Arguably the biggest story of 2005 was Mother Nature and her ability to unleash devastating weather at will. Hurricanes, snowstorms, earthquakes and even tsunamis ravaged parts of the earth and disrupted the way of life for entire cities. Not lost in all of this is that 2006 could very well face a similar situation with hurricanes and snowstorms. If anything, businesses now understand the importance of being prepared.
For a manufacturing facility, being prepared means ensuring a constant and uninterruptible source of power to remain up and running. Although we will always have to “batten down the hatches” and evacuate until threatening weather passes, businesses must be able to withstand a loss of electricity for an extended period of time to ensure everything from continued operations to inventory controls.
The Weakened Power Grid
The power grid has been a large concern over the years since demand has placed continued stress on the system. An increase in the number of users and aging transmission lines has caused frequent “brownouts” in areas throughout North America. Weather-related outages can strike anywhere, at any time. From sizzling temperatures in the summer to icy conditions in the winter, weather can cripple the power grid in every geographic location.
Manufacturing facilities must plan accordingly and include a backup power resource into their business continuity strategy. Now that so much of a facility’s infrastructure is tied to large computer networks, it is even more important to ensure a constant flow of supplemental power throughout the facility, no matter how long the grid is down.
Depending on the size of the operation, manufacturing facilities should be equipped with generators that range anywhere from 100 kW to 1,000 kW in size. Generators of this size range anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000, not including accessories such as fuel tanks and transfer switches.
Backing up the Power System
Operations managers should understand that a successful backup power system is more than just a generator itself. A high quality transfer switch, and enough fuel, is just as critical as the generator. Transfer switches are the components that transfer the distribution of power from the traditional source to the generator when the power is interrupted or knocked out entirely. A quality transfer switch can eliminate downtime from power grid loss to generator start-up. Higher quality transfer switches let owners operate the generator remotely, which can prove beneficial if the location cannot be accessed because of damaged roads, bridges or down power lines. Since today’s facilities are dependent on large computer systems, having a reliable transfer switch that immediately links over to the backup generator is one of the most critical elements to the entire system.
There are different kinds of fuel available to power a variety of generators. Most run on propane, natural gas or diesel. Propane and natural gas consume more than diesel, but with propane, facility managers will have to bury a tank. Natural gas and propane generators usually cost about twice as much as diesel. Diesel is probably the most cost-efficient method, however, most diesel generators carry a fuel capacity between 24 hours and 72 hours, so owners will need to make accommodations for additional fuel delivery during extended power outages.
Despite all the recent attention surrounding the hurricanes and other power outages, many facilities are still without a reliable source of backup power. This can be very dangerous since most generator suppliers do not have inventory available for immediate delivery. In fact, for many suppliers, order fulfillment can take up to 36 weeks. Owners can research more about generators through the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA).
In every part of North America, manufacturing facilities now face the frequent possibility of power loss. Although the first priority will always be to ensure structural stability and security, those facilities that can provide continuous, high quality service and operations will experience the highest customer satisfaction marks. For this reason alone, managers must consider an uninterruptible power system centered around a backup power generator that has the capability of providing an adequate level of power for extended operating hours.