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Company X has an electrical outage and needs to replace several circuit breakers and a transformer immediately. However, since Company X's electrical system was installed in 1973, most supply houses tell them that they can special order the parts and wait several weeks, or completely renovate their system at an additional cost of thousands of dollars. The clock is ticking as their line sits idle. What can be done?
Plant maintenance professionals, in a frantic search for components that OEMs no longer stock, often turn to reconditioned and surplus equipment when critical production processes are jeopardized. Remanufactured equipment offers reduced replacement cost, quicker delivery, and extended life of existing plant electrical systems.
Despite these advantages electrical equipment remanufacturers are often portrayed in a negative light by contractors and OEMs who describe them as "junk" dealers, whose products are of questionable value, dangerous and unreliable.
"Electrical remanufacturers are stereotyped, with other used product dealers," says Dave Rosenfield, president and CEO of Romac Supply Co, an electrical equipment remanufacturer in Commerce, CA. "OEMs often foster the belief that anything but new equipment is unsafe, unreliable, and not an intelligent purchase," Rosenfield adds. "Their position is that nothing is worth the risk of buying from a re-builder and that there's no such thing as a capable re-builder."
"There have been events that the OEMs have taken advantage of by making public," relates Rosenfield. "One in particular sticks out. Fable has is that the problem centered around a circuit breaker remanufacturer, who sold products to a wholesaler supplying [California's] Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant."
"This is how I heard the story," related Rosenfield. "Diablo specified breakers originally manufactured by Square D. The remanufacturer allegedly counterfeited labels and changed handle colors to re-designate breakers that didn't meet the specification. The wholesaler, seeing only the right numbers on the labels, made the delivery to Diablo Canyon."
"After an investigation, Square D went to Diablo and told them that may have bought some bad equipment and offered to exchange new breakers for the used devices. Square D, tested the used breakers which failed to meet Square D standards," Rosenfield continued.
"Afterwards, just about every remanufacturer in the country was visited by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission." recalls Rosenfield. "Almost all remanufacturers were given clean bills of health, however a small number were cited. They ended up being sued by Square D, Westinghouse, GE and UL for fraud and counterfeiting, among other charges."
"Purchasing a used product is different from purchasing new," explains Rosenfield. "The majority of problems can be avoided, however, by checking up on the equipment recycler in question.
"The remanufacturer's reputation and practices should be checked first," he advises. "Quality remanufacturing takes trained technicians with good procedures, tools, and instruments. Their remanufacturing and testing standards should be written and available to the buyer on request. Beware of those who can't provide that information."
Actually, rebuilt equipment may be held to stricter standards than new because each breaker reconditioned by a reliable supplier must pass strict testing procedures.
Manufacturers test only prototypes and a small sampling of each production run. Testing starts with a visual inspection of each product, followed by insulation testing, contact-resistance testing, and primary-injection testing. Each test is meant to detect specific faults in the breaker. For example, insulation testing uncovers cracks, burning, moisture entrapment and other faults in the casing. Contact-resistance testing verifies the quality of the contacts and the proper tensioning of the springs. Other tests ensure that the current sensing systems will operate according to the OEM's published time-current characteristic curve.
"At Romac, every item we remanufacture meets or beats all relevant performance and safety standards, and is backed by our warranty that matches, and often surpasses, the OEM's warranty. We perform the same tests that the manufacturers perform, except the destructive tests, on every single product we sell," explained Rosenfield.
"For example, a low-volt circuit breaker is tested with a Megger (insulation tester), and with a Ductor (digital, low-resistance ohmmeter) for its resistance across closed contacts, a very important test." Rosenfield continues. "We do a primary-injection high-current test several times at different currents to compare where the breaker trips versus the manufacturer's published curves. In some cases, we also use a secondary injection test system which tests for the same function using a lower current.
"Fortunately", says Rosenfield, "manufacturers provide extensive material detailing steps for maintaining and verifying the safe operation of items like Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCBs). Using this information, skilled technicians can open and clean circuit breakers, replace broken or damaged parts, and verify their performance to the OEM specifications."
Some OEMs, however, insist that their products cannot be properly tested and safely reconditioned unless they do the work themselves. This assertion, says Rosenfield, is untrue.
"We agree that improperly tested and reconditioned breakers can be unsafe, but we cannot agree that circuit breakers can be maintained and tested only by the OEM."
Rosenfield believes that the key to overcoming negative propaganda by the OEMs lies in building credibility for the electrical equipment recycling industry. Towards this end, he has been one of the leaders in the formation of the Professional Electrical Apparatus Recycler's League (PEARL), an organization of electrical equipment recyclers and remanufacturers dedicated to establishing and maintaining quality control standards for their industry.
"There are good guys and bad guys in our industry just like any other, and PEARL's standards will create a clear distinction," states Rosenfield. "The safety of remanufactured electrical products relies on all the people who touch them from the moment they are removed from service to the moment they're switched back on," concludes Rosenfield.
For more information on remanufactured electrical products or PEARL, contact Dave Rosenfield c/o ROMAC at 7400 Bandini Blvd. Commerce CA 90040; Phone 800-587-6622; FAX (213) 722-6642; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.romacsupply.com.
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