Switchboard Components

Having naan of it… How one contractor hit back


Imported electrical equipment may look good at first, but then the remedial work has to kick in. Paul Skelton reports.22

Product compliance is not a new issue – indeed, you may be sick of hearing about it.

However, as long as electrical contractors are being jeopardised by imported inadequate international products it is important to keep publicising the issue.

In one case the team at a Wagga Wagga contractor, RIC Electrics, faced a series of challenges when a client building an oil seed processing plant bought the equipment from India.

RIC Electric was subcontracted to carry out the electrical installation portion of the project.

This meant RIC Electrics had to work with the suppliers to create a solution that complied with Australian Standards. They achieved their goal – and learnt several valuable lessons along the way.

“We were in town and heard there was a bit of work going on,” company director Bruce Duff says.

“It was good timing on our part – the retired electrical engineer organising the installation became ill, so we were asked to assist with the design and installation of the electrical equipment portion of the project.

“But it turned out that everything, including the motor control centres (MCCs), had been procured from India.

“Initially, they were going to send a team over from India to install the equipment. Fortunately, the client’s project manager (who also came on board after the items were purchased) said ‘no’.

“He explained to the client that the work wouldn’t comply with Australian Standards so the job couldn’t be done with the use of Indian labour and electrical equipment. He’d been involved with Indian suppliers before.

“There are significant differences between Indian electrical regulations and AS/NZS 3000:2007.”

The client had opted for a canola oil seed processing ‘package’ that included all the plant machinery and electrical components.

“RIC Electrics told the suppliers they could not provide any equipment unless it complied with Australian Standards,” Bruce says.

A potential red flag was raised early in the project. Before the contract was finalised, the client asked Bruce to go to India and audit the MCCs during manufacture.

“I politely declined and said it could all be managed through photos, Skype calls and emails. This worked reasonably well and ensured that the MCCs complied with Australian fault current requirements … sort of.”

Bruce says dealing with Indian electrical engineers – and others with limited knowledge of the Australian Standards – was harder than he originally thought.

“There was a lot wrong with these products when I first saw them.

“First, we did all the proper calculations and told the suppliers they needed to upgrade all the equipment internally to achieve fault level and discrimination requirements to satisfy the Australian Standards. They did about 90%, and we had to do the rest when the boards arrived.

“Several times we stipulated shielding of live components – something that was ultimately done by RIC staff on site.

“Further, the MCCs arrived with the wrong programmable logic controllers (PLCs) installed. Our skilled instrument and control staff replaced them with the specified Allen Bradley PLCs.

“Then, our in-house programmers set up the PLCs and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system to fully operate the plant.”

Bruce says the suppliers did not issue any design or engineering documentation.

“There were motor control centre (MCC) drawings, plus some control diagrams and PLC connection plans. That’s all.

“This changed dramatically as the project proceeded. We developed test and commissioning sheets or booklets for each MCC to ensure everything was suitable for the site.

“These documents were designed to help with commissioning of all motors. They were crucial – and saved time in that phase of the project.”

RIC Electrics was also contracted to do all the field layouts and designs, cable sizing and consumer mains sizing.

“Time management on this project was a nightmare when it came to staffing.

“Indian equipment drifted in or didn’t arrive at all. So we were requested to take over the supply of  electrical materials for the site to ensure a timely arrival of materials for installation and that there were no compliance issues.

“We didn’t have the luxury of planning. It was very much ‘design and construct’ on the run. The project manager had to coordinate our works with the other contractors on site and given the delays caused by the supply of non-compliant equipment this created many problems.”

In addition to sending non-compliant MCCs, the suppliers intended to provide paper-thin cable ladder that didn’t have a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) rating.

“This meant we had to redesign all cable ladder routes and runs to use Australian compliant product. Cable manufactured to Indian requirements was inadequate, so we bought from Australian manufacturers.

“As for the supplied switchboards, all the internal cabling was too small and component fault levels were incorrect. And we had to pull out aluminium busbar and put copper busbar in.”

The result was an intricate system that complied with Australian Standards.

“Australian and New Zealand electrical Standards are among the most rigorous in the world. We can send our products elsewhere, but people in other countries can’t really send their equipment here.

“Dealing with international suppliers didn’t necessarily make my job harder, but it took a lot more time.”

Bruce says RIC Electrics had the necessary skills to create a high-quality, compliant electrical installation.

“Clients and procurement officers need to understand that when purchasing electrical equipment from offshore, consideration of Australian Standards is a must.

“It is not impossible to upgrade equipment to comply with Australian Standards but this is an added expense.”

About Paul Skelton

Paul Skelton

Multiple award seeking journalist and magazine editor Paul Skelton has been involved with the electrical industry for the best part of a decade. Email him at paulskelton@build.com.au.

Recommended for you

You must be logged in to post a comment Login