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George Owens is a past president of "Association of Energy Engineers", an "Energy Manager of the Year" and an "Energy Managers Hall of Fame" inductee.


Customer Service in the Electrical Testing Industry
A Customer's Viewpoint
by George R. Owens, PE, CEM

As a procurer of electrical testing for the commercial sector and previously an electrical testing engineer for industry, I have been the recipient of customer service (or lack thereof) from the electrical testing community. The purpose of this paper is to relate one customer's experiences and viewpoint on: 1) how electrical testing is procured in the commercial sector, 2) what tests and frequencies are desired , and 3) what customer service should look like.

As a means of introduction, The Rouse Company is a commercial real estate developer specializing in large retail shopping centers and office buildings throughout the United States. These properties include many well-known locations such as Harborplace in Baltimore, Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, and South Street Seaport in New York City.

With annual utility costs of $85,000,000; 200,000 KVA of owned medium voltage transformers; 40,000,000 square feet of retail and 10,000,000 square feet of office space; our requirements for reliable electrical power should be obvious.

One of the methods employed to insure reliable operating electrical equipment (translated to "staying open to sell stuff") is judicious use of electrical testing. I say judicious because the costs of electrical testing must be weighed against the potential for equipment failures and the subsequent cost to repair and down time. At some point in time, if you test beyond what is necessary to maintain a level of acceptable reliability, the cost of testing becomes excessive. On the other hand, if electrical testing is ignored, the system is subjected to unnecessary failures and higher costs of repair and down time. This conflict between the cost of testing and the reliability of the electrical system is continuously being evaluated, negotiated and changed to obtain the proper balance. It is important for the electrical testing industry to understand that this conflict exists and assist the person who is responsible for their company's electrical system to achieve the right level of testing, in order to obtain a reliable electrical system at the lowest cost.

  1. Procuring Electrical Testing Services

    Several methods are commonly utilized in procuring electrical testing services. The table below lists the methods available with the advantages / disadvantages:

    Methods Advantage Disadvantage
    A. Do not test. Lowest cost option as no money is spent for testing. Subjects owner to unexpected outages, downtime and expensive repair bills.
    B. Do electrical testing with in-house personnel. Lower cost/hour than an electrical testing company personnel on hand for easier scheduling. Employees may not be qualified and equipment may not be adequate. CAUTION: If your employees are not qualified - DO NOT subject them and equipment to danger.
    C. Use an electrical contractor for electrical testing. May be at lower cost than an electrical testing company's hourly charge and may already be familiar with and do work at that location. Most electrical contractors do not have the training nor equipment to do electrical testing. Quality may suffer unless qualifications are adequate or work is limited to small low voltage systems.
    D. Negotiate with one electrical testing vendor that supplies service over many years. Vendor knows system extremely well. Highly qualified individuals and test equipment. More expensive than in-house. Depending on vendor, may not get the best price/service because of limited competition.
    E. Competitive bid with 2 to 3 pre-qualified vendors. May provide a lower cost than the single vendor negotiation. The owner would have to accept an occasional turnaround of vendors.
    F. Competitive bid with anybody. Provides the least cost. An unqualified testing company may be selected. Expect annual turnover of testing company.

    For commercial properties, I recommend that method E - Competitive bid with 2 to 3 pre-qualified vendors be utilized to obtain electrical testing services. This method will give the best chance to receive the highest quality of work with the least cost. For the best results, a written specification should be utilized to clearly detail the scope of work and frequency required. Included herein is a specification outline that can be utilized to obtain electrical testing. This specification outline is only included as a guideline and MUST NOT BE USED without a qualified individual's review and customization for applicability to the project.

  2. Recommended Tests And Frequencies For Electrical Equipment In Commercial Buildings.

    The types and frequency of electrical testing is further detailed in the outline specification. However, important parts are summarized below:

    • A daily walk-through of all electrical rooms is required to detect potential problems.
    • If aluminum wiring exists, electrical testing shall occur annually.
    • All other equipment electrical testing shall occur every three years unless extreme conditions warrant otherwise.
    • Testing shall include (de-energized)
      1. Cleaning
      2. Inspection
      3. Connection Tightening
      4. Merger, Power Factor, Oil (Gas) Analysis, TTR, etc.
    • Infrared inspections is encouraged but shall not replace the testing above.

  3. Customer Service For Electrical Testing Companies

    A customer of electrical testing services expects the following considerations. A lack of service in these areas will result in the customers finding a new company that meets their needs. I have included specific instances of deficiencies that I have personally been the victim of from many different vendors and from different areas of the country. The names have been purposely left out to protect the guilty.

    1. Accurate Results - an oil test on a 33KV, 10MVA transformer indicated an eminent failure. A retest before spending $35,000 indicated a contaminated sample -- not bad oil! I have also experienced inaccurate results on PCB testing and KWH metering.
    2. Good Prices - a competitive bidding process with 2 to 3 pre-qualified vendors usually will result in the most competitive prices.
    3. Quick Response - in a emergency. If you use a testing company that is not local, the response time can be intolerable. An entire shopping center was closed from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday (nearly the entire day) due to a response time problem.
    4. Timely Reports - reports should be in the owners hand no later than two weeks, not 2-6 months.
    5. Readable Reports - put an executive summary at the front of EACH and EVERY report with detailed backup following.

In conclusion, it is important for the commercial customer to realize the importance of performing electrical testing and obtaining the best price from qualified testing companies. It is also equally important for the electrical testing company to realize the needs of the customer and continually strive to fulfill those needs. If both parties do not fulfill these needs, the customer will be dissatisfied with the results and give the electrical testing company feedback by taking business elsewhere.

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