Still number one

It’s not uncommon for me to get the question, “What’s the number one cause of failure with a Franklin submersible?” When someone asks that, they are almost always thinking in product terms. They want to know, “What breaks the most?” But, the actual answer here is that the number one cause of failure in a submersible installation is mis-application of the product, not the product itself.

One of the reasons I can say this is because of the reports Franklin Electric’s Field Service Engineers write after each site visit. Just reviewing this week’s reports tells the story. Of the 13 reports I reviewed this week, only 2 involved failures we couldn’t immediately identify as application- or installation-related. Here’s a quick rundown of the other eleven:

  • Multiple control boxes replaced due to overloads tripping – FINDING: pump was binding due to sand
  • Short service life of large submersible motor – FINDING: restricted cooling flow due to a massive build-up of iron bacteria
  • Multiple contorl box relay failures – FINDING: rapid cycling from a water-logged tank
  • Repeated issues with an irrigation pump installed in a river – FINDING: fluctuating river levels were causing the pump to periodically run dry
  • Premature motor failure – FINDING: failure was the result of very short run times and continuous starts and stops
  • Premature SubDrive failure – FINDING: insect intrusion
  • Premature PMA failure – FINDING: pellet chlorinator was over-chlorinating, causing corrosion
  • Higher than expected electricity costs with SubDrive – FINDING: geothermal settings set incorrectly by geo-contractor
  • Overloads nuisance tripping – FINDING: generator frequency set at 63 hertz
  • SubDrive causing interference – FINDING: poor grounding
  • Pump not meeting curve – FINDING: leads reversed on 3-phase motor

Although this is an admittedly unscientific sample, it’s a fair representation of what we see in the field. This doesn’t mean that all failures are due to mis-application by any means. And, Franklin Electric’s Technical Service team is pleased to assist and be a resource.

And trust me, our industry isn’t alone here. The good news is that at each of the site visits above, the dealer or one of his employees came away with more insight that he had before. So, with some friendly guidance from Franklin Electric, he got better at his profession.  All in all, not a bad outcome at the end of the day.

Investment strategy

A few things in our industry still puzzle me. For example, large submersible installations are major investments. You’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes for the 6- or 8-inch motor alone. Besides, these installations are not exactly on poly pipe that a couple of guys can wrestle out of the ground; it’s a major operation to pull and replace one. On top of that, many are in critical agricultural, municipal, or industrial applications, where not having water has major economic consequences.

The mystery to me is why so few of these applications have any type of protection beyond basic overloads. The vast majority simply don’t, and that just makes no sense.

If there was device that could protect your motor, why wouldn’t you use it? Franklin Electric offers SubMonitor to do exactly that, but there are others out there as well.

Nothing is better at delivering groundwater than a submersible pump, but it can face a tough environment. Water tables can drop unexpectedly, end-users sometimes over-pump their wells, and electrical power, especially in rural areas, can be unreliable and cause damage to motors.

The attached picture taken with an infrared camera tells explains perfectly and tells a terrific story. The hot spot you see is a loose fuse on the high voltage side of the transformer. Franklin Electric was called out to explain why the SubMonitor kept mysteriously shutting the motor down due to 3-phase unbalance. The power company maintained that everything was fine, and it actually looked that way initially. It was only after a few hours of operation (and when everyone had left) that the fuse connection got hot enough to cause the unbalance. Without a SubMonitor installed, the motor likely would have failed and been replaced, and then the new motor would have failed. My guess is that without SubMonitor, it would have taken at least a couple of motors, and the subsequent pulling and replacing of those, before the real problem would ever have been discovered. A critical point is that the contractor had done everything “by the book” here.

SubMonitor, or any other device, can’t protect the installation against everything that can happen, but there’s no better way to reduce your risk for the amount of investment. On a percentage basis, the cost of a SubMonitor represents only a small percentage of the value of that installation and the water it provides to the end user. And as in this scenario with the loose fuse, the returns can be huge. The first time a SubMonitor saved the motor in that installation, it paid for itself many times over.

Sometimes the best investments aren’t the products themselves, but the products that protect them.

Penny wise and hundreds of dollars foolish

Spring is here and even though we’ve had a dry one so far in most parts of the country, it’s the season for thunderstorms and the heavy rains that go with them. Given that, I thought this post from last year was well worth repeating.

Here’s the epitome of “penny wise and dollar foolish” in our industry: Like many of us, a homeowner lives in an area of the country where it rains. Sometimes, it rains a lot. Their home has a basement, and when it rains, they have a sump pump to collect and remove that water from the lowest part of the residence.

When their home was built, the basement was just a poured concrete room that held the mechanicals such as the pressure tank, water heater, and furnace.

But today, it’s a different story. A couple of years ago, the homeowner remodeled the basement, and made it a so-called media room, den, whatever. They spent several thousand dollars on the upgrade, then added a HDTV, carpeting, and maybe even a nice pool table. In addition, in the intervening years, the unfinished part of the basement became easy storage for family heirlooms such as diplomas, Little League trophies, and Christmas decorations.

What didn’t the homeowner do? He didn’t invest a few hundred dollars in a battery-powered back-up sump pump. Maybe their contractor never mentioned it, maybe they didn’t know such a thing existed, or maybe it looked too complicated to install. My guess is that it most likely seemed like an unnecessary expense. Continue reading

What could go wrong?

There I was, a new employee and product manager for Franklin Electric with a brand new product called CP Water, the company’s first generation variable-speed, constant pressure system. That evening, we were installing one of the first units at a well-known dealer’s personal residence. It was a pretty big event for me and the product. His impressions would carry a lot of sway down the road. And, between the dealer’s family, his crew, and his distributor, there were lots of people who showed up just to get their first glimpse of the product. But, although it was a high-profile installation, I was confident. This very unit had been thoroughly tested in the lab and had performed flawlessly. What could go wrong?

We pulled the pump and replaced it with the new 3-phase motor and pump, followed by installation of the controller. “Just like a 3-wire system”, I proudly stated, and then explained, “Even though the controller’s output and the motor are 3-phase, it’s a simple matter of connecting RED, YELLOW, and BLACK to the output terminals. The controller knows the right way to turn the motor, unlike conventional 3-phase systems where you have to check rotation and sometimes reverse the leads.” There were approving head nods all the way around.

With great anticipation, we started the unit and waited for all the awesome pressure and flow this unit was going to deliver. The wind quickly came out of my sails. At top speed, the system was only delivering about 1 gallon per minute! My worst nightmare, outside of the unit not starting at all. I tried a couple of things, but there wasn’t really anything to do but pull the pump, throw the whole thing back at engineering, and reinstall the old system.

Here’s where the story takes a better turn. As we pulled the new pump, and were just about to cut the splices the dealer’s crew had made a few minutes ago, someone noticed that the red lead on the drop cable was connected to the black lead of the 3-phase motor. And vice-versa. The drop cable had been in long enough that it was hard to distinguish between the red and black, especially in that late evening dusk.

You’ve figured it out by now. The motor and pump had been running backward due to the splicing mix-up. The controller was indeed smart enough to turn the motor the right way, but picky enough to assume that we made the right connections down hole. We reconnected the motor the right way, reinstalled the pump, and restarted. The system ran like a champ.

There are obvious lessons here about vigilance, attention to detail and how the lack of it can bite you, especially when the stakes are high. But, in any case, the day was saved, and to this day, this contractor continues his long history of selling Franklin Electric drives.