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Growing Pains

Testing & diagnostic providers are profiting from T&D network growth.

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Nick Parton, Megger.
Nick Parton, Megger.

With the power infrastructure in the Middle East expanding at a rapid pace, suppliers and service providers of electrical testing and diagnostics are confronted with a very particular market.

“It is still a relatively young market in that much of the installed plant and machinery is less than 30 years old compared to Europe or North America, where it can be over 60 years old,” says Andy Hedgecock, Middle East manager at Omicron. “Therefore the need for testing and diagnostics has not been so high but of course that has rapidly changed over the past ten years.”

On the other hand, the growth of the sector means that business is brisk. “The electrical power and industrial infrastructure is expanding an incredible rate and so now the latest testing methods are being applied along with new technologies.

The combination of these two factors means that demand for electrical testing and diagnostics is exceptionally high in the Middle East,” says Hedgecock, who describes the region as an important market for Omicron, accounting for 12 percent of its worldwide business.

“The Middle Eastern market differs to other markets in the world in terms of degree, pace and scale of development of both the electrical infrastructure and the industrial base,” sums up Nick Parton, sales manager at Megger, who have been growing at around 15 percent in the region over the last five years.

Those growth rates were not significantly impaired by the recession. Both Hedgecock and Parton speak of a relative decline in business, albeit not at the rates experienced before.

“There was no real decline, more of a temporary slow-down as budgets were held back to see how serious the recession was but by the end of the year it was business as usual,” says Omicron’s Hedgecock.

Megger, who equally did not experience a serious downturn in business, could yet suffer from a sting in the tail of the recession, says Parton: “The question is still ‘will’ rather than ‘did’.

Our business tends to come at the end of the project, and the slowdown in new projects during the last 18 months has probably still not hit us fully yet.”

Conscientious customers?
With the power infrastructure in the Middle East still young, and utilities going through a steep learning curve, electrical testing and diagnostics was not always on the forefront of customer’s minds. But this has now changed.

“Until the 1990’s there was a general ‘install and forget’ approach but there has been a distinct and recognizable change throughout the region and clients are now very aware of what should be considered,” says Hedgecock.

While the appreciation for regular check ups and maintenance is there, growth rates and the subsequent growth in personnel can undermine those good intentions, believes Parton: “The pace of development and the regular influx of new staff puts a lot of strain on the ability for people to keep up with the demand for testing in the installation and commissioning area as well as on the preventative routine maintenance side.”

Manpower shortage
Another critical problem diagnostics companies are faced with today is finding suitable staff for their operations, even if there has been progress.

“The situation has improved dramatically in recent years but the training of local employees is still a key factor across the region,” says Hedgecock.

The answer, he believes, lies in training staff up. Omicron’s regional office has facilities for both theoretical and practical training in addition to courses that are performed at site with customers.

While there is much debate about adequate provision of higher education in the Middle East, Parton thinks that it is not the qualifications that are lacking. Rather, it is the absence of adequate experience that is hampering recruitment.

“The problem is finding people with both the qualification and the relevant experience,” he says. “The electrical supply industry worldwide suffers from a lack of experienced qualified personnel.

As equipment has become more sophisticated and automated over the years, the level of knowledge required to keep that machinery in operation, and the number of people required, has declined, says Parton. In response to this, utilities have de-staffed, and thus de-skilled.

“With the boom a couple of years ago there simply weren’t enough people about to do the work,” finds Parton.

Product Focus
Omicron’s Dirana Dielectric Response Analyser

Power transformers represent the most expensive link between the generation and utilisation side of energy, writes Omicron’s Andy Hedgecock. Due to the cost pressure of a de-regulated energy market, utilities have shifted maintenance from time-based to condition-based approaches. This development requires reliable diagnostic tools.

Water entering in oil-paper insulations can cause three dangerous effects: it decreases the dielectric withstand strength, accelerates cellulose aging (de-polymerisation) and causes the emission of gas bubbles at high temperatures.

Therefore an accurate knowledge about the actual moisture concentration is required in order to decide if further corrective action, such as on-site drying, is necessary.

Moisture enters transformers from the atmosphere (breathing, leaky seals) and during installation and repair. Aging of the oil-paper-insulation also increases the moisture level. Thus, even in the case of a non-breathing transformer, the moisture can reach a dangerous level.

Dirana analyses the moisture content of the paper/pressboard insulation. The test result is an independent quantity that can be compared to other moisture analysis techniques.

Typically the solid part of the insulation structures, the pressboard, paper and wood holds most part of the water, 200 times more than the oil. Thus the moisture concentration in the solid insulation is much more important than that in the oil.

Product Focus
The Megger Delta4000 insulation diagnostic system

The new Delta4000 insulation diagnostic system will perform all the usual tests that the user will expect from a 12kV Tan Delta test set, writes Nick Parton, sales manager at Megger.

This includes the power factor, dissipation factor, capacitance, excitation current, leakage reactance and turns ratio to provide an electrical insulation condition assessment in high voltage apparatus such as transformers, or circuit breakers.

It operates over a wide sweep frequency range, and comes in a very lightweight 2-piece construction to maximise portability.

The unit introduces two (pat pending) features that are new to this type of instrument. Firstly, the ability to automatically detect if the insulation is showing non-linear properties and advise the operator that a ‘tip-up’ test should be performed to further investigate the problem.

Secondly, the ability to perform temperature correction specific to the object being tested. It has long been established that the standard temperature correction curves used to standardise measurements for comparison purposes are severely limited.

As well as using the standard correction curves, the Delta4000 gives the option of using ‘individual temperature correction’. By measuring the dissipation factor over a wide sweep frequency and using built-in mathematical formulas and models of insulation characteristics, the correct temperature correction can be determined.

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