How Utilities can Transition from Scheduled Maintenance to a Condition-Based Maintenance Strategy

Maintenance and repairs represent a significant cost for electrical utilities.

A typical utility allocates around 15 percent of its total operations & maintenance (O&M) budget to planned or scheduled maintenance. While generally simple to manage, this approach can be highly inefficient. Minor issues can go unnoticed in between inspections leading to more serious failures, while crews can spend more time travelling between sites and inspecting equipment than actually conducting repairs.

In fact, as much as 20 percent of the total O&M budget is lost due to travel time costs.

Instead of relying on scheduled maintenance, utilities can transition to Condition-Based Maintenance. With the right mix of sensors, software, and strategy, utilities can monitor the health of substation assets remotely, identify and diagnose issues, prioritize responses, and dispatch technicians to conduct the repairs as needed.

This article is part of a series on Succeeding with Thermal & Visual Monitoring Solutions. It will highlight four steps that utilities can take to reduce the overall cost of maintenance, improve reliability, enhance worker safety, and allocate scarce technical resources more effectively.

What is Condition-Based Maintenance?

As the name suggests, Condition-Based Maintenance is conducted in response to the actual health of the equipment, rather than on a scheduled or recurring basis. With fewer truck rolls and less time spent on manual inspections, utilities can realize as much as a 50 percent reduction in O&M expenditures while also improving safety and reliability metrics such as SAIDI and SAIFI.

Like any organizational change initiative, moving away from scheduled maintenance requires utilities to make investments not only in technology, but also in their systems, workflows, and employees. A successful program can take anywhere from a few weeks to months to fully implement, depending on the scale of the change and the number of substations and sites involved.

To help ease the transition, below are four key lessons that utilities can learn from previous implementations.

1) Start Small and Build Over Time

Before diving into the deep end and completely overhauling the existing maintenance strategy, utilities can start small by conducting a targeted pilot program.

Depending on the needs of the utility, sensors could be installed to monitor a few known trouble spots or substations with aging equipment that is more susceptible to failure. Alternatively, utilities may decide to implement a few sensors aimed at a high-value asset, such as a transformer, or to monitor several smaller components, such as a group of breakers.

Regardless of the details, a pilot allows both the Asset Management teams and the Maintenance teams to test the new approach, understand the hardware and software requirements, and identify any bugs or challenges. From there, deployments can be scaled up based on the priorities of the utility and the available budget.

2) Collect and Analyze the Data

Once the hardware is installed at the substation and the system is up and running, the O&M teams can begin tracking and analyzing the incoming data. Thermal and visual sensors can be combined with other sensors, such as gas analysis or voltage meters, to gain a comprehensive view of the equipment.

The data from these sensors is collected in a centralized Asset Performance Management system and displayed to the team. Asset Management teams can then monitor the health of the asset, identify trends, detect issues, and dispatch crews to conduct repairs.

3) Verify the Accuracy of the Data

While the ultimate goal is to reduce the need for physical inspections, crews will initially need to visit the site to verify the accuracy of the data and ensure it reflects the actual condition of the equipment.

Allocate time early in the project to check gauges, take physical measurements, and compare the data collected by the sensors. Over time, the need for physical inspections will decrease, and crews will only need to be on-site in response to a known issue.

4) Train the Team

Successfully transitioning to Condition-Based Maintenance requires more than just technology. Team members must be fully comfortable with the new system and understand how it impacts their day-to-day job responsibilities.

Initial training should occur as soon as the system is deployed. With the help of the vendor, training can be tailored to be relevant to the unique needs of each role. For example, the Asset Management team should learn how to navigate the dashboard, access and interpret the data, integrate with other systems, and set up and configure new substations. Maintenance teams, on the other hand, can learn how to input field notes, access work orders, and view maintenance guides and documentation.

Over time, ongoing training can be conducted both as a refresher and update for existing employees and to introduce the system to anyone who has come on board since the previous session.

Achieving the Benefits of Condition-Based Maintenance

A Condition-Based Maintenance program offers utilities numerous advantages over a traditional time-based approach. By reducing the need for costly truck rolls and physical inspections, utilities can reduce overall maintenance costs, improve reliability and safety, and allocate scarce resources in response to known issues.

Effectively transitioning doesn’t happen overnight. But by starting small, collecting the right data, verifying the accuracy of the data, and conducting regular training, utilities can successfully implement the new approach and achieve the full benefits of a Condition-Based Maintenance strategy.