Owning, operating, and maintaining a business comes with a massive number of tasks to perform and factors to keep track of. The last thing you’re looking for is to add one more thing to keep an eye on. However, stick with us and you’ll soon understand not only how important commercial electrical maintenance is, but how keeping up with it can actually reduce your worries and workload.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES ELECTRICAL MAINTENANCE ENCOMPASS?
Commercial electrical maintenance is an umbrella term that refers to a wide array of tasks (and services, if you plan on enlisting a professional electrical contractor). Maintenance includes everything from indoor and outdoor lighting to signage, wiring, and electrical outlets.
Generally speaking, maintenance for commercial electrical systems is somewhat similar to maintenance for anything else mechanical-related. This means inspections, cleaning, optimizations, and performance evaluations. Electrical maintenance also frequently goes hand in hand with electrical code inspections and corrections, helping to keep your business safe and code-compliant.
THE GOALS & BENEFITS OF ELECTRICAL MAINTENANCE
The best way to really get across the importance of electrical maintenance is to point out both its goals and the potential benefits that the service provides. The service focuses on these goals:
Avoiding unnecessary electrical complications
Improving electrical safety in your commercial business
Locating and reducing risks for electrical fires, shock, and electrocution
Minimizing costly electrical repairs
Extending the lifespan of your electrical systems and appliances
Optimizing energy efficiency and reducing energy waste
DO I REALLY NEED COMMERCIAL ELECTRICAL MAINTENANCE?
It’s true that many electrical systems can operate for years with no trouble whatsoever. But, focusing on what hasn’t happened is never a good way to avoid what could happen. While you may be using the same lighting systems you have been for the past five years, there is nothing stopping those same lighting systems from failing tomorrow due to a lack of routine care, or a power surge problem that has gone undiagnosed for years.
In the end, it’s all about prevention and problem avoidance, which are things that most business owners or managers are quite adept at doing as they operate their business. Scheduling a professional electrical inspection and maintenance service can ensure that your electrical systems operate at their best, helping to reduce both risks and costs. Do you have to schedule it? Not usually. Will you benefit immensely from scheduling it? Absolutely.
SCHEDULE COMMERCIAL ELECTRICAL MAINTENANCE SERVICES IN TAMPA & CLEARWATER, FL
Hoffman Electrical & A/C provides comprehensive commercial electrical inspections and maintenance services. Our technicians are extensively trained, highly skilled, and totally dedicated to ensuring your business runs as consistently and as smoothly as possible.
How fast is the world changing in the manufacturing industry? Today’s technological evolution is altering automation industries at a much faster pace, in comparison to when I graduated from engineering school in 1991. Back in the 1990’s, as I installed numerous automation systems, I was confident that the major components I utilized at that time would still be available for purchase and be supported by the manufacturer for 10 years minimum. However, that’s no longer the case.
It seems new and updated automation controllers (AC), AC drives, operator interfaces, sensors, safety devices, and servo motors are being introduced every two or three years. These fast-paced industry component changes mean that maintenance departments need more and better training than ever before. Additional and up-to-date training must match the frequency in which companies are purchasing new machines in order to meet greater production demands.
In addition to automation advancements, system networking is also changing how manufacturing companies operate. When I look back to the 1990’s and 2000’s, many of the machines I helped install on manufacturing floors were standalone and not connected to a network. Those older standalone devices now require more time and resources to keep them up and running.
One solution to consider is how a connected enterprise can support manufacturers in today’s fast-paced production environment. Almost all new equipment being installed on manufacturing floors is now networked together via Ethernet. The connected enterprise can provide insight into how well a company’s manufacturing processes are fine-tuned.
As many companies continue to expand to keep up with customer demands, the new challenge manufacturers face is the shortage of skilled workers to fill open positions. Companies must utilize automation and automation training to get ahead of skilled worker shortages. Training can aid employees in becoming more efficient, resulting in increased manufacturing production.
With today’s skilled worker shortage, it is extremely important that facilities have all critical operating equipment residing on an Ethernet network. An Ethernet-connected facility allows the health of each machine, along with production changes, to be monitored and controlled, requiring fewer people to oversee entire plants. Technology today also allows employees to receive and monitor machine health status reports directly on their smartphones. Workers can complete basic troubleshooting with the simple touch of a button and without having to walk out to a machine on the factory floor.
As today’s automation industry evolves at an ever-increasing pace, manufacturers must train employees to command automation systems. In-house, highly trained automation experts can help employers troubleshoot, meet the latest technological demands, and facilitate innovative solutions. Employers who are proactive in integrating the latest automation products along with applicable training, will ensure their enterprise remains competitive and profitable.
For electrical contractors located near leisure areas or national parks, consider working at recreational vehicle (RV) parks. Like mini towns or allotments, RV parks require the same type of electrical work as most other jobs—upgrades, renovation, replacing transformers—albeit with more consideration needed for weather, terrain and the vacation season. Many electrical contractors, especially those out west, are taking advantage of this work.
Mills Electric Co.
The company usually does two or three complete jobs a year that involve total upgrades, and it also does a lot of regular maintenance and repair work.
“Some of these parks that have been around since the 1960s are at ‘end of life’ when it comes to electrical work,” said Ryan Taylor, project manager. “These are the parks where we do total upgrades and replacements.”
The company is currently involved in a full replacement project of a facility that consists of 420 units on 180 acres with six and a half miles of ditch. This involves working with the local utility to get new transformers installed, all underground cabling and vaults, and the installation of new distribution panels and pedestals.
“We will end up installing 49,000 linear feet of direct-bury cable,” Taylor said.
While Mills Electric finds it easy to work with the local utility, this kind of work is new to some cable and internet providers, according to Huntley, so there is a learning curve and requires some coordination. In particular, rough terrain en route to the park sites can cause issues.
“We are in the woods, and there are trees all around,” Huntley said.
This makes trenching difficult for some of these providers. Also, in a lot of cases, underground wiring isn’t well-documented.
Huntley said he hasn’t seen any demand for solar or other types of renewable power.
“Most of the people are here just to get away, and they want to be deep in the woods, where it really doesn’t make sense to install renewables,” he said.
Huntley said that lightning protection comes down to climate and historical activity.
“The east side of Washington state is drier and has more lightning strikes. We recommend looking at it on a site-by-site basis and address the risks with clients,” he said.
For Mills Electric, the biggest challenge in terms of working on RV parks is weather.
“Most of the people want to be in the parks in spring and summer, so we do most of our work in the fall and winter, which tends to be very wet around here,” Huntley said. “We have to deal with a lot of mud.”
However, there are only two things that would really stop the company from working on any given day. One is really high winds, which could knock trees down, and, that, of course, would be a safety hazard.
“We also have to stop working when it gets below 28°F, because the trucks that come in to do the trenching for the underground cable aren’t able to work in those conditions, because the underground water is too cold,” Huntley said. “It crystallizes as it gets sucked up into the tank.”
Quality Electric Inc.
Quality Electric Inc., Boise, Idaho, also does some RV work.
“In fact, working on these jobs is among my favorite things to do, because they are in such great locations,” said David Bradshaw, department manager.
In terms of frequency, the jobs tend to “come in waves,” Bradshaw said. “There may be some years where we do several, then other years where we end up doing none.”
Much depends on RV park owners. Some owners have several parks and want Quality Electric to do work on several of them during the year. Other years, it might just be a one-off at a small park.
On the large jobs, one key aspect is working with the local utility and setting the high-voltage transformers.
“In some cases, on large projects, the utility will end up having to upsize its lines and the transformers that serve the parks,” he said. In addition, some of the large RV parks have their own indoor electrical rooms.
Project size can grow in other ways, too.
“Years ago, we tended to install 30-amp pedestals,” Bradshaw said. “Then, we started installing 50A. These days, it’s not uncommon for us to install 100A pedestals.”
The company also may need to trench in larger conduits.
Quality Electric experiences some of the same challenges that Mills Electric does, especially when it comes to the fact that a lot of the work needs to take place during the colder months. It can be tough to work during the summer when visitors to the parks want to relax and not have a lot of contractor activity around them.
Location can be another challenge.
“A lot of these parks are in remote locations,” Bradshaw said. “For example, we have had to drive hours just to get to a location in order to bid on it in the first place.”
And, when a project does occur, there can be occasions where the crew will run into a lot of rocks and will have to rock-saw their way through the area in order to dig trenches.
However, most utilities that serve the parks where Quality Electric works are very easy to coordinate with so that makes the job go smoothly.
While demand for renewables is not large, the company does occasionally do RV park projects that involve solar.
“These tend to be federal parks, because they have a lot of requirements for energy savings,” he said. “We did one project that involved installing a rather large solar farm.”
Frahler Electric, Tigard, Ore., got involved in RV park work the first time rather unexpectedly.
“I received a call from a general contractor one day who was working on a park project on Mt. Hood and wanted us to bid on it,” said Dan Petrin, project manager and estimator.
The company ended up getting the job. It completed work on the first phase, which took place in 2017 and involved 80 sites, and is currently working on the second phase, which involves 108 additional sites.
The first phase’s first step, and one of the most challenging, was working with the utility to arrange power. Until then, the region where the RV park was being located had a low demand for power.
“So, the first thing, was getting all of the transformers, vaults and other utility requirements taken care of,” Petrin said.
Another challenge related to the other utilities—water, sewer, cable and internet—that were also working on the project.
“The owner wanted each site handled separately, which means separate metering, water lines, cable drops, etc., which makes things interesting,” he said. “As such, we had to spend a lot of time working on the design. It wasn’t just a matter of running a long extension cord from the highway to the park!”
A third challenge related to weather.
“We started both phases late in the year, which is when there is a lot of rain and then a lot of mud,” Petrin said. “And, of course, when a storm comes through, all work stops until emergency services are taken care of and then we can get back on schedule.”
While lightning protection might be a consideration in remote areas, Petrin said such strikes are minimal in Oregon, compared to other parts of the country.
“This RV park being surrounded by 100-ft. trees that are typically wet will be the best protection, as they will likely get the strikes.“
“If the opportunity arises for more RV park work in the future, we would definitely consider it,” Petrin said. “The owner of this park actually owns other parks all around the country, so more work may be possible, especially if he is interested in work on some of the local RV parks.”
J. Pollock Electric
Most of the RV work that J. Pollock Electric, Overgaard, Ariz., handles is with existing parks that need pedestal repairs.
“We also do a lot of work with RV owners who need new wiring,” said Jesse Pollock, owner. “We haven’t ever wired a park from scratch.”
Pollock finds that there is always enough work to keep him busy, because he focuses a lot of attention on marketing.
“For example, I go around to RV parks and give business cards to the park owners, and the park owners then give my information to the owners of the RVs, who then call me for work,” he said.
Some park owners actually own several parks, so Pollock’s marketing efforts with a single individual can pay dividends with work in several different parks over time.
Another way he gets new work is by putting on seminars at various parks, informing people of new products and technologies, such as surge protectors, which can vary by location, and which, he said, are becoming more important.
Pollock also stays abreast of new products and technology.
“There is a lot of equipment being offered by different manufacturers, so I spend time reading their manuals,” he said.
As noted, most of his work is traditional.
“Some of these parks have been around since the 1930s,” he said. “A lot of it is still above-ground wiring.”
While some park owners have thought about moving to solar plus battery, none of the ones with which Pollock has been involved with have moved this direction yet.
His biggest challenge is often scheduling.
“The town and surrounding community can double in size from about 15,000 people to 30,000 people at certain times of the year, so demand increases a lot then,” Pollock said. “As a result, I just need to figure out a way to schedule everything and get the work done. If I get really busy, customers often just have to wait.”
The skills needed to be an electrician can vary widely depending on whether or not you choose to focus on commercial, residential, or even underwater work. However, there are a handful of core electrician skills that you need to have before you even consider choosing this field. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you have each one before you decide to take any classes or practice the techniques.
Perfect Color Vision
Wires come in all colors, and they are coded according to a variety of standards. Having a color deficiency is more common than you may think, but it means you may need to look into another profession if you have trouble recognizing colors.
Some people simply do not work well with their hands. All adults with normal development have some type of control of their movements, but electricians need more than just some control. Putting an object together or taking it apart should come easily to you, as you will be installing, replacing, and repairing on a constant basis.
A Mind Of Steel
You might be up high in dangerous conditions or positioned in cramped spaces for a long period of time. There might be an unexpected storm that rolls in right when you’ve dismantled your wiring and equipment and are getting ready to rebuild. These types of demands are simply impossible for some people, and electricians need to be comfortable with the potential hazards of the job at all times.
You’ll be asked to read blueprints and plans and then get to work fast. Lots of practice will help you do this, but at the same time, you should have a natural bent toward understanding maps and where everything is in relationship to other objects. There’s a lot of room for error in electrical work, and those errors may not even be found until a significant amount of time has passed. To establish yourself in your field, you need to know your diagrams backward and forward.
You not only need to be able to think fast but also reason the best way to accomplish your goal. Electricians won’t have a lot of direct help in the field, and you’re expected not to need it anyhow. If you’re good at working your way through difficult problems quickly, under pressure, and on your own, then you’ll excel when you encounter inevitable problems throughout your career.
You’ll need social skills in both commercial and residential work, but especially if you become a residential electrician. Homeowners are generally much more concerned about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it than commercial landlords are. Even if you have a one-man business, all electricians will need to work with a variety of demands and personalities to get their jobs done.