Ground Resistance Testing

I just sent a client a document from a seminar that I created and led in 1996. (The seminar client is long out of business).

It’s nice to be (a) the old dog who was around back in the day, and (b) a bit of a digital pack rat. Also interesting that the technical issues of 2017 are no so different from the technical issues of 1996.

Here’s a snapshot of that document (pretty slick for 1996, no?) – and no guarantees that the IEC / UL references or requirements are still valid. But the concept – that measuring ground resistance with a low current ohmmeter is going to give you sketchy results – remains valid.

Ground Resistance Testing

Reading the Tea Leaves

Sometimes when reviewing power monitoring data, key information is left out of the problem statement. But the astute power quality engineer can “read the tea leaves” and pick up information about the installation, equipment, and technical issues.

A set of data from a Magnetic Resonance Imaging system was presented for analysis with the following notes:

System has had several intermittent issue that have caused system to be down and functional upon arrival. System issues have been in RF section. No issues have been reported since system since installation of power recorder.

RMS Voltage and Current

Chiller RMS Logs

First clues come from looking at the RMS logs of the voltage and current. The voltage is suspiciously well regulated – and is probably a UPS or power conditioner rather than a normal utility source (which will tend to fluctuate over a 24 hour period). A second clue is the small voltage increase or swell related to load switch-off – typical of an active source, not typical of a passive source.

Second, this appears to be a regularly cycling load – a pump or compressor. MRI systems typically have a chiller or cryogen cooler associated with them – so odds are good this was monitored on this load, and not on the MRI system itself.

Chiller or Cryogen Cooler Load

Chiller Cycling RMS
More evidence supporting the chiller or cryogen cooler load – a regular (practically like clock-work) cycling load, with a marginally higher operating current (~30 Amps), but a very high inrush current (~180 Amps)

Chiller Transient

Normal chiller or cryogen cooler inrush is seen here. A minor (~5%) voltage sag was captured during each inrush current, as well as minor associated transients (probably relay or contactor switch bounce)

Abnormally High Inrush Currents

Chiller Sag

In addition to the regular inrush currents associated with chiller cycling, six instances of very high inrush current were captured. These were seen both as voltage sag events as well as current triggered events. We’re concerned that this high inrush current may be causing an overcurrent condition on the UPS / power conditioner – which may be throwing a fault or error, or perhaps switching to Bypass.

Chiller Swell RMS

Looking at the RMS logs of the high current swell / voltage sag event, we see that it precedes a period of extended chiller / compressor operation. Unknown if this is normal operation for the system / device or indicates an error or fault of some sort.


Although the accompanying technical information was thin, we’ve “read the tea leaves” and provided the following analysis bullets

  • System appears to be powered by a UPS or power conditioner. Service personnel may not have known this.
  • System appears to be a chiller, compressor, or similar device (not the medical imaging system itself)
  • Occasional high current swells were seen; these may be normal or may point to system issues.
  • Voltage sags and collapse during these high current swells may indicate that the UPS or power conditioner is overloaded, and may be experiencing faults or alarms that may be impacting system operation / uptime

The Curious Case of the UPS Loading

We recently got to review input and output monitoring data from a UPS system (make and model not specified) feeding a medical imaging system. The monitoring was done as a precaution, but we noticed something unusual.

First, take a look at the RMS voltage and current logging of the UPS input and output. Phase A voltage, Phase B current shown for clarity, but all voltage and current phases are balanced and similar.

UPS Compare Input RMS

UPS Input – Normal facility RMS voltage (daily fluctuations, with occasional sags) and RMS current peaks at approximately 80 Amps.

UPS Compare Output RMS

UPS Output – Highly regulated RMS voltage (with small load related fluctuations) and RMS current peaks at approximately 170 Amps.

The discrepancy between the input current and output current is unusual. It would be typical for input current to be marginally higher than output current (due to device efficiencies) but not lower. Our guess – the UPS DC bus (and probably, the battery string) is being called on to support the peak output load.

UPS Compare Output Highest Load

UPS Output – Step change in load current and nonlinear load is typical of medical imaging system. Very small fluctuation in output voltage related to load changes, and small increase in voltage distortion related to nonlinear load current.

UPS Compare Input Highest Load

UPS Input – Even at highest levels, current is linear, UPS must have a unity power factor front end / rectifier. However, lower current level is unusual, and indicates that UPS battery is probably being called on to supply the peak medical imaging load.

There’s really no immediate problem here – the UPS is doing a great job of correcting input power issues, as well as supplying the complex loads (step change, pulsing currents, nonlinear power factor) of the medical imaging system.

However,it’s pretty clear that the UPS batteries are getting discharged during highest current imaging system operations – not really their intended purpose, which is to ride through far less frequent utility sags and outages. So it’s possible that the UPS batteries are being stressed and may degrade or fail prematurely, and need replacement. We’ve referred this to the UPS manufacturer / supplier for attention.

As a quick “in the field” test (we’re doing this analysis remotely, not on site) we might suggest disconnecting the battery string temporarily, and seeing how the UPS performs without the battery, just relying on the DC bus. We’re guessing the UPS might start to collapse or struggle to supply the medical imaging load – and may be undersized for the application without the battery string supplied.

We’ve seen situations where a UPS that has heretofore worked well for years stops working quite so well, because the batteries started to wear out, and the unit was no longer able to supply the peak loads required by the imaging system.

Philips Power Solutions

I was the national Power Quality Engineer at Philips’ North American HQ circa 1989-1995 and laid the groundwork for a lot of this. So this is interesting to see.

Overall, pretty well done. The “lousy power” waveforms are a little unrealistic / conceptual (I’d have insisted it was a little more realistic) but they hit all the high points. Think they futzed up the isolation transformer based UPS technology a bit (the isolation transformer is unique, but does not provide the conversion from AC-DC which is pretty standard in all online UPS systems). Interesting to see Rx Monitoring Services reports spotlighted; a good partner choice if one is using power protection as a revenue source.

I never got a kick ass video for my power program, if I recall correctly…


The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future

Heard yesterday on Fresh Air: Aging And Unstable, The Nation’s Electrical Grid Is ‘The Weakest Link’

In her new book, The Grid, Gretchen Bakke argues that the under-funded power grid is incapable of taking the U.S. into a new energy future. She explains the challenges to Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies.

Just ordered a copy online; was a great interview and sounds like a wonderful book, dealing with the realities of balancing nearly unlimited, yet inconsistent renewable power sources (solar, wind, etc.) with the reality of consumer and commercial demand.

I confess to being a little curmudgeonly about issues of power usage, renewable energy sources, attempts to encourage consumer energy savings, etc. and this book gets to the heart of a lot of that. Really looking forward to this read!

Meet the new boss…..

Siemens Healthcare Becomes Siemens Healthineers

We’ve been working with Siemens since 2001. Somewhere along May 2009, we transitioned reports and templates from being branded as Siemens Medical Solutions to Siemens Healthcare. So I suppose it’s about time for a bit of rebranding. Pretty minor change for us (the word “Healthcare” appears a grand total of 2x in the report templates we start from.

The new name embodies the company’s pioneering spirit and engineering expertise in the healthcare industry. It is unique and bold and gives a new identity to the organization and to the people – the people accompanying, serving and inspiring healthcare providers worldwide – the people behind outstanding products and solutions.

Makes me think of Walt Disney and the Imagineers (I’ve recently watched a PBS biography of Uncle Walt).