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When time is of the essence

An electrician's experiences

April 2013

These days, electricians everywhere - whether installing, retrofitting, or troubleshooting - know the challenges of getting the job done faster and with fewer people. At the same time, the increasing sophistication of the systems in plants and commercial buildings requires more testing than ever.

Bill Wedge, owner of Wedge Electric, a commercial and industrial electrical contractor serving Southern California, focuses his crews on providing quality, cost-effective system design, installation, and service. Lately, he’s found some new developments in testing equipment that help him and his crews work faster and smarter.

Wedge Electric’s customers include injection mold and extrusion facilities and manufacturers of a variety of products, from lighting to concrete products. The firm installs and troubleshoots electrical power and control systems, handling jobs from utility power distribution to programming drives for new production lines.

From running cable to major retrofits

Whether the project is as simple as providing power for new motors or a more complex retrofit, time is of the essence. Not long ago, Wedge completed a challenging retrofit within a fiber/cement plant. The company installed 7,000 feet of conduit, 68,000 feet of conductors, and more than 275 control points, plus wired 25 motors and 7 drives. “When we were ready for commissioning, the testing equipment came out,” says Wedge.

The tests included all the standards: meggering feeders and motor loads; verifying supply voltage and frequency within MCCs (motor control centers), remote drive enclosures, and PLC enclosures; and confirming status inputs and outputs from PLC to field devices. After I/O checkout was completed, they were ready to energize loads. Each motor was measured for voltage and current upon start-up and under full load to verify operational parameters. “With these types of projects, success is measured by the details. I/O checkout is merely a gauge to measure the successful execution of such details,” says Wedge.

Like many electricians, Wedge’s tool bag includes the Fluke 87V Industrial Multimeter, Fluke 289 True RMS Industrial Logging Multimeter, and Fluke 1520 MegOhmMeter.

Both the 87V and 289 digital multimeters (DMMs) feature Min/Max/Average recording, which enables him to identify instantaneous signal fluctuations. “Min/Max recording is a big help when you’re testing a motor,” says Wedge. “You can see the motor operate and capture the inrush current as it starts up. It’s a split-second event but the meter captures it so you can use this information to verify selection of the motor’s short circuit and ground fault protection and overload protection device.”

Untethered measurements

Fluke 233

You can place the removable display of the 233 where you can easily see it and then connect the multimeter to the test point.

In the last few years Wedge has added two newer Fluke meters - the 233 Remote Display Multimeter and the 381 Remote Display True RMS AC/DC Clamp Meter with iFlex™. These tools also include Min/Max/Average recording, but even more useful are the remote displays that enable one technician to be in two places at once.

For example, with the Fluke 381 Clamp Meter with iFlex, Wedge can clamp the flexible current probe around a conductor - even in a hard to access area - remove the display, and walk up to 30 feet (9 meters) away to operate controls. Or he can move out of the arc flash zone, remove personal protective equipment (PPE), and still be able to see real-time readings. Likewise, with the 233 he can place the removable display where he can easily see it and then connect the multimeter to the test point without having to worry about being able to see the front of the meter. The remote display shows him everything he needs to know.

That convenience really paid off in troubleshooting an extruder barrel heater where multiple control enclosures are located on each level of a three-level platform. “We needed to verify the current and voltage on some silicon controlled rectifiers (SCRs) inside a cabinet that was on the top level of the platform, and obtain a temperature reading from a barrel zone on the first level.” says Wedge. “I plugged my 233 into the panel on the third level of the structure, and then came down to ground level with the remote display and with a different meter verified the actual temperature of the barrel to confirm that the controls were operating the heating element accurately.” In the past, this task would have required having another technician to assist with obtaining measurements and communicating not only the information, but also the time and duration of event.

“The 233 remote display is definitely a huge timesaver; I find myself using it constantly,” says Wedge. In most of the facilities where Wedge works he needs to wear arc flash PPE and close all electrical enclosure and panel doors. “The beauty of these remote display tools is that you can suit up, connect your meter, close the panel door, and move out of the arc flash zone so you can have the face shield up and get all your critical information out of harm’s way,” says Wedge.

Wedge is looking forward to further expanding the ability for one technician to take multiple simultaneous readings at a distance from the test point with the new Fluke CNX 3000 wireless system. Check out his thoughts on some of the ways he expects to put the new wireless system to work.