Once upon a time, a consultant could specify a UPS for a project that would ensure the client got what they wanted and that very same equipment would arrive on site, be installed, checked and commissioned successfully, then everyone lived happily ever after. However, in today’s world, costs are being increasingly scrutinised and we are seeing more and more examples of ‘value engineering’ coming into play, sometimes to the detriment of the outcome of the project.

What I mean by ‘value engineering’ is that the contractor takes on the spec as a design and build, they then have to make a decision on a product which just about meets requirements but doesn’t always adhere to the original spec. This usually happens as a result of trying to control costs.

The challenge for most projects is that they run over budget, this is often due to the limited information provided at the design stage. This results in one or two ‘guesstimates’ in the spec which is then handed over to the contractor to piece together an installation that will work, for a budget which is usually smaller than what’s really needed.

There is more than one road to Rome, as they say, and there is always more than one solution which will ‘do the job’.

Therefore, the spec will usually name several manufacturers who are suitable to provide an ‘equal and approved alternative’. With the inevitable pressure on budgets, the contractor can be forced into selecting the cheapest option, which may end up costing the client more in running costs plus maintenance, repair and replacement later down the line.

How would it be then, if the ‘equal and approved alternative’ could outperform the spec and still be the most cost-effective way forward? It would be a win-win for client, consultant and contractor alike. To achieve this result requires some joined-up thinking at the planning stage. Why not invite manufacturers into the discussion earlier to pool knowledge resources, ideas and come up with workable options which will save client costs over the long term? Talk is cheap, making mistakes can be costly!

A typical example would be the requirement for 100kW N+1 to support a critical load. Often, we see two standalone UPS systems of say 2x100kW, however, a better solution could be modular. For example: 6x20kW modules would reduce the overall footprint and downsize the battery requirement from 200KW to 120KW. Further, the six modules would need far less switch gear than the two standalone UPS systems (which would need paralleled switch gear). Although the resilience level is the same at N+1, the speed in which redundancy is regained is more than ten times faster than the traditional approach, improving availability. In this example, a loss of redundancy (+1) in a modular system would be the case of losing 1 x 20kW module. Comparably with the standalone solution, a loss of redundancy means a loss of 100kW of UPS, which could take up to six hours of repair onsite or result in that unit being replaced.

At CENTIEL we have recently worked on a couple of interesting projects where we were able to offer an alternative solution to solve particular challenges. By working closely with the contractor and consultant we fulfilled the spec in the most cost-effective way possible.

The first project was for a London client in the financial district, where the spec was for a full 250kW modular UPS frame to support a day two load and resilience level of 200kW N+1. It was identified during the early stages of implementation that the load requirements were actually lower than the anticipated day two spec. We advised supplying 4x50kW modules providing 150kW N+1 to support the actual day one load, reducing the project budget by matching the actual load while leaving the infrastructure for future growth. The day one power requirement was only for four modules, we left the infrastructure in place including a spare bay for an additional module within the UPS frame, the full battery rack and DC isolation unit in place. As the load had increased a year later, we added the fifth module. The architecture of the modular system allowed us to install the fifth module and associated batteries while the system was still live and supporting the load. This enabled the client to reduce the CapEx until required. Right-sizing UPS systems in this way can save considerable expenditure on initial outlay and running costs.

However, it’s not always about juggling module requirements. The second project was a hospital intensive care installation where space in the UPS plant room was particularly limited. The UPS weighed only about half a tonne, but the amount of batteries needed to support the Hospital’s requirement of a 60-minute run time weighed around nine tonnes, so took up a fair proportion of the space available. We designed bespoke battery racks optimising the configuration for ease of access and maintenance of both the UPS and batteries. We maximised use of the floor to ceiling space to create a workable area, ensuring there was enough room to allow for the rest of the equipment including DC isolation, bypass panel, UPS distribution panel and building management service (BMS) which all needed to be accessed readily by our maintenance engineers.

The key to the success of these projects was the open and productive discussions between all parties involved to come up with the best long-term solution for the client, in contrast to a ‘just buy the cheapest’ approach. By working together as trusted advisors, we can help solve these common commercial challenges with solutions that can outperform the spec without compromising on performance.

Remember ‘talk is cheap’ but choosing an unsuitable UPS can work out to be very expensive in the long run!

 

Article originally featured in Electronics Magazine October 2019

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