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TroubleshootingVariableSpeedDrives
ElectricalConstructionandMaintenance
SolomonS.Turkel

Turkel,SolomonS.
Sat,1999050112:00

Fast,effectivetroubleshootingcombinesintuitiveandlogicalthinkingwithspecialtraining,therighttest
instruments,and"SMARTS."
Troubleshootingelectricalequipmentisalwaysachallenge.Aselectricalequipmentincorporatemore
complexelectronics,thechallengebecomesincreasinglyformidable.Moreandmoretimeisrequiredto
troubleshootthisequipmentcertainly,increasedknowledgeisneededtodothistaskcorrectlyand
efficiently.
Thiscertainlyisthecasewithvariablefrequencydrives(VFDs),whichconsistofacomplicated
combinationofelectricpowercomponentsandsensitiveelectroniccircuits.Furthermore,VFDsare
directedbyprecision,lowvoltage,lowcurrentdigitaloranalogcircuitrythatcanbequitesensitiveto
outsidedisturbances.Mostimportantly,properVFDoperationisgreatlydependentonmanyexterior
factorssuchastheloaditself,inputvoltages,surges,dirt,heat,moisture,andsoon.
Thus,ifyouwanttobeaneffectivetroubleshooterofVFDs,youmustapplysystematiccommonsense
thinkingandtroubleshootingtechniques.Anotheressentialfactoristraining.
ApplyingSMARTS
ThesecrettotroubleshootingVFDsisusingSMARTS,anacronymforaprovenmethodusedin
troubleshootingnumerousVFDinstallationsoverthelast20years.SMARTSstandsforSafety,Manuals,
Application,Readings,Talk,andSymptoms.
ThistechniquecanbeappliedtoallkindsofVFDsandotherelectricalequipmentaswell.It'spractical,
economical,effective,andfast.
Safety.Thisisthefirststepinalltroubleshootingsafetyforyourself,yourfellowemployees,andthe
equipment.Takeasmanytestreadingsaspossiblewiththepoweroff.However,manymeasurements
andtestprocedureswillhavetobedoneonenergizedequipment.Besuretoinstallwarningsigns,tape
offthetestlocation,andfollowlockoutprocedures.
It'simportanttobeawarethatbothACandDCvoltagesarepresentwithintheVFD.DCvoltagelevels
willbeequaltothepeakvoltagesoftheACinput.Forexample,a480VdrivewillhaveaDCvoltageof
676V(480x1.41).TheDCvoltageusedinaVFDisstoredincapacitorsthatarecapableofholdinga
lethalchargeforseveralminutes.BeforeattemptinganyinternalhandsonworkontheVFDcontrol
enclosure,youshouldfirsttakeavoltagereadingofitscapacitorswithaverifiedworkingmeter.
Remember,yourlifecoulddependonthissimpletest.
Withtoday'smodernmicroprocessordesignsonVFDs,it'sveryeasytoprograminasetofoperation
parametersthatcouldinadvertentlyprovetobefatal.Amotordesignedtooperateat3600rpmat60Hz

canbemadetooperateat7200rpmwhentheVFDisprogrammedtosupplya120Hzoutput.Imagine
whatwouldhappentoboxesmovingonaconveyorattwicetheconveyor'sratedspeed.Makesureyou
understandtheresultsofanychangesoradjustmentsmade.
Thebestadviceistoreadandfollowallsafetycautionsonthedriveandinthesuppliedmanual.
Manuals.It'simpossibletotroubleshootandrepairaVFDwithoutfirststudyingthemanufacturer's
manual.Withonboarddiagnosticsavailableonmostunits,youneedthemanualtodecodethesefault
messagesaswellastoidentifytheprobablecausesfortherespectivefaults.
Themanualalsoprovidesyouwithtestproceduresandtroubleshootingguidelinesthatwillsavemany
hoursofunnecessarydowntime.Agoodpracticeistorequestadditionalmanualsorcopytheonesyou
alreadyhave.Manyhoursoflostdowntimecanbeattributedtolookingfortheequipmentmanual.
Application.Whatis"application?"It'stheVFD,themotor,andtheloadconnectedtothemotor.Don't
forgettheexternalcontrolsthatcontroltheVFDitself,suchasinterlocks,pushbuttons,digital
controllers,etc.
TheVFDwilloperateonlywhenandhowit'stoldtooperate.Atthesametime,itwillrespondtoany
dramaticchanges,suchasincorrectorfaultyloadandpowerdemands,byshuttingdowninaneffortto
protectitself.
ThemajorityofproblemswithVFDapplications(fans,pumps,conveyors,etc.)havenothingtodowith
theVFDcontrolconsoleitself.Assuch,youshouldtroubleshoottheVFDcontrollerlastand
troubleshoottheapplicationfirst.
Readings.Aspartofyourtroubleshootingprocess,you'llneedtocollectreadingsofthedrive.Themost
commonreadingsneededareasfollows.
*ACinputlinevoltage.
*ACoutputloadvoltage.
*Linecurrent.
*Loadcurrent.
*Frequencyoutputtothemotor.
*DCbusvoltage.
Today'sVFDsuseoperatorinterfacepanelsanddigitaldisplays.Mostofthereadingsneededfor
troubleshootingcanbereadonthesedisplays.Insomeunits,youcanevenchooseoneoffourdifferent
languages.
Whenusingtestequipmenttocollectreadings,besuretoverifythemeter'scapabilityfortheintended
reading.Thesuppliedmanualwillusuallyindicatewhatreadingsareneededaswellasthetypeofmeter
touse.
SolidstateVFDcomponentsareeasilydamagedbyovervoltagesandfaultcurrents.Therefore,theymay
becheckedearlyonpriortosequential,logicprocedure.Also,besurethatinsulationresistancereadings
arenottakenonamotorwiththedriveconnectedandpowerremoved.
It'sgoodpracticetologthereadingsonpaperasyoutroubleshoot.Thiswillhelpyoufromhavingtotake
thesamereadingsoveragain.

Talk.That'sright,talk.Talktotheoperatoroftheequipmenttalktoothermechanicsworkinginthe
areatalktoanyonethatmightknowanythingabouttheequipmentoranunusualactivitynearit.Asa
detective(troubleshooter),yourjobistogetthefactsandgettheequipmentbackupandrunning.
Herearesomequestionsthatyoushouldask.Whendiditstopworking?Hasanythingelsealsostopped?
Havetherebeenanyrecentchangesoradditionstotheload?Isthisarandomfailureorhasthisbeen
happeningforsometime?
Thebetteryourunderstandingoftheeventssurroundingafailure,themoreaccurateandfasteryour
troubleshootingwillbe.Askyourself,"AmItroubleshootingsymptomsortheactualproblemitself?"
Symptoms.ThislaststepisespeciallycriticalforeffectivetroubleshootingofVFDs.It'svitalthatyou
learntoseparatesymptomsfromtheactualproblem.
Forexample,afuseblewisthistheproblemorasymptom?Actually,theblownfuseisasymptomofthe
trueproblem.Afaultofsometypehascausedthefusetoblow.Replacingablownfusewithout
troubleshootingthecausewillnotcorrecttheproblemand,inmanycases,willcreateevengreater
problems.
Anotherexample:thedrivetripsinanoverloadcondition.Isthistheproblemorasymptomofan
undiscoveredproblem?
Collectallyoursymptomsandcarefullyreviewthem.Letthesymptomsaswellasyourreadingsand
interviewswithoperatorspointyouintherightdirection.
Actualcasehistory
Location:BaltimoreMuseumofArt,Baltimore,Md.
Application:NumerousVFDsforanHVACsysteminnewbuildingaddition.
Typeofloads:Fans,pumps.
Problem1:A60hpchilledwaterpumpVFDshutdown.
Problem2:Onlyonestandbychilledwaterpumpremaining.Themuseumneedstomaintainprecise
controloftemperatureandhumiditytopreselectedconstantlevelstoprotectartwork.
Gettingdowntothebusinessoftroubleshooting,weinstinctivelybeganthinkingintermsofSMARTS.
Safety.Evenwithmanyyearsofexperience,wealwaysstarttroubleshootingwiththesesimple
questions.Whatarethedangersintroubleshootingthisequipment?AmIsafeinwhatIamdoing?
Manuals.Guesswhat?ThepocketforthemanualwasontheVFDcontrollerdoorbutthemanualwas
gone.Assuch,atwinunitVFDnexttotheinoperativeVFDhadtobeshutdownanditsmanualremoved.
(Withthedigitaldisplaysanderrorcodesavailablefordiagnostics,it'sessentialtohavetheVFD
manual.)Thefaultcodeonthedisplayindicatedthatcontrolpowerhadbeenlostandrecommended
checkingcontrolinputs,fuses,andthecontroltransformer.Butbeforetakingreadings,wereviewedthe
application.
Application.Surewe'reelectricalpeople,butyoucan'tfixthepieceofequipmentifyoudon'tknowwhat
it'sdoingorsupposedtodo.Ifyou'renotsureoftheapplication,ask.Getsomeonetohelpyou.Tryto
thinkofthethingsyou'llneedtoknow.Forexample,howisthedrivecontrolled:auto,manual,local,or
remote?Whatandwhereareexteriorsensorsandlimitcontrols?Anythingspecialabouttheload?
Readings.AttheVFDcontrolpanel,themanualwasreviewedandthesuggestedreadings,asoutlined,

weretaken.
Asthereadingsprogressed,wefoundablowncontrolfuseonthesecondarysideofthecontrol
transformer.Whenyouseeablownfuse,alittlevoiceinyourheadalwaysseemstosay,"Goahead,
changeititprobablygotweakandneededtobechanged.Yourproblemswillbeover."Don'tdoit.A
fuseisaprotectivedevice,andwhenitblows,itmeansaproblemexistsandthefuseclearedapotential
overcurrentorfaultcurrentcondition.
Usingameterintheresistancetestmode,wecheckedforshortsinthecontrolcircuit,butdidnotseeany
deadfaultsorunusualresistancevalues.Assuch,thefusewasreplacedandtheVFDwaspoweredup.
Boom!Itblewagain.
Now,itmadesensetostarttracingwiresfromthetransformer.Indoingthis,westartedaskingsome
questions.
Talk."So,whendidthisunitactuallygodown?Didyouloseanyotherequipment?Anybodydoanywork
nearby?"Weweretoldthatsomepaintershadjustfinishedpaintingthemechanicalroomjustpriorto
thedriveshutdown.Althoughthereappearedtobenorelationship,weaskedwheretheywerepainting.
ThepaintingincludedareasrightovertheVFDitself.LookingatthetopoftheVFD,wesawwherepieces
ofcinderblockfromthepaintingprepworkhadfallendownontotheenclosure.BehindtheVFDapiece
hadfallenintothecoolingfanandjammedthefanblade,causingthefanmotortoshortout.Thisfan
motoroperatedat120Vandwasdirectlywiredtothecontroltransformer.Endofthestory?Notyet.
Symptoms.Everythingpointedtothefanmotorasbeingtheculprit.Butafterdisconnectingitfromthe
transformerandfurthertesting,afaultstillshowedup.
Wecontinuedtroubleshootinganddiscoveredthatsomeonehadmaderepeatedfusechangesandfaults
haddamagedanadditionalgatefiringtransformer.
SolomonS.TurkelisSeniorInstructorwithATMS,Corp.Baltimore,Md.
SourceURL:http://ecmweb.com/content/troubleshootingvariablespeeddrives