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The Failure Chain: When a Power Outage Can Spell Downtime

Posted October 9, 2018 by Caleb Courville

For mission critical facilities, downtime is not an option.

When the power goes out, multiple systems must function in sequence for a smooth, uninterrupted transition to backup power.

If just one of these systems fails, the whole backup power system fails.

This is what we call the Failure Chain.

In this article, we cover how oversights in maintenance can lead to the dreaded Failure Chain and how you can prevent downtime.

Part 1:

When the Power Goes

Mission Critical Facilities

Mission critical facilities house any number of operations that, if interrupted, will cause substantial losses of revenue, reputation, and, in the worst cases, life.

This definition can include a large range of facilities such as:

Icons of mission critical facility examples including Data Centers, Hospitals, Public Safety Centers, Military Facilities, Laboratories

When a power outage occurs, these facilities must rely on a seamless transition to backup power to avoid the damaging effects of downtime.

According to Gartner, even a lapse of just minutes could cost companies thousands of dollars, not including the loss of customer goodwill.

Uptime Statistics (2018)

The 2018 Global Data Center Survey compiled by the Uptime Institute reported infrastructure outages increased to 31% among respondents, a 6% rise from last year’s 25%.

A majority of downtime instances averaged at four hours with 50% of respondents reporting losses under $100,000 and 3% at over $10 million.

Chart Depicting the top causes of Data Center downtime in 2018

The leading cause of data center downtime were power outages, accounting for 33% of all reported cases.

Part 2:

The Failure Chain

The Backup Power System

The typical backup power system includes multiple components that combine into a coordinated system aimed at providing a seamless transition to and from backup power.

Graphic showing an automatic power transfer switch

The instant a power outage is detected, the Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) shifts power draw to an uninterruptible powersource (UPS).

A signal is simultaneously sent to the backup power generator (usually diesel powered) to begin startup.

Graphic of a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system

To maintain power during the time taken to start the generator, the UPS acts as a temporary source of electricity.

These systems, usually large batteries, are relatively limited in both storage and output.

As a result, only critical functions receive power until the main source of backup power, the generator, is fully running.

Graphic of a Diesel Power Generator with base tank of contaminated fuel

It is at this point in the backup power chain that problems are most likely to arise.

Fuel is drawn out of the storage tank and into the generator.

If not maintained properly, the diesel fuel can carry contaminants such as:

Icons for common diesel fuel contaminants including water, microbes, sludge, and particulate

With the implementation of High Pressure Common Rail (HPCR), an advancement in fuel system efficiency, the tolerance for fuel contaminants has significantly decreased to 4μ in size.

Any contaminant larger than 4μ can clog or, in the case of water, even blow injector tips.

To prevent this, diesel generators have filters to prevent such contaminants from reaching the injectors but with poor fuel quality these filters can clog quickly.

Once generator filters are clogged a facility is left with two options:

#1 Shutdown the generator for maintenance

In order to replace filters, the generator must be shut down for maintenance.

Graphic of a individual replacing a on-board filter on a diesel powered generator

If the facility is relying on this generator for power, downtime is unavoidable.

#2 Bypass the filters

By bypassing the filters, there is nothing preventing the contaminated fuel from clogging or even blowing the injector tips.

Internals of an injector tips nozzle

Clogged injector tips will produce inefficient spray patterns which can result in:

  • Low power from the engine
  • Reduced engine RPM
  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Poor cycle times or low speed
  • Smoke
  • Lower gear selection
  • Noise
  • Poor starting
  • Poor idle

Blown injector tips require immediate shut down for replacement and maintenance.

Either way, contaminated fuel significantly increases the risk of damage to the generator and downtime for the facility.

Part 3:

A Proactive Response

Addressing Fuel Contamination

Your backup power system is only as reliable as its weakest link.

Addressing fuel contamination is quickly becoming the standard for mission critical facilities.

AXI International provides two approaches to keep your diesel fuel emergency-ready:

#1 Fuel Polishing

Scheduled fuel polishing can be achieved internally with the purchase of a Mobile Fuel Polishing System (MTC) or outsourced to a fuel polishing company.

fuel polishing stored fuel to prevent downtime

With this approach, a mobile fuel polishing system is brought to your fuel storage tank.

Fuel is then pumped through the system where water, sludge, and particulate are filtered from the diesel fuel.

It is recommended you test your fuel regularly to ensure it remains within ISO cleanliness standards.

#2 Fuel Maintenance – Recommended*

Compared to fuel polishing, fuel maintenance systems are the more proactive approach to ensuring fuel cleanliness.

These permanent systems run automatically on a programmed schedule to maintain fuel quality indefinitely.

Much like dialysis, fuel maintenance systems pull contaminated fuel from the connected tank(s) for filtration and return clean fuel back to the tank(s).

fuel maintenance system for mission critical downtime
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