When uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems first appeared on the market, manufacturers performed the installations and initial start-ups while the end users handled subsequent maintenance requirements. As UPS volume increased, and equipment became smaller and more standardized, manufacturers recognized the practical and economic benefits of offering maintenance agreements (see the photo). Today, manufacturers employ teams of field engineers to perform the maintenance specified under these agreements. Independent service providers, comprised mainly of former factory-service personnel, also provide these services. Although the average price of an annual UPS maintenance agreement (allowing for inflation) has declined by nearly 50% in the last 20 years, end users still need to exercise caution when they go to purchase one.
The primary reason behind any maintenance agreement is to ensure system reliability and safety. Therefore, it's not surprising that agreements with inclusive preventive maintenance inspections have been shown to yield a high degree of equipment reliability and safety.
Another way maintenance agreements enhance reliability and safety is through improved mean-time-to-repairs (MTTRs). When emergencies arise, standard industry practice gives preferential response times to customers with agreements. In addition, most service providers stock their spare parts according to the number of systems under agreement and their corresponding geographical locations.
What to Consider
End users looking to purchase UPS maintenance agreements should take their time because there are a myriad of variables to consider. These variables include:
Levels of coverage
With UPS maintenance agreements, the level of coverage will be directly proportional to the price. Typically, the larger the budget, the better the level of coverage. The three main levels of coverage are preventive inspections only, remedial labor included, and remedial parts included.
Preventive maintenance inspections determine the condition of equipment at a given time. Service providers should check to make sure the equipment's performance matches the manufacturer's specifications — with no discernible pending failures.
For years, most UPS manufacturers recommended a minimum of two inspections per year. Some have changed their recommendation to one per year, probably in response to a combination of equipment improvements and competitive market pressures. As an end user, you must make a value judgment as to the number of inspections you want in a given period. Also, be sure to verify that the number of preventive maintenance inspections specified equals the number quoted. Most experienced UPS service engineers would probably agree on two inspections per year as the desired minimum.
Agreements with remedial labor included cover failed-equipment repairs. This can help offset the “budget busting” expenditures caused by unforeseen failures — especially if the remedial coverage includes replacement parts.
If you choose to include remedial-parts coverage in your agreement, be especially cautious. This type of coverage is an area ripe for abuse by service providers. You'll need to find out if ALL parts are truly included by asking these questions:
- Are potential high-cost parts such as major magnetics excluded?
- Are you required to keep a recommended spare-parts kit onsite?
- Is the cost of covered parts limited to no more than the price of the maintenance agreement?
- Does the service provider have sufficient logistics support in place to ensure parts availability?
Overall, full remedial maintenance coverage (labor and all parts) provides for simple, automatic repairs in the fastest possible MTTR, and it's often the safest route to stay within your budget window.
Emergency response times
Ideally, customers would have a field engineer on hand 24 hours a day, every day. Unfortunately, few budgets allow this type of speedy solution. Like remedial parts coverage, you'll need to be careful if you include emergency response times in a maintenance agreement. Different response times can cause significant variances in the price of a quoted agreement.
Emergency response time is the total time it takes for a service provider to arrive on a job site after an emergency service request has been placed. Specified response times may vary from 2 hours to 24 hours. The time you need will depend on the criticality of the connected load, the configuration of the facility's critical power infrastructure (redundant or nonredundant), and whether or not the facility has onsite backup generation.
Once again, when you solicit quotes from multiple service providers, carefully examine the quotes to make sure each bidder commits to meeting your specified response time. An 8-hour to 12-hour response time for most mid-level critical loads is an adequate standard. For high-end critical centers, the usual standard is 2 hours to 4 hours.
Maintenance coverage windows
A recent addition to the mix of maintenance agreement variables is the maintenance coverage window. It's purely the result of competitive market pressures on service providers. Common maintenance coverage windows are 5 × 8 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and 7 × 24 (anytime). One question: If your kitchen caught on fire Saturday afternoon, would you be willing to wait until Monday morning for the fire department to respond? Only the most restrictive budgets should lead facility decision makers to specify a limited maintenance coverage window. In fact, consider reducing the level of coverage (i.e., full service, number of preventive maintenance inspections, parts included, etc.) in order to achieve same-day service response times.
Service provider expertise
Regardless of what you specify or what the quote states, you need to know that the selected service provider can deliver as promised. Ask the representative if the company has the necessary parts, test equipment, and expertise to provide quality service in a timely manner. Also, find out how many field engineers comprise the travel radius for your desired emergency response time, and check on the training level required and technical support provided for staff members who back up the field engineers.
Service provider's financial condition
When you deal with any service provider, it's always a good idea to make sure the company is financially sound and has a stable management team. Do this by requesting and checking such items as references, credit information, and D&B ratings.
UPS systems play an important role in maintaining power quality at countless facilities. If you're considering a maintenance agreement for an onsite UPS system, you'll want to obtain one that fits your budget and improves reliability and mean-time-to-repairs. Today, end users can choose from a number of qualified manufacturer or independent service providers.
When soliciting quotes, you'll want to specify such criteria as coverage levels, emergency response times, and maintenance coverage windows. In the end, the selected service provider should be capable of providing what the contracted level of service demands. The bottom line: Use care when purchasing maintenance agreements for UPS systems. If you ordered oranges, look in the bag and make sure it isn't filled with apples.
James T. Dodson is the vice president of global services, sales, and marketing at GE Digital Energy in Rockwall, Texas. You can reach him at email@example.com.