Energy companies are expanding their electricity networks while striving for improved reliability and cost control. The quality of accessories and devices has a great impact on how they succeed.
An electricity network is the backbone of modern society and it has to function continuously, even without occasional local problems such as voltage surges, transients or under voltage. What are the ways to build and maintain reliable networks at lowest possible cost?
"Often problems start to accumulate, when something abnormal takes place along the line," said Markku Wederhorn, president of Ensto Utility Networks. "The best way to prevent that is to choose quality accessories. Always think about the life-time cost, not only the initial supply price. A high-quality component recovers fully from occasional fault situations and lasts longer, saving money in repair and maintenance through the years."
Connectors, for instance, all look approximately the same, and low priced copies are found for the best products. According to Wederhorn, the first step is to recognise the brand and the manufacturer, and then to take a closer look at the product information, test certificates and fulfilled standards.
"If the focus has been solely on product cost, investment in product development and testing is likely to be modest, too," Wederhorn said. "A connector is a good example also because the line building cost does not raise much, if you choose quality, but the effect on the long term reliability is enormous. The difference is that a serious producer has invested in a better product with 40 years lifespan in mind. That means the lowest possible life-time cost to the customer."
Laboratory is part of product development
Innovation can become a successful quality product only in laboratory, where repeated testing is done by competent experts. Ensto Utility Networks has a world-class laboratory in Porvoo, Finland. The mission has been and is to qualify and pass only the products with highest quality to the market.
"Our products are well pre-tested in-house during the development process. When getting ready for the market, they are again fully type tested according to the requirements in international standards. We even continue testing after that to assure the quality we deliver," said Janne Lappalainen, laboratory manager of Ensto Utility Networks.
The laboratory is audited and allowed to perform extensive tests for products according to international standards.
"Type testingbased on standards, customer specific testing and testing according to our own, even higher requirements, are all part of our work," Lappalainen said. "Audited independent testing can also be applied to get approval to various market requirements or measure performance for extreme conditions like arctic, desert or coastline."
Testing reveals real performance
The Ensto laboratory is situated right next to the R&D department, which allows comprehensive testing already at an early stage of product development. Special attention is paid to easy installation and durability, which both make each accessory a small investment that starts paying back right from the start.
According to Lappalainen, the differences between materials such as plastic can be easily seen in the laboratory. "The quality plastic material may cost even four times more to the manufacturer, but it provides a much longer lifetime and saves in maintenance costs. Also superior corrosion resistance, resulting from quality design, materials and manufacturing process, lengthen the lifecycle significantly.
"Reliability of electricity distribution can be combined with minimum lifetime cost by using high quality accessories," said Markku Wederhorn. He sees that it is not about the price but the experience and expertise of the buyer. Today’s supply market requires strong determination to avoid fake and low-price products and identify forged standard certificates or technical information.
"We know that R&D and testing, when done properly, can represent more than half of the overall cost of the product," he added. "We still keep the purchase price of a product competitive in relation to its lifetime and performance. The result is lower total cost for the customer, when faster installation and less maintenance needs are included."