A reliable network requires quality products properly installed. But too often installation isn’t on the grid owners’ radar.
There are two absolute musts for a high-quality and reliable grid: building blocks must be both top quality and properly installed. If either one of these elements is lacking, then what grid owners may have viewed as a 40-year investment may instead be a money pit.
"Reliability is a major theme for our customers," says Markku Wederhorn, Ensto's Senior Vice President, R&D and Technology. Wederhorn says products are designed and type-tested to exceed the requirements of the latest standard. "The factory's quality system ensures products are made under ISO 9000 standards. But what we don't know, and what we can't command, is how these products are put into use."
Europacable, the trade association which represents the largest cable makers in the world, estimates that 60 percent of faults in underground cabling are due to poor installation. When it comes to installation in general, research by the Aalto University School of Electrical Engineering found that up to 50 percent of installations showed deviations from installation instructions.
Wederhorn, who has been Ensto’s representative with the Europacable Accessory Group, says installation errors are receiving a lot of attention in Central Europe. “It’s probably because of the change of installer generations and thus the disappearance of existing know-how.”
Since how a product is installed is an essential component of a reliable network, Ensto developed Ensto Pro, its installer certification program. Let Ensto train your installers, and they'll extend the product guarantee to five years.
“The installer certification process should be as important as the products themselves,” says Wederhorn. “Isn’t it ironic that all processes in hardware are heavily audited, but installation isn't on the radar screen? Workmanship matters, which is why we offer this incentive.”
In some markets, grid owners also need to be aware of the presence of counterfeits. While counterfeits are usually associated with Louis Vuitton bags or 20-dollar bills, it’s a nascent problem in the electrification industry.
“We know there are factories in China making Ensto-branded products,” says Wederhorn. “We don’t know exactly where, but we do know they’re not ours!”
Wederhorn says a contractor may think they’ve discovered another source for the same product. Some are the same product type and carry the Ensto logo. “By using low-grade materials the manufacturer keeps the costs down, but the performance isn’t there. The grid owner should make the contractor care, and make sure the purchasing channel is legitimate.”
To test its own products, as well as counterfeits, Ensto operates a 600-square-meter laboratory in Porvoo, Finland.
The lab, staffed by a team of 11, tests overhead and underground cable products, including long-term AC voltage tests. Millions of euros have been invested in the lab in order for Ensto to be able to offer the most reliable products in the industry.
Because of the volume of products requiring testing, and because outsourced testing costs are high, the Porvoo lab has been ILAC accredited by Finnish Accreditation Service (FINAS) The lab is also audited annually by FINAS, as well as its own internal audits.
The man responsible for overseeing overhead line and underground solutions is Petteri Pulkkinen, Manager, Product Management at Ensto Utility Networks.
“Every year, millions of overhead line connectors are sold,” Pulkkinen says. An insulation piercing connector that retails for a few euros may not seem so important, but it’s in fact the opposite. “If that little part fails, or if it’s not properly installed, then the costs incurred by the network will run into the thousands.”