Want to reduce human error, simplify compliance reporting, and spot premature failure?
By: Allan Evora
Today’s healthcare facilities are looking for ways to reduce operation and maintenance costs. Some reduce staff. Others cross-train between facilities. Automation is an underused cost reduction option when it comes to documenting compliance testing and reporting.
By automating, you free up valuable man-hours, mitigate risks, and increase reporting accuracy. One area where automation has the potential to significantly reduce costs is monthly emergency power supply system (EPSS) generator and ATS testing.
Codes and standards by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) require regular testing of healthcare EPSS, which includes tests on generators and ATSs at least 12 times per year.
The benefits realized by automating some or all ongoing test procedures are quite significant.
3 Reasons to Automate EPSS Testing
With the rise in complicated systems and fewer resources available to conduct tests, facility managers are looking to automation to solve some old testing problems.
1. Reduce human error and workload
Today’s standard manual testing methodology, complete with stopwatches and clipboards, presents serious accuracy and timing challenges.
Not only does automation reduce the clumsiness of current testing methods, it can also take advantage of real-life power conditions. For instance, if your facility undergoes a loss of power and the generator runs under load, the event may satisfy the monthly test requirement.
However, you can only take advantage of this situation if your system is always watching the generator, and recording/evaluating events to determine if they satisfy NFPA test criteria.
For owners concerned over autonomous testing, an automated system can still allow personnel to be involved. It allows them the freedom to use sight, sound, and even smell to detect potential problems related to the engine, generator, or fuel system.
2. Simplify compliance reporting
Automation requires the installation of submetering at both the emergency generator and ATS which collects and forwards valuable data recorded in the background, such as:
- Analog information related to generated power
- Statuses (generator running, generator supplying power to load, transfer switch in emergency)
- Starter battery voltage
Through the data recorded by submeters, an automated generator testing system provides documented evidence of regular tests. Reports are automatically saved, emailed to appropriate personnel, and can also be brought up for inspection during an audit.
3. Spot premature failure and maintenance opportunities
The point of a generator test is to identify problems that could prevent a transfer to backup power.
Automation systems can be used as diagnostic tools for increasing longevity and generator performance. They can help identify premature failure and potential maintenance that should occur on the generator ahead of scheduled maintenance.
For example, you could utilize the sequence of events to detect an increase in the time from generator start to when the generator is ready to supply power to the load. Or, proactively monitor battery voltage and fuel tank levels, and alert maintenance personnel to potential malfunctions.
3 Ways to Use Automation for EPSS Tests
Think automation of your generator tests might be a good solution for your facility? Here are three parts of the process you can automate to make your life a little easier.
1. Automated scheduling
Trusting a computer to test a generator in a sensitive environment can be terrifying. Luckily, it’s simple to configure the control system to send a test confirmation to an operator in advance of the test. Before the system will initiate the test, the operator is required to acknowledge the request. Setting up a regularly occurring test schedule saves time and ensures tests occur within allotted NFPA-required intervals.
2. Automated testing and retesting
In current methodology, operators must physically initiate tests. Because transfer switches are typically scattered across multiple electrical rooms within a hospital, this represents significant cost. An automated system allows centralized control of tests without visiting each switch. If the system detects a failed test, functionality can be added to automatically schedule or run another without waiting for the first to complete.
3. Automated test verification and documentation
Manual NFPA requirement test verification is easily replaced by simple system configuration and analysis. This configuration is also intelligent enough to terminate a test if it won’t meet requirements by the test’s completion, reducing wasted generator runtime. Monthly reports outlining starting and ending times, generator loads, ATS transitions, nameplate percentage, etc. can be automatically generated for every ATS and generator for archiving, printing, and audit submission purposes.
You can probably already support automated testing
Most modern emergency power supply systems already have the ability to support automatic testing and recording. For older systems, an investment in wiring and potential hardware additions may be required to support remote initiation from a central location.
Automating generator testing is a simple way to increase the longevity and performance of your emergency power supply system, while helping you easily meet compliance requirements.
Allan D. Evora is a leading expert in control systems integration and president of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. With a background at Boeing Company and General Electric, Allan made the decision to establish Affinity Energy in 2002. Allan is an alumnus of Syracuse University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, graduate of the NC State Energy Management program, and qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP).
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.