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Overcoming a Typical Testing Dilemma - We Want to Test, But We Don’t (really) Want to Find Anything

Being both Instrumentation & Electrical (I&E) planner and electrical testing supervisor can be an uncomfortable position. You want to do your job well and keep the plant running at tip-top shape, but if you find a motor or process problem, you know it will cost money to fix it. It can be the proverbial double-edged sword. For those of us in the electric motor testing business, this is an all too familiar situation. In other words, what are the repercussions of a test failure? How will failing a test affect the motor? Could it be out of commission? How much money is it going to cost to replace or repair? Is higher management going to go along with your findings and be open to doing the right thing?

To understand these questions better, we must talk about the effects of a test failure. For example, what happens when a test works as it should – and finds a problem?

Figure 1: 100MW generator in Boulder, CO

Typical Motor Testing Scenarios


An industrial facility awards its motor maintenance and repair contract to a local electric motor repair shop. This shop has the ability to repair and replace defective motors, has trained electricians and motor technicians, and has invested in predictive maintenance motor testing technology.

The shop is contracted to test the population of electric motors during a periodic outage. The motor shop goes about its business; however, the industrial facility has spent little time discussing the effect of finding bad motors. When (and if) the motor shop reports back finding several bad motors, it can create a tense and time-consuming series of complicated events. “We don’t have a spare,” “you are delaying our restart,” “you touched it, you broke it,” etc., etc.

If the plant staff has any misunderstanding of electrical testing processes, accusations of “destructive testing” may be thrown around.

The motor shop’s stance is: You hired us to find bad motors, and now that we did, you are mad about it!

The best response would be: So now what do we do from here?

Maneuvering the Mine Field


If it is your job to ensure plant maintenance or motor quality, you know you need to test. So how can you traverse the many pitfalls? Sharing of information is paramount to the success of your testing or predictive maintenance program. Before any testing is done, make sure each individual involved is versed in the goal of testing and understand the repercussions of that goal. In a nutshell, the goal of the electrical testing is to identify “bad apples” and repair or remove them from the process – preventing or mitigating the effects of an in-service failure.

From a motor shop doing the testing to upper management that is signing off on the contract for testing, everyone needs to fully understand. Full disclosure and review of the testing history, including test reports (if available) of past problems, such as cables, gear box and bearing issues, or motor stalling/tripping problems, need to be discussed. If testing reports are unavailable or have not been kept, the best course of action is to obtain a baseline of motor testing. A battery of tests can be performed at appropriate levels that will provide valuable information on each without decreasing any remaining life in the motors. Once a baseline is established, further testing can be done to find potentially failing motors.

Another discussion prior to testing is to ensure that all testing standards have been reviewed and are fully understood. These IEEE standards include, but are not limited to, IEEE 43, IEEE 95, IEEE 112, IEEE 118, IEEE 522 and IEEE 1415. These testing standards, established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, give a good framework to testing and offer the basis for moving forward in an effective manner. Once there is a general understanding of the goals and processes, guidelines for testing can be developed for all parties involved.

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​George Frey

George Frey is the owner and founder of EDE Electric Motor Testing. He has over 20 years experience in the electrical motor testing and equipment industries.

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