Evading electrical failure with quick-thinking
With inclement weather creating difficulties during a routine thermographic inspection at a client facility in South America, a TÜV SÜD Global Risk Consultants (GRC) Infrared Specialist, a Senior Boiler and Machinery Consultant, and a Senior Fire Engineer followed their instincts to extend the inspection by another day. Less than ideal conditions prevented them from reaching vital areas of the facility, including the main substations. “Our team discussed and felt we must try to visit the main electrical substations as we had never seen these areas in winter, and they are critical to operations”, said one inspector. After voicing their concerns to the client contact in corporate, the team was able to return to the facility during a break in the weather.
On that final day of the inspection, the TÜV SÜD GRC team discovered an imminent failure with the potential to cause a devastating, multi-million-dollar loss to the client—what they found was a 40 MVA oil-filled transformer with an A phase secondary connection reading at a temperature of 366 °C or 698 °F. At 66,000 volts, the secondary bushing on one of the facility’s three transformers presented the potential for an immediate and total loss of the unit. Although the facility can operate on two of the three transformers at the location, should this one unit fail, there would be a total loss of production.
Luckily, the electrical manager for the site was able to contact the main electrical group to promptly remove the affected transformer from service, and repairs were underway shortly before the TÜV SÜD GRC team completed the inspection. Recommendations following the discovery of this issue included a review of the scanning program for the facility. With the site performing scans every three months, it was concluded that the issue either arose in-between scans or was possibly not found during a routine scan, the latter of which would indicate a possible training issue.
Although there were fire walls located between the transformers, the units were not equipped with a deluge system. Moreover, with the facility located in a remote area, response time from emergency services would have been slow. Business interruption could have ranged from mere hours to months depending on the severity of the unit’s failure and subsequent damage. At a replacement cost of an estimated $2M USD plus the cost of transportation to a site at very high altitude, the TÜV SÜD GRC team’s persistence and dedication towards ensuring the delivery of high-quality service regardless of adversities is estimated to have saved a valued client upwards of $3M USD and potential months of downtime at the site.
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