As a young engineer working at a large steel processing facility in Victoria, I was fortunate to hold the position of Power Distribution Supervisor. This role was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plant's high voltage electricity network, which operated from 220,000 volts coming into the plant, down to 6,600 volts throughout the process lines.
One particular afternoon, I was due to head up to our 220kV substation, to take temperature readings from one of the main supply transformers which was showing some unusual signs of elevated temperature, and required monitoring. Now, an electrical substation is generally not a safe place to be. Most people are aware of the dangers of electrocution (which can be relatively easily managed), however it's also important to be aware of the explosive force that exists if a piece of equipment happens to fail.
That day, my short drive to the substation was fortunately delayed. A matter of minutes, due to a conversation I was having with my team's leading hand. As our conversation ended, the CB base station in the office crackled into life with reports of a plume of smoke rising from the main substation and a number of processing lines shut down without power.
Upon arriving at the substation, we found oil spread across the yard, and shards of sharp porcelain insulators blown throughout the substation and well beyond the perimeter fence. This included large pieces that landed directly in front of the main supply transformer's temperature gauge, where I should have been standing earlier. The oil and porcelain shards were part of a 33,000 volt current transformer (CT), which now lay on its side, blown off its mount, its steel tank bulging from the explosion within. Clearly a catastrophic failure had occurred and I was lucky not to have been standing anywhere nearby when the CT let go.
Typically, when high voltage equipment ages or as it is put under stress, the insulation inside which is designed to stop internal components and wires from short circuiting, degrades over time and can eventually break down or fail completely. When this occurs the end result may be an earth-shattering KABOOM, with explosive force as happened in this case.
On top of regular maintenance and internal testing throughout the equipment's life, special protection and control systems are designed to prevent it from being damaged in this way. It's a little bit like the emergency stop button on a train. If something dangerous is happening, hit the button and the train screeches to a halt allowing for intervention. In power distribution, this protection system rapidly and automatically cuts off the flow of electricity to minimise damage. But if any part of the protection and control system fails, and the equipment itself has problems, the results can be disastrous and dangerous, and you do not want to be around when that happens. So, of course, a thorough maintenance regime aims to monitor and maintain both the main equipment and the control system in peak condition.
Great, Cam, nice introduction to high voltage protection theory, but what are you on about?
There is actually a really important human analogy here. More and more companies theses days love to talk about 'sweating their assets' or driving asset utilisation as hard as they can, for as long as is viable, either running equipment to failure, or with a just in time maintenance strategy. In some cases, whether intentional or as a consequence of other strategies, this may include sweating their number one asset - you. Of course, driving your main asset into the ground may not be related to your work at all. Perhaps your own lifestyle choices see you burn the candle at both ends, or play life fast and hard. And so just like my story about electrical equipment and insulation degrading, as we age or are put under increased pressure for extended periods, so too our bodies become more vulnerable to injuries, disease and breakdown.
Physically, the signs can be obvious on the outside of our 'human equipment'. We may put on weight, our fitness levels may change, we may feel constant exhaustion or our behaviours may deteriorate. If we are ill, we might notice a fever by increased body temperature, or there may be other external symptoms which can then be verified on the inside by testing blood chemistry. Yet, some of us still choose to ignore these signs, perhaps believing we're immune somehow to the inevitable deterioration taking place.
And then there is our protection and control system, our brain and mental health, which may not outwardly demonstrate the signs that problems are occurring until it is too late. Inherently our physical and mental health are interlinked, though if we commit to investing any time at all into our wellbeing, we still tend to place the greatest importance on our physical condition. Unless we commit to regular analysis and maintenance of both our human equipment and our control system, we run the risk of both deteriorating, perhaps creating our own version of catastrophic failure or an explosive event.
So how is this relevant to you?
After reading the article The Sacred Art of Pausing, Tara Brach got me thinking about the importance of taking time out. Tara makes an excellent case for taking time out to suspend activity, to not focus on goals for a period of time, to take your hands off the controls for a while, which is so valuable and important for mental wellbeing. I believe it is also important we to take time out to monitor and consider any changes required to the way we operate when we are working towards our goals. In other words, pausing in this sense is like scheduling planned maintenance on yourself. And this is very much about staying in control. Taking your hands off the controls too frequently or for a long period when looking to achieve work or life goals, could see you end up off track in an uncontrolled manner that could itself lead to that catastrophe.
So here are my tips for maintaining your number one asset:
So for all the analogies around electrical equipment, humans are not machines and nor should we expect ourselves to be. But when we reach the point of catastrophic failure and the explosive force that goes with it, we not only hurt ourselves, but those around us. Maintaining our physical and mental health ensures our goal of leading a long and happy life is more likely to be achieved.
Tell, me what do you think? What are your tips for maintaining your number 1 asset?
Achieve your goals, fulfill your potential, live your dreams.