By now, you're familiar with my thoughts about the key influences that affect the life cycle of capital equipment. So far, I've focused on technical requirements, environments, and mechanical, electrical, and human factors. When discussing field service, industry professionals often talk about what customers expect. End users must realize, though, that they must take some responsibility for their own capital equipment. In short, what do service providers expect from customers?

Maintaining mission-critical facilities is a team sport. That's right, you may have a contract with a service provider, but the facility still belongs to you.

The intensified focus on electrical safety and the environment have added complexity to the reliability equation. The proliferation of building management companies has added additional degrees of separation between the provider and the end user, further complicating the relationship.

What can the service provider and customer do together to ensure that the facility receives the maximum benefit? Understanding individual responsibilities is a good starting place.

Contract terms and conditions and the threat of litigation have often caused business relationships to begin on a contentious note. Too often legal boilerplate hides extreme provisions that make a contract too risky to sign. Customer unwillingness to negotiate often results in providers walking away from a deal rather than bet the business on absurd legal instruments. When negotiating these contract provisions, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "Is it more important to have knowledgeable and skilled professionals in my critical space or simply the guy who will agree with my terms and conditions?"

Emergencies are a fact of life. As a customer, you expect prompt response and your service providers expect to be fairly and promptly compensated for work honestly rendered in your time of need. Too often a proper purchase order is not available at the time of the emergency. This means one must be supplied after the fact. Often these instruments are slow in coming, and sometimes they contain onerous terms and conditions. When accounts payable departments abuse service providers, their performance will suffer.

A tailgate meeting is absolutely essential at the onset of any work. The scope of work must be clear and potential conflicts identified. For example, testing a major switchboard may impact work being done downstream. This is especially true on major shutdowns or maintenance events where multiple systems and vendors are employed in the same work window. A method of procedure (MOP) will detail specific procedures, tasks, and responsibilities for all team members. All parties must evaluate the plan and understand the potential impact to the facility.

No one can guarantee that the unexpected will not occur. The true value of maintenance is to spot conditions that might cause a problem and correct them under controlled circumstances. Contingency plans are also important. All parties must know the "back out" process and the plans for an orderly restoration. Fire departments pre-plan how they will fight fires, you should do the same. Training is the key to success.

Safety is an absolute requirement.
  • All team members must understand and comply with safety rules pertaining to the facility and the task at hand.
  • Appropriate standard signs and barriers must mark physical boundaries
  • Only authorized facility personnel must operate electrical disconnecting or over current devices.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is not an option. The owner must properly identify the degree of hazard. This requires that an arc flash analysis be done from the service entrance on down to the outlet. Labels must be affixed to all access points in the system. All personnel in the vicinity must wear the appropriate level and type of PPE. This is no place for the casual observer.

Lock out/tag out procedures require all stakeholders to ensure equipment is properly secured for the work to be performed. This includes locks for electrical disconnects as well as physical mechanical locking devices for machinery. Safety blocks that prevent a large press from operating are just one example.

All stakeholders must apply their personal safety devices and tags identifying them. Supervisory personnel and owners' representatives must also apply their personnel safety devices. Devices are only removed after conditions are determined to be safe and all stakeholders concur by removing their personal safety devices.

The location of all emergency exits, emergency power off stations, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, automatic external defibrillators (AED), and emergency phone numbers must be reviewed before beginning work.

The reporting structure must be understood by everyone in the chain of command. Who's ultimately in charge? Who do you interface with before, during, and after work is completed?

The owner must provide staff members to accompany service personnel while performing work. This is essential for safety as well as to ensure compliance with correct work procedures.

A formal wrap-up meeting in accordance with the MOP should be held. Has all equipment or systems been returned to service and tested? Have all disconnect devices been re-closed? Have all guards and covers been re-installed? For example, when technicians work on a UPS system, they often open and lock out the battery disconnect switch. Has it been re-closed? If not, the UPS will not have battery support during the next power interruption.

Your facility is probably essential to your business and maintaining systems and equipment is critical to your mission. Letting a contract to someone and not participating in the support of that entity is a fool's errand. The very best facilities employ the right people and providers. It is a partnership based on mutual trust and specific responsibilities on both sides.