Experience indicates that generators become more likely to fail after a number of years in operation. The main reason is ageing of the components, but operating conditions also play a major role. Environmental and operating conditions are also taken into account. Tough conditions such as high ambient temperatures, high vibration levels, humidity, dirt, or heavy loads can significantly shorten component lifetimes and reduce maintenance and component replacement intervals.
Failure of a component may result in damage to other parts of the machine, including the stator and rotor. The maintenance schedules are based on extensive know-how and they provide an effective and systematic means of maintaining a specific type of generator. The maintenance intervals are planned according to those of the diesel engine to avoid unnecessary shutdown time. In order to ensure optimum performance over the entire lifetime of a generator, the recommendation is that periodic inspections be carried out in addition to regular preventive maintenance.
Diesel powered generators are depended on for back-up power systems in the most critical locations: airports, hospitals government, telecommunications and even at war. In standby power applications, diesel generators can start and assume full-rated load in less than 10 seconds. This remarkable set of credentials is unique to diesel engines, but like any mechanical device, maintenance is crucial for ensuring that a diesel powered standby generator will start and run when needed.
Facilities with qualified in-house technical personnel can often perform required preventive maintenance on diesel generators. Other facility managers prefer to contract with a local service provider or power system distributor for regular maintenance service especially if they have generators in multiple locations. (For unplanned maintenance, engine repairs or overhauls, it is always best to use qualified diesel service technicians.) Because of the durability of diesel engines, most maintenance is preventive in nature. Preventive diesel engine maintenance consists of the following operations:
* General inspection
* Lubrication service
* Turbocharger inspection
* Air filter condition
* Cooling system service
* Fuel system service
* Servicing and testing starting batteries
* AC & DC voltage check
* Engine safety and controls
* Regular engine exercise
The best way to keep track of maintenance intervals is to use the running time meter on the generator set to keep an accurate log book of all service performed. This log book will also be important for warranty support.
GENERAL INSPECTION procedure
When the generator set is running, operators need to be alert for mechanical problems that could create unsafe or hazardous conditions. Following are several areas that should be inspected frequently to maintain a reliable operation.
Exhaust system – With the generator set operating, inspect the entire exhaust system including the exhaust manifold, turbo, muffler and exhaust pipe. Check for leaks at all connections, welds, gaskets and joints, and make sure that the exhaust pipes are not heating surrounding areas excessively. Repair any leaks immediately
Fuel system – With the generator set operating, inspect the fuel supply lines, return lines, filters and fittings for cracks or abrasions. Make sure the lines are not rubbing against anything that could cause an eventual breakage. Repair any leaks or alter line routing to eliminate wear immediately.
DC electrical system – Check the terminals on the starting batteries for clean and tight connections. Loose or corroded connections create resistance which can hinder starting.
Engine – Monitor fluid levels, oil pressure and coolant temperatures frequently. Most engine problems give an early warning. Look and listen for changes in engine performance, sound, or appearance that will indicate that service or repair is needed. Be alert for misfires, vibration, excessive exhaust smoke and loss of power or increases in oil or fuel consumption.
LUBRICATION SERVICE procedure
Check the engine oil level when the engine is shut down. For accurate readings on the engine’s dipstick, shut off the engine and wait approximately 10 minutes to allow the oil in the upper portions of the engine to drain back into the crankcase. Follow the engine manufacturer’s recommendations for API oil classification and oil viscosity. Keep the oil level as near as possible to the “full” mark on the dipstick by adding the same quality and brand of oil. Change the oil and filter at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer. Check with the engine manufacturer for procedures for draining the oil and replacing the oil filter.
COOLING SYSTEM SERVICE procedure
Check the coolant level during shutdown periods. Remove the radiator cap after allowing the engine to cool and, if necessary, add coolant until the level is about 3/4-inch below the radiator cap lower sealing surface. Heavy duty diesel engines require a balanced coolant mixture of water, antifreeze and coolant additives. Use a coolant solution as recommended by the engine manufacturer. Inspect the exterior of the radiator for obstructions and remove all dirt or foreign material with a soft brush or cloth. Use care to
avoid damaging the fins. If available, use low pressure compressed air or a stream of water in the opposite direction of normal air flow to clean the radiator. Check the operation of the coolant heater by verifying that hot coolant is being discharged from the outlet hose.
FUEL SYSTEM SERVICE
Diesel fuel is subject to contamination and deterioration over time, and one reason for regular generator set exercise is to use up stored fuel over the course of a year before it degrades. In additional to other fuel system service recommended by the engine manufacturer, the fuel filters should be drained. Water vapor accumulates and condenses in the fuel tank and must also be periodically drained from the tank along with any sediment present. The charge-air piping and hoses should be inspected daily for leaks, holes, cracks or loose connections. Tighten the hose clamps as necessary. Also, inspect the charge-air cooler for dirt and debris that may be blocking the fins. Check for cracks, holes or other damage.
The engine air intake components should be checked. The frequency of cleaning or replacing air cleaner filter elements is primarily determined by the conditions in which the generator set operates. Air cleaners typically contain a paper cartridge filter element which can be cleaned and reused if not damaged.
Weak or undercharged starting batteries are the most common cause of standby power system failures. Even when kept fully charged and maintained, lead-acid starting batteries are subject to deterioration over time and must be periodically replaced when they no longer hold a proper charge. Only a regular schedule of inspection and testing under load can prevent generator starting problems.
Testing batteries – Merely checking the output voltage of the batteries is not indicative of their ability to deliver adequate starting power. As batteries age, their internal resistance to current flow goes up, and the only accurate measure of terminal voltage must be done under load. This can be done using a manual battery load tester to verify the condition of each starting battery.
Cleaning batteries – Keep the batteries clean by wiping them with a damp cloth whenever dirt appears excessive. If corrosion is present around the terminals, remove the battery cables and wash the terminals with a solution of baking soda and water. Be careful to prevent the solution from entering the battery cells, and flush the batteries with clean water when done. After replacing the connections, coat the terminals with a light application of petroleum jelly.
Specific gravity check – Use a battery hydrometer to check the specific gravity of the electrolyte in each battery cell. A fully charged battery will have a specific gravity of 1.260. Charge the battery if the specific gravity reading is below 1.215.
Electrolyte level check – Check the level of the electrolyte in the batteries at least every 200 hours of operation. If low, fill the battery cells to the bottom of the filler neck with distilled water.
GENERATOR SET EXERCISE
Generator sets on continuous standby must be able to go from a cold start to being fully operational in a matter of seconds. This can impose a severe burden on engine parts. However, regular exercising keeps engine parts lubricated, prevents oxidation of electrical contacts, uses up fuel before it deteriorates, and, in general, helps provide reliable engine starting. Exercise the generator set at least once a month for a minimum of 30 minutes loaded to no less than one-third of the nameplate rating. Periods of no-load operation should be held to a minimum, because unburned fuel tends to accumulate in the exhaust system (wetstaking). If connecting to the normal load is not convenient for test purposes, the best engine performance and longevity will be obtained by connecting it to a load bank of at least one-third the nameplate rating.
With my foundations developed on the service department of a diesel powered generator business I can assure you that some of the benefits are:
Extended generator lifetime
Increased generator reliability
Optimized maintenance cost and minimized repair costs
Easy to plan maintenance budget
By following the specific manufacturer recommendations for your application, you’ll be assured that your standby power system will start and run when you need it most.