“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.

Field Applied Thermoplastics — Ready For Primetime?

Pool interior lined with thermoplastic several years ago. Owners hired CCG to evaluate the condition and cause of rust “staining.” CCG, using wet sponge, low voltage holiday testing and other means concluded the rusting was not surface staining, but holidays allowing water to reach the substrate causing rust-through, not staining.

One of the benefits, and pleasures, of providing highly technical, vendor-neutral corrosion mitigation and optimal material selection consulting, is that we stumble upon new products all of the time.

Magnification of the surface of the original application shows it to be somewhat lumpy in appearance.

Chicago Corrosion Group is fortunate to work in a variety of spaces. In one month, we remediated a failed floor coating system for a switchbox module for a major utility, provided support for passive fire proofing failures at a refinery, consulted on one clarifier, inspected another and just provided a proposal for identifying optimal materials for lining the interior of a 200-ft. tall smoke stack.

But the most technically interesting project I’ve worked on in a very long time was of a simple swimming pool on the top floor of a high-rise in Chicago.

The pool was originally lined with a 100-percent solids epoxy roughly 15 years ago. Last summer, a contractor came in, blasted off all of the coating and applied a field-applied, thermoplastic coating system. The reason we were called in was because the coating system was distressed — exhibiting rust spots through various areas of the coating system.

The problem, we concluded, was applicator error — an easy determination and simple fix. But what was of most interest was that this was the first time I had ever seen a thermosetting material applied in the field. And, had the application been carried out properly, the coating system would have looked pristine.

I have been waiting, and wondering, when thermoplastic materials would be developed for field application. Why? Because the potential is awesome, cool and deeply profound.

Close-up view of holidays and rust-through due to holidays, an effect of inconsistency in the original application.

Thermoplastics, in this case, are those materials which can be melted, applied to a substrate, and then be melted again — think of candle wax.

Why is this upcoming technology so intriguing? Because plastics can last forever — just think about the worldwide problem with plastic water bottles. Those darn suckers are everywhere and take hundreds of years to break down.