Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Standby Generator Maintenance Tips

Written by Rakesh Dogra

Today most data centers handle mission critical operations and processes, therefore it is not feasible to shut them down even for a short time duration which means that power needs to be available continuously and this demand for power is increasing by the day. Of course the exact availability of the external grid power depends on the place where the data center is located.
For example in most of the developed world the chances of a power outage may be less as compared to several locations in the developing world, yet however reliable the external source may be, it is beyond the direct control of data center management.

Backup Plan & Standby Generators

It is always advisable to have a back up power plan for any data center. Normally this arrangement is in the form of a battery back up and UPS systems, but these can only be a short term solution for a few minutes at the most. Diesel generators are the most common and useful piece of machinery which can help to generator power for hours together till the main supply is back on track.

Since these standby generators are so important, and since they are not running continuously, you certainly need to ensure that they start whenever required (which typically is an automatic process when the grid power fails). Hence certain generator maintenance tips need to be followed by the personnel incharge of generator maintenance.

Generator Maintenance Tips

Lubricating oil is the life blood of the generator or any engine for that matter and it must be ensured that the lubricating oil level is kept upto the mark. There is normally a dip-stick arrangement to check for the lubricating oil level. Normally the level is checked after taking out the dipstick, cleaning it and inserting it again to check the level rather than just taking out and reading it. This is similar to checking the oil in your vehicle.

Apart from the level care should be taken to ensure that oil is changed at the intervals set by the manufacturer. Visual inspection should give clues whether the oil is a bit too dirty and needs to be changed even if the running hours or time limit hasn’t expired and this comes naturally with experience. When replacing or replenishing the oil, only use oil of the recommended grade as that has been suggested keeping various parameters in mind and just putting in “any oil” is not good practice as that could result in serious damage to the engine. Lubricating oil testing kits are available commercially which can tell you whether the oil is fit for use based on certain parameters and it does not require specialist knowledge to perform these tests.

Similarly other routine checks and maintenance should be done regarding other components which require regular replacements such as the oil filters, air filters and so forth. Usually the manufacturer’s manual will give you the interval for these tasks in terms of running hours or time frame.

Just remember that even if you do not need your generator every other day, it is good practice to start and run it for some time. This could be everyday if possible or depending on the schedule of the staff. Certain faults might only be noticeable when the generator is actually running and hence regular starting would ensure that if any fault is present, it is detected at a time when there is no real need of the generator.

When the generator is running, just check and note down a few important readings (provided there is a provision for such readings) and observations.

• Exhaust temperatures
• Jacket cooling water temperature
• Exhaust temperatures
• Lubricating oil temperature
• Abnormal sounds or vibration
• Any smoke or oil leakage

These readings should be within a specified range of values which are spelled out by the company service engineer, manual etc. If recorded in routine, then the information will give a clear indication of any abnormality that may not be otherwise visible.

It should be the duty of a particular person or group of persons (in a sort of rotary fashion) to check the above parameters and keep a log of the same. This can be done in an official record book in a standardized format so that even as the persons taking the readings change; the process is continued unhindered. A good record helps your repair technician to diagnose problems before or after a fault develops.

There are some major maintenance items which cannot be carried out by data center staff that only a specialist can handle such as a complete de-carbonization of the generator.

The part which we have talked about till now is actually the engine part of the generator while the real generation takes place in the alternator which converts rotary power of the engine to electric power. The alternator though requires very little maintenance but care should be taken to ensure that during operation it does not make any abnormal noise or sparks.


The above mentioned tips fall in the category of what can be called the “layman tips” and help to ensure that the generator remains healthy. In case any symptoms or signs are found on the contrary, specialist help should be summoned so that the data center has the capability to face any sudden eventuality in terms of grid power loss. Preventative maintenance can go a long way to ensure your availability.


power said...

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Sharkwille APS said...

Great Tips on Generator Maintenance.

Keep Updating.
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