. refinery shut downs were due to electrical disruptions or power failures and 23 percent a result of maintenance being performed. No matter what the size of the equipment is—whether it be large equipment powering a rig or ship, or smaller components such as the circuit breakers that help to ensure significant, system-wide damage does not occur if the power is lost—downtime can be devastating. 
In a perfect operating scenario, a circuit breaker will never have to trip or respond to an electrical problem. In the real world, this is often not the case. Many circuit breakers may sit for months, years, even decades without any action, but must remain able to switch the power off in an instant if a system-damaging event (like an arc flash) occurs. For this reason, circuit breaker testing is absolutely crucial to maintain the health of an electrical distribution system. Planned system checks, testing and maintenance are also critical in heavy industrial applications including oil and gas facilities and marine vessels where the potential for damage is much greater. 
In marine applications, for example, an arc-flash event that takes place in the middle of the ocean can result in severe ship fires. An arc flash produces temperatures as high as 35,000 degrees—hotter than the surface of the sun. Isolated at sea, there is no fire department nearby to help contain and reduce the damage caused by an arc-flash event. If it is not mitigated quickly and effectively, or prevented all together, the results can be catastrophic. Maintenance is essential in ensuring the ships electrical system is up to par in case an event does occur.     
With any molded-case circuit breaker (MCCB), however, maintenance can prove to be quite challenging. An electrical maintenance operator may need remove the breaker from service, test it, evaluate the results, reinstall the unit and bring the system back online. Not only can this be timely and costly, but also it can be hard to plan, especially in marine and oil and gas applications that cannot afford to have extended downtimes while the breaker is being tested. The ability to predict when and if maintenance needs to be performed is critical to mitigate power loss. GE’s new GuardEonTM molded-case circuit breaker does just that.  
GE’s new molded-case circuit breaker platform (GuardEon) was designed with the operator in mind. Utilizing FastWorks methodologies, GE spent time talking with a variety of industrial customers, gathering feedback about what features matter most, what their ideal circuit breaker looks like and what it is capable of. This connection with the customer extended from initial design to putting fully functional samples in the hands of customers to test—enabling them to make suggestions for changes at multiple points along the way.  
In addition to incorporating feedback from customer conversations, GE was able to utilize its company-wide domain expertise and innovative resources through the GE Store to identify industry trends and needs. Many key features laid out by customers and determined through collaboration with GE’s Power Conversion and Oil & Gas businesses have been incorporated into the new GuardEon MCCB. These features include the 200-kiloampere short-circuit rating that is required in marine applications, high shock and vibration ratings that are compliant with multiple industry standards, a rotating face plate for versatile installation configurations and clear, brightly colored labels. The new circuit breaker also was designed with 25 percent fewer internal parts than previous versions, reducing the number of potential fail points, improving unit reliability and driving long-term sustainability. 
Another aspect that came through as important to GE’s customers was a widely available assortment of accessories for the GuardEon line of circuit breakers. With multiple versions of the breaker available (ranging from a 150/160-amp unit to the larger 1,200/1,600-amp breaker), it was clear that there was a desire for all GuardEon accessories to be universal. Knowing this, GE designed elements such as its internal components to be compatible with every version of the MCCB and its rotary handles, motor operators, internal switches and other external accessories to be interchangeable within the smaller and larger frames. This simplifies the ordering process for industrial customers since the complete catalog of accessories will work for multiple GuardEon breakers. With this standardization, customers can interchange parts more freely and save inventory stocking space. For example, instead of requiring individual back-up rotary handles or internal switches to be ordered for each model of breaker installed in their application, customers can keep one, uniform accessory on hand to use if a repair/replacement needs to be done. 
GE’s GuardEon MCCBs perform calculations to determine the health of the breaker, particularly how much contact wear has occurred. Every time a circuit is opened or closed, part of the breaker’s contacts are burned away. This can cause a breaker to overheat and fail unexpectedly—and a failed breaker can lead to an array of problems in heavy industrial applications. In addition, GE’s GuardEon MCCBs feature on-board timing functionality which is used to measure the breaker’s fault reaction time. This enables testing to be done on the unit without having to remove it. This is not an option in other breakers found within the industry today. This ability results in reduced system downtime and virtually eliminates the need for manual checking to be done on-site—reducing operating and maintenance costs and minimizing direct contact with the electrical equipment. These results are highly desirable in the oil and gas and marine industries as power losses can result in safety and functionality issues, and on-site maintenance can be hampered by limited space and availability. In addition, reductions in downtime and required maintenance can minimize total cost of ownership. 
The new circuit breakers are being developed and tested in GE’s advanced manufacturing lab in Plainville, Connecticut and will be manufactured in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, at one of GE Energy Connections’s first brilliant factories. The factory will utilize methods such as automated and robotic assembly to drastically reduce manufacturing lead times (by up to 70 percent for some components). Electrical safety and continuous operation are vital to applications in the oil and gas and marine industries. With many of these applications isolated from the rest of the world, even the smallest electrical problem can turn in to a larger, costly—and sometimes catastrophic—issue. According to an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) study in the U.S., a single arc-flash incident can cost operators up to $15 million once healthcare costs, workers compensation, replacing equipment, increased insurance premium, and lost production time are factored in. With predictive maintenance, the ability to anticipate and schedule shutdowns can mean avoiding costly outages and downtime.

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Tim Ford
Tim Ford is the senior product manager for industrial circuit breakers at GE Energy Connections’s Industrial Solutions business, where he is responsible for developing product, marketing and commercialization strategies in North America and globally overseeing GE’s molded-case circuit breaker portfolio. 
Tim joined GE in 2006 as a product line manager, his role continuing to grow to include product management responsibility for all circuit breakers in North America. From 1997 to 2005, Tim held engineering and senior product management positions at ABB and provided engineering support for medium-voltage substation utility circuit breakers.
Tim holds a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University Institute of Technology. He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a licensed professional engineer (PE), a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).