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Upgrading a University's Electrical Systems

Circuit Breaker Core Exchange, Fewer Outages | Case Study

When a university in North Texas called on National Field Services, National Switchgear's affiliate company providing engineering, commissioning, maintenance, repair, testing and training in the electrical power system industry, to repair and upgrade their circuit breakers, we came up with a service solution that was faster and more effective than what the client was asking for.

After a round of testing by a competitor of National Field Services, the university realized their 1970s vintage circuit breakers located in multiple substations around campus needed to be repaired and updated. Their plan was to remove the compromised breakers and send them off to be serviced while temporarily replacing them with spares. Because of the size of the job and because outages had to be planned around school vacations, the university assumed the process would take 18 to 24 months. To get quotes for the project, they reached out to a few companies including National Field Services.

National Field Services assessed the equipment that needed to be serviced and then contacted National Switchgear. With its massive inventory, National Switchgear had more than enough of the same breaker types the university needed to propose a more streamlined solution: the core exchange.

Essentially, National Switchgear remanufactured circuit breakers already in its inventory that were the same type as those on site to meet the university's precise needs. National Field Services then replaced the university's equipment with the upgraded breakers and the old equipment was received back into National Switchgear's stock as core exchanges. This streamlined approach meant that the project could be completed with only three outages, while the original plan would have entailed up to 16.

According to National Field Services VP of Operations Eric Beckman, "the biggest challenge when we do core exchanges is making sure everything matches up exactly. Every piece of switchgear is built a little bit differently. Just knowing the breaker type and catalog number is not good enough. You have to have all your ducks in a row to know that these replacement breakers will truly be a one-for-one swap."

And how does one do that? "A lot of it comes with experience and knowledge of how past switchgear is constructed," Beckman said. "It's knowing what data to collect during onsite visits. It takes a very experienced person to be able to identify that. You can't just go out there and take part numbers down."

At the completion of the project, the university had a set of upgraded circuit breakers with solid state technology that gave them increased overcurrent protection flexibility, on-board metering and the benefits of a standardized trip unit across the entire plant.

"Now when they train their people on how to maintain and work on their electrical equipment, there's just one device they have to be trained on," said National Switchgear President Robert Koren, "as opposed to having to train them on equipment from multiple manufacturers with multiple variations."

What was the key to completing this project more quickly and effectively than the university had originally planned? The combined strengths of National Switchgear and National Field Services.

"One of the advantages we have over competitors is having the two affiliate companies that let us draw on each other's expertise," Koren said. "The guys on the Field Services side of the business are technicians who are very knowledgeable when it comes to testing and maintaining a piece of equipment. The guys on the Switchgear side of the business understand all of the intricacies of a breaker, and how it can be configured."

Beckman agreed. "It takes both sides of what we offer to execute a project like this," he said. "There are very few companies who can do that."

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