Technology Builds Troubleshooting Teamwork
EP Editorial Staff | November 14, 2016
Advanced capabilities are making tedious identification and resolution of many equipment problems a thing of the past.
Electrical-service contractors work on a range of industrial equipment. That often involves troubleshooting problems all the way back to the main electrical service, far from the machines where problems are occurring.
“Many of our customers have millwrights or mechanics on staff, but some don’t have their own electricians,” said Michael Kelly, a master electrician and owner of The Electrical Department Co. in Guelph, Ontario. “We meet that need for them.”
He described a recent call from a box manufacturer that was seeing malformed cardboard sheets come off its production line from time to time. An initial inspection failed to show any malfunctioning machinery, so the company called Kelly.
Getting to a problem’s root cause takes hours of tedious troubleshooting on the part of an electrician. Kelly, though, has found a way to shorten that process: wireless test tools connected to his smartphone.
“We have eight Fluke Connect tools and have used them to measure as many as seven different readings at the same time, while I troubleshoot or help mechanical workers find problems,” stated Kelly. “We use Fluke Connect to share the data with the mechanics so they become our partners in troubleshooting.”
The approach works well since electricians don’t typically know what, exactly, a gear is supposed to be doing. Sharing the readings with mechanics in real time using the software helps engage them in the troubleshooting process to more quickly determine whether the issue is mechanical or electrical.
From time to time, according to Kelly, what may have appeared to be an electrical issue turns out to be worn bearings or other parts causing current spikes. “It may look like an electrical problem because the numbers are off,” he said. “But sometimes we find that a chewed-up gear is why you’re having those electrical readings.”
To leverage the system, Kelly first connects wireless voltage and/or current modules to various device inputs and outputs. Then, he creates an ad hoc team of mechanics and equipment operators in the software, adding their contact information through an app on his smartphone.
Next, he finds a safe location and, again using the app, starts monitoring the production line as it is put through its paces. While operators push buttons to activate parts of the line, the ad hoc troubleshooting team checks measurements on their respective smartphones, using the software’s ShareLive function. ShareLive lets the entire team see the same set of measurements as they start and stop the machinery. Through this capability, they can isolate individual devices and check voltages until they finally narrow down the anomaly. In the case of the misshapen cardboard, the problem was found to be a gear assembly exerting abnormal pressure.
Kelly explained that he also frequently uses the system for logging, instead of dragging out his larger, more complex energy-logging equipment. As he put it, he just clips on the current or voltage module, closes the panel door, re-energizes the system, and then monitors it from outside the arc-flash zone.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to take measurements at the control panel while the machine is running because we have to suit up,” Kelly says. “With Fluke Connect, however, we can connect the modules and close the panel, then walk out of the danger zone and read the results on our smartphones.” MT