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Generator maintenance: Data centre fire risk discovered through routine load test

05 June 2019

A serious fire risk at a major data centre in London was prevented when PPSPower’s experienced engineers uncovered perished seals.

It was discovered during routine load tests – highlighting the importance of a regular maintenance programme for generators.

It was during this process that fuel started to leak around one of the injectors. The test was stopped and a detailed investigation revealed a perished seal.

After this was repaired, engineers carried out seal replacements - on PPSPower’s recommendations - for the whole generator. It was the correct decision, with 10 of the 16 seals found ready to fail. All were replaced by the PPSPower team.

Ian Townson is technical manager for the Sherburn-in-Elmet-based company which has extensive experience in high-pressure critical data centre environments.

He said: “These are large generators that work under a high-pressure system. Without this proper preventative routine it would have been probable that the seals would have failed when the set was called upon.

“Due to the pressure of the system, fuel could have come out of the generator at some pace and there would have been a strong risk of it catching fire.”

Diagnosing any problems with an injector isn’t as simple as just hooking the system up to a scan tool to be given instant answers. A scan tool will pick up mechanical components worn and not functioning properly.

But in other cases, such as the body being cracked, the engine doesn’t always produce a miss and the problems can be even more difficult to find. In this case, it was an injector o ring, with the leaking fuel one of the signs it needs replacing.

Among the other symptoms of needing to replace the ring include the smell of fuel from the engine bay, difficulty in starting the generator and fuel efficiency. These will be uncovered through load testing which is the best way to test a generator’s capability to operate.

Testing for large facilities can involve basic testing, which is generally held on a weekly basis, plus much more rigorous testing held quarterly, semi-annually or annually.

Mission-critical facilities usually hold extended tests that require the emergency generators to run for as long as four hours under varying loads.

Stephen Peal is managing director at PPSPower. He said: “At PPSPower we recommend that your back-up generators are tested on load either through a load bank or against the building load. “Data centres have some of the best and most thorough procedures for testing their emergency on-site power systems.

“For obvious reasons, these operations must have 100% confidence in their critical systems, and they invest heavily to ensure that these systems will operate as expected, when needed.”

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