By Mike Elms, Managing Director, CENTIEL UK

Zen…that wonderful state of mind, of calmness, stability, and clarity; a mind free of delusions and confusions; a mind at peace! So, what has that got to do with UPS maintenance I hear you ask?

In his own words, Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”  The same could be said for this article!

You may well be wondering then, why I chose these as my opening lines?  Well, apart from feeling the need to write an article entitled: Zen and the Art of UPS Maintenance for some time, there is an odd parallel between Pirsig’s work and UPS maintenance.  On Pirsig’s journey, one character doesn’t maintain his new, expensive motorbike.   By contrast, the narrator pays attention to detail and adjusts and fixes small issues to ensure that, as his own beloved motorbike ages, it always continues to perform well.

This similar attention to detail can also relate to UPS maintenance. The rational analysis of an experienced engineer to maintain and fix small issues before they become significant problems is essential.  It’s part and parcel of keeping your UPS in tip-top condition.

However, often a service contract is seen as an ‘add on’…. but the value of looking after equipment properly far outweighs the cost of the contract.

As an example, one of many I could eulogise about, one of our engineers was recently called to a large company.  At 2am the emergency fire services attended site as smoke was billowing from the bottom of a UPS…not a good sign! And not one of our supplied units I might add. Simple investigation, involving following your nose to the area of the most pungent smoky smell, soon revealed that one of the internal capacitors had failed. For those of us who have experienced these before it was the usual “burst” scenario.

Looking back at the service record, what do we find? Lo and behold, the regular bi-annual service reports clearly stated that the capacitors were many years past the manufacturer’s recommended replacement date and should have be replaced.

Fortunately, the load was not lost, and the onsite facility manager had reacted swiftly and had transferred the load to external bypass and isolated and made safe the UPS unit. But what potentially could have been the consequences of loss of power to the critical load which could so easily have been avoided? In simple economic terms, the downtime for the organisation could so easily run into thousands or millions of pounds.

The fact is that proper maintenance of UPS equipment offers more than just that Zen-like peace of mind.

The challenge is that viewed in isolation, good service contracts may appear expensive. But keep the bigger picture in mind!  Rather than viewing a service contract as an expense, perhaps it’s time to turn this concept on its head and see it as adding value.  After all, look at how much poor maintenance could cost?

When selecting a service company, some quick and easy diligence will pay dividends. Datacentre, or facilities, managers need to ensure the people carrying out the maintenance contract are appropriate and skilled, plus follow the recommendations provided.  UPS engineers are highly specialised, so do seek out the experts.  After all you wouldn’t just get any old Joe Bloggs down the road to maintain your prized motorcycle, would you?

Another perception is that the UPS installation may be initially be aggressively priced to secure the business but the bolted-on maintenance contract is disproportionately expensive. Often as not, the maintenance pricing is not sought until after the UPS has actually been procured and installed.  One way to keep control of costs is to ensure the supply and installation contract includes maintenance.  Stipulate service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure quotes are like-for-like and comparable.  For example, two maintenance visits per year, 24/7 technical help line, four-hour response and be sure you know if call-outs and spares are included or additional.

Also consider if there are additional services that are of benefit?  Everyone who knows me is aware that my biggest bugbear is battery sizing but also correctly maintaining them.  One unserviceable battery block can render the entire UPS system inoperable for its intended purpose.  Therefore, I wholly endorse regular impedance testing and an annual loadbank test.

Even better would be a battery monitoring system.  Not one that simply monitors but one that actually automatically controls the charging across each individual block. As soon as they are installed batteries start to degrade.  While impedance testing offers a forward visible trend of the degradation of batteries, it’s not live monitoring.  Investing in a battery monitoring system (BMS) can provide live monitoring in addition to battery conditioning, by equalising the charging voltage.  In this way, with a large battery installation, a good BMS can prolong the life of the batteries for an extra 3-5 years.

Warranty should also be considered as part of the initial supply and installation contract as warranties vary, and this could impact your maintenance contract. A fairly standard, two-year warranty should include work undertaken and parts providing manufacturers’ recommendations are followed. In this way, you could receive a fully comprehensive maintenance contract for the price of a standard one for the first two years. Visibility of the warranty terms upfront will the total cost of ownership (TCO) to be compared between quotes and there are no surprises later.

Also do your diligence on the maintenance company itself: how many engineers do they have?  What’s their support like?  Can they provide a reference?  It may even be possible to visit a site which they look after to get customer feedback.

The team at CENTIEL has been at the forefront of UPS development over several decades.   We are trusted and always happy to advise on where and how systems can become vulnerable.  Our goal is clear: to achieve the ultimate availability of power possible for our client base.  Our leading-edge technology, backed-up with our comprehensive maintenance contracts carried out by our experienced engineering teams ensure our clients’ power has the very best protection at all times.

I’m not entirely sure about all this Zen and enlightenment stuff, but a good service and maintenance contract will certainly give you peace of mind that your UPS will protect your critical load for years to come.

Originally featured in Networks Europe Magazine Oct 2020.

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