Three Key Questions Facility Managers Need to Address to Help Assess Whether Electrical Equipment Should be Reconditioned or Replaced
Electrical equipment has been a staple of U.S. manufacturing since the early days of the industrial revolution. Along with the early adoption of electric light and power in America came the early adoption of fixing broken equipment. We have all heard the quote that the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes, right? Well, that quote might have been made a little too early in our country’s history. I think we can agree that a third guarantee is that inevitably, electrical equipment will break down at some point. Whether we are talking about a motor with lots of moving parts or a busway that just carries electrons from point A to point B, electrical equipment eventually wears out.
So, what do we do when this truth eventually comes to pass? Well, we can certainly tear out the old equipment, bring in the latest and greatest shiny new contraption that engineers have built and be back up and running in a jiffy, with all new state of the art electrical equipment that has us meeting production once again. New replacement is certainly an option to consider but the first question to ask ourselves is, is it the best option? I can’t answer that with certainty, but I do know I follow up the question with, “Is new equipment the only option?” The answer I hear is most often a resounding “No!”
One option that has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately is the option to have broken or worn equipment sent out to an outfit that specializes in restoring equipment to its original “new” condition. This option is what has been referred to as “reconditioned equipment.” Now, I put the word “new” in quotation marks because it isn’t actually a new piece of equipment. Here is the definition from Article 100 of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) that helps us understand what “reconditioned” really means:
Electromechanical systems, equipment, apparatus, or components that are restored to operating conditions. This process differs from normal servicing of equipment that remains within a facility, or replacement of listed equipment on a one-to-one basis. (CMP-10)
Informational Note: The term reconditioned is frequently referred to as rebuilt, refurbished, or remanufactured.
So, the concept is, the equipment, which has either become non-operational or is about to break down, is sent off to a vendor who will go through it and essentially bring everything back to as close to original as possible. This is a different process that another option, which would be to contract a company to come into your facility and find out why the equipment no longer works, what parts are broken or worn, replace those parts, and turn it back on. That option would be more of a normal servicing of the equipment that fixes it in place.
The second question we need to ask is, “When would a facility choose reconditioned equipment as the answer?” In true NEC fashion, the answer is, it depends! There are a lot of variables that go into deciding if reconditioned equipment is the best route to go or even if it is permitted to be installed. A facility might choose to install reconditioned equipment for a multitude of reasons, such as:
- the existing equipment is no longer available as new
- the existing equipment is a part of the aesthetics of the building
- the reconditioned option is more cost effective to the project
These are just a few examples of why someone might choose reconditioned equipment. There are certainly many, many more reasons out there to pick from should you ever find yourself in that position.
The third question a facility must ask is, does the NEC permit a reconditioned version of whatever your broken equipment is to be installed? This was the focus of much of the discussion around the 2020 NEC revision cycle. In fact, I had a chance recently talk to a great friend and CMP-6 member, Christel Hunter, who was on the front lines of the reconditioned discussions, about what the revisions to the 2020 NEC mean to the electrical world, and the revisions centered around what can and cannot be installed as reconditioned equipment. Watch the video on our NEC Facebook page.
For facilities, this helps provide some insight to what types of equipment will be allowed for installation, which then helps them decide whether to replace what they have with new equipment, used equipment, reconditioned equipment, or some other option.
The last thing to take into consideration here is the understanding that we are no longer dealing with a new piece of equipment once it has been reconditioned. Because it is no longer new, the NEC is going to require that a label or marking is affixed to the equipment that identifies the outfit that performed the reconditioning, and if the original equipment carried the mark of a third-party listing agency, that mark must be removed. This then opens the discussion around whether a field evaluation is now required. In many cases, the AHJ is going to require that if the original equipment was required to be listed, the reconditioned equipment be evaluated as well. This also points to the importance of using credible reconditioning companies. The field evaluation body is also going to want to know that the equipment was rebuilt by a company with the qualification to do such work.
It is inevitable that legacy equipment will fail at some point and the owner of this equipment might be faced with an issue where they can no longer procure parts to fix the problem. It is important that these facility owners fully understand the ins and outs of what is required for safety when it comes to utilizing reconditioned equipment. The safety of their employees, business, and bottom line might just depend on it. The good news here is that there are many resources out there to help in this process. In addition to NFPA, organizations such as UL and the Professional Electrical Apparatus Reconditioning League (PEARL) have resources at the ready to help guide this decision-making process.
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