DCS UK FEATURE: THE MODULAR SCALE-UP

The modular UPS sector is on the rise, presenting uncapped opportunity for business. Leo Craig, general manager of Riello UPS, talks to DCS UK about the action businesses should be taking to maximise modular scale-up.

 The upward trajectory of the global modular UPS market shows no signs of abating. According to a report published last year by global research body, Frost & Sullivan, the market is expected to grow twice as fast as the traditional UPS market (forecast period 2015 – 2020), with a general acceleration in growth predicted post-2017.  

Data centres continue to dominate market revenue in the modular UPS sector. Thanks to the internet of things, smart devices are fuelling huge demand on data centres and this is only going to increase. For data centres needing to achieve rapid expansion in order to keep pace with demand for increased processing, the modular UPS provides a raft of benefits.

Modular UPS solutions, which can be scaled up in tandem with the growing demands of a business- removing the risk of oversizing a UPS unnecessarily at the outset, offer the maximum in availability, scalability, reliability and serviceability whilst also ensuring high efficiency, low cost of ownership and a high-power density. And, whilst modular systems can be scaled up to meet increased demand, data centres can easily switch modules off too, guarding against under-utilisation. The modular UPS also addresses the issue of limited floorspace, which is increasingly an issue for data centres. Modular component UPS systems can be expanded vertically, provided there is room within the existing cabinet for additional UPS modules, or horizontally with the addition of a further UPS cabinet.

Modular Maintenance

When it comes to maintenance, Modular UPS systems are marginally easier to service and repair in situ than a standalone UPS system because a failed UPS module can be ‘hot-swapped’. The failure or suspect module is then returned to a service centre for investigation. To return a standalone UPS system to active service may require a board swap.

Maintenance, of course, is a hot topic currently – in the wake of the UPS-related issues experienced by British Airways earlier this year, which had disastrous consequences for the business. As this example shows, the way in which maintenance is carried out needs to be carefully considered, whether you choose to implement a modular or centralised UPS system.

Human error is the main cause of problems occurring during maintenance procedures; engineers may throw a wrong switch, or carry out a procedure in the wrong order. But, whilst it might be easy to lay blame solely at the feet of the engineer in these instances, errors of this kind are often the result of poor operational procedures, poor labelling or even poor training. By ironing out these areas right at the start of the UPS installation, risks can be avoided.

For example, if the solution being deployed is a critical system comprising large UPS’s in parallel and a complex switchgear panel, castel interlocks should be incorporated into the design. Castel interlocks force the user to switch in a controlled and safe fashion, but are often left out of the design to save costs at the start of the project. This is a common occurrence and the client could pay dearly in the future if a switching error occurs.

Attention to detail

Simple things can make a difference. By ensuring that basic labelling and switching schematics are up-to-date, disaster can be averted. Having clearly documented switching procedures available is recommended. If the site is extremely critical, the procedure of Pilot – Co Pilot (two engineers both check the procedure before carrying out each action) will prevent most human errors.

Embrace technology

Any maintenance is typically intrusive into the UPS or switchgear, so managing this carefully is vital. Most problems that occur, including the failure of electrical components, are proceeded with an increase in heat. If a connect point isn’t tightened properly, for example, it will start to heat up and eventually fail in some way. Short of checking every connection physically, the most effective solution is thermal imaging. Thermal image cameras are relatively cost effective and easy to use these days, making them a worthwhile investment. Thermal image technology can identify potential issues that wouldn’t necessarily be picked up using conventional techniques, without the need of physical intervention.

Monitor equipment and competency

Round-the-clock equipment monitoring also offers robust protection and should be part of the maintenance package, as UPS’s will alarm if any parameter of their operation is wrong – if an increase in heat, a fan failure or a problem with the batteries is detected, for example.  It is highly unlikely that UPS failure will be limited to times when the engineer is carrying out the annual maintenance visit, so constant monitoring is critical.

Rigorous training is also vital and, to protect themselves, clients must ensure that the attending engineer is certified to carry out the work. It is the responsibility of the client to ask the maintenance company for proof of competency levels – pertaining both to the company itself and to the engineers it uses. Risk averse clients should also check ‘on the day’ that the engineer on site is competent and isn’t, for instance, a last-minute sub-contractor sent in because the original engineer is off sick.

Read the small print

A strong maintenance package should also ensure that when the UPS does fail, the response is timely and effective. Service level agreements need to be appropriate to the criticality of the application. There is no point having a maintenance contract for a UPS 24/7 response if access to the UPS can only be gained during normal business hours. Transversely, if operations are 24/7 and very critical to the business, then 24/7 response is a must.

Caution should be applied wherever maintenance contracts seem too good to be true – can a two-hour response really be guaranteed, for instance? Anyone who drives on the M25 might question this! It is also worth checking exactly what constitutes the ‘response’ – will it just be a phone call or will it be someone coming to site, and, if so, will that someone be a competent engineer? It’s important to pay attention to the guaranteed fix time too as it doesn’t matter how quickly an engineer arrives on site if the problem then takes a week to fix because of parts being delayed and so on.

Finally, if the UPS can’t be fixed with a certain timescale you need to understand what your course of redress is; will the UPS be replaced and so forth?

Maintenance continues to be a key concern for any business investing in a UPS – be that modular or stand-alone. Ease of maintenance is, no doubt, one of the differentiators helping to drive growth in the modular UPS market but, whatever UPS product businesses select, it is essential they apply proper due diligence to their maintenance approach. Watertight maintenance processes and procedures should be in place and relevant documentation must be easily and readily available. As well as ensuring that switches cannot be thrown by accident, businesses need to check that engineers are competent and should study the SLAs in maintenance agreements. By adding technologies like thermal imaging into the maintenance mix they will help to reduce the likelihood of issues further. Stringent maintenance processes should be the constant factor in an ever-evolving market.