By Elrica Quick, APC Product Specialist at Drive Control Corporation
A UPS has become one of the most critical pieces of office equipment in South Africa, given the on-going power problems as well as the essential nature of technology equipment such as servers, switches and other IT equipment. However, a UPS is not simply something that can be purchased, installed and forgotten about. As essential as it is to operations, it is vital to ensure that the device itself is maintained. This is necessary to make certain that, when it is needed, the UPS will be able to perform with maximum efficiency. Simple preventative maintenance and proactive monitoring, can help businesses to ensure their UPS is always available and in good working order, ready to perform its critical tasks whenever needed.
In the past, performing preventative maintenance on UPS’ was challenging, and problems could only be resolved once they surfaced. However, today’s new UPS models offer integrated advanced monitoring, such as regular automatic status updates, through self-monitoring software. This can greatly assist in ensuring problems can be corrected before they affect the business. However, aside from this proactive monitoring, it is also important to still inspect a UPS regularly to ensure it is operating at maximum efficiency. Through regular maintenance, unnecessary downtime can be avoided, which saves businesses both time and money.
While UPS systems are designed to be reliable and durable, as they age there is an increased chance that they may malfunction either mechanically or electronically. The most common causes of UPS failure are the batteries, fans, electrolytic capacitors, Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) - a resistor designed to protect circuits against high transient (short term) voltage - and the relays.
Batteries do not last forever, and will typically need to be replaced at some point during the lifecycle of a UPS. The forecasted lifespan of a UPS battery is between three and five years. However, this depends on the cycles run on the battery. For example, the number of times that the UPS was dependent on the battery will impact the lifecycle of the battery. Newer UPS units include more advanced features and will send out SMS or email alerts regarding the status of the battery and UPS. Other factors that impact the lifespan of the battery include placement and storage of the battery, ambient temperature and battery chemistry. Being proactive and being aware of these factors can help organisations ensure they obtain maximum life from their UPS batteries, and can predict and prepare for imminent failures.
Temperature has a significant impact on the life expectancy not only of batteries, but of all UPS components. Most UPSs are thus equipped with fans, to help cool the unit and keep ambient temperatures within recommended ranges. The fan will typically switch on or speed up when utility power is not available or when the temperature within the UPS surpasses a predetermined level. To prolong the life of UPS fans it is advisable to limit the scenarios in which the fan is forced to operate. Keeping the ambient temperature within the specified range, monitoring the UPS for unusual or frequent cycling, and correctly sizing the UPS for the relevant load can all help to extend the life of this component.
Electrolytic capacitors smooth out voltage fluctuations and monitoring the temperature of the environment and ensuring it remains within specified ranges, will greatly enhance the life expectancy of electrolytic capacitors.
When it comes to MOVs, they typically malfunction after being exposed to frequent and/or extreme voltage spikes. A UPS is designed to provide surge protection to connected equipment, and the MOV functions to achieve this by absorbing excess voltage. If a severe voltage spike occurs, the MOV may be destroyed. There is little that can be done to prevent the effects of extreme voltage spikes, however, it is important to ensure that if they do happen, the MOV is replaced so that the UPS can continue to provide optimal functionality.
Relays switch the battery on and off, and under normal circumstances it is unlikely that the UPS will cycle enough times to cause the relay to fail. Unusually high cycling could indicate incorrect UPS operation, and the relays and the battery may be affected. Proactive monitoring and reporting will help organisations to become alert to this type of issue, which enables proactive adjustments to be made to the firmware to prevent substantial damage or failure before it occurs.
While the majority of serviceable UPS components are designed to be touch safe, it is wise to bear in mind that a UPS is still a live piece of electrical equipment, and due care and safety procedures should always be taken. General best practices for the maintenance of UPS solutions are to be proactive, be prepared and be organised. Proactivity is always the best approach with regard to both battery and UPS replacement. Finally, correct organisation is essential. Maintenance inspections should be routinely scheduled, and should always include documentation with details such as inspections performed and date of inspection. Keeping records of the type of maintenance performed and the condition of equipment, including any areas of degradation such as reduced battery runtime, will help organisations to predict future failure.
Monitoring and maintenance are of the utmost importance in preventing problems before they occur, and minimising the effects of costly downtime to a business. Certain factors can easily be controlled to help extend UPS life through optimal conditions, and understanding the effects of elements like temperature and environment. Utilising a reputable brand of UPS from a reliable service provider or partner, and making use of the management features available, can help organisations to leverage their UPS investment to maximum advantage.