“Crime Scene Investigator” Identifies Usual Suspects of Premature Transformer Failure

Evidence reveals how to avoid transformers that wind up dying well before their time. Spoiler alert: There’s no substitute for quality.

When it comes to big-ticket items, power transformers come near the top of the list. So when they fail prematurely, it is a painful experience with damages that can far exceed the cost of a replacement unit. These added expenses may include the loss of priceless production time, damaged credibility, or regulatory fines and civil lawsuits.

Plant engineers, facilities managers, general contractors and specifying electrical engineers can learn a lot from the ‘post mortem’ experiences of a transformer crime scene investigator.

While numerous facilities have had to endure this sting, others are learning from those mistakes thanks to failure-analysis experts who investigate transformers that die an early death. As such, the job is a lot like a detective on a CSI crime show drama. They show up at the “scene of the crime” and try to determine what went wrong and who’s at fault.

“I’ve been involved in dissecting numerous transformer failures,” says Jeff Jones, a transformer “crime scene investigator” and founder of Electrical Certification, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio, specializing in testing, certification, and failure analysis. “Inevitably, the first thing that comes out of the customer’s mouth is, ‘Hey, it’s just a year old! What happened?’”

But it’s no mystery, according to Jones. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

Plant engineers, facilities managers, general contractors and specifying electrical engineers can learn a lot from the “post mortem” experiences of a CSI tech like Jones. In most cases, the premature failure of a transformer is avoidable and the culprit is often an inadequately designed or constructed unit.

“We are in the business of ensuring that owners get what they specified and paid for,” says Jones.