Since Allied Signal Corp.'s powerful radio telescope facility at Fort Irwin, Calif. is an indispensable satellite communications tool for such high-tech organizations as Jet Propulsion Laboratories and NASA, the Voyager space probes, and the space shuttle, a dependable electric supply is obviously critical. However, even reliable power systems are not infallible.

Allied recently learned this lesson firsthand when an electrical component failed, putting operations in jeopardy. When the 1960s-vintage breaker operating off of the main power feed failed, this cut off power to the telescope and part of the complex. More critically, this situation created a dilemma for technicians. They had two choices: locate a replacement breaker, which was a slim-to-none chance considering the component's age; or upgrade the entire system, which could take weeks and an enormous sum of money.

According to Larry Wilson, Cognizant Operations Engineer at Allied's Pasadena headquarters, the radio telescope facility had upgraded most of its electrical system years ago. But for some reason, the breaker had remained untouched.

"We couldn't find a replacement breaker anywhere," recalled Wilson. "Our only option was a total upgrade of our electrical system, which meant installation of a new breaker, new pads, cables, and accessories. It was a very expensive option (in the ballpark of $70,000 to 80,000), and that was just a rough estimate."

The above scenario is not uncommon. When equipment has been in place for years, replacement breakers, accessories, and mounting hardware are often unavailable from the OEM, who seldom stocks replacement components for "obsolete" styles. Furthermore, you can almost never get such accessories on a tight deadline or with a limited budget.

To further complicate matters, not only was the part Allied needed obsolete, but the manufacturer was also out of business. While searching for a replacement breaker, Wilson found the perfect solution: an electrical equipment recycler who had the original breakers in stock.

When the recycler received the request for a 1200A breaker, it confirmed it had the part in inventory, quoted the order, and started reconditioning the breaker. However, the staff was dubious about the breaker's rating because of the way its model number was reported. The recycler contacted Allied and immediately sent a salesperson to the site to inspect the existing breaker. As a result, the salesperson discovered it was not a 1200A DST, but a rarer 2000A 4160V, DST air circuit breaker.

The remanufacturer came through with the rare 2000A breaker, restoring it like new in less than three weeks. The breaker's end cost was roughly $13,000, a savings of at least $57,000 on the price of a completely new electrical system plus labor and installation. Allied also saved weeks of downtime normally required when manufacturers deliver and install new components, and extended the life span of its existing system considerably. "They completely rebuilt it, and did a very impressive job," confirmed Wilson. "It was obvious it (the breaker) had been totally torn apart and everything redone, right down to the bare metal. We've been getting our breakers rebuilt through them ever since, and we're happy with their service and products."