Integrated Generator Systems – Lights, Switches, Buttons and Knobs

The integrated systems of a generator are very much like our brain. Our consciousness is only a small representation of all that our brain controls. Much of the real work is performed on the unconscious level. Heart rate, internal temperature, hormone regulation, and circadian rhythm all happen without us knowing. The integrated systems of a generator can be given this same label. They’re necessary for the overall function of the generator and are designed to occur independent of exterior input.

But hold on. Don’t get carried away. Though these various functions of the machine happen without exterior input they are not without maintenance. After all, a gauge is only as good as the accuracy of the information it provides. A good operator will not rely solely on one measure as the authoritative answer as to what may or may not ail a machine.

To start, what are the various indicators and what do they tell us?

Essentially you can divide the generator in half: One half being the engine (which has already been discussed at length) and the other being the alternator that gives us the electrical energy.

The gauges on the machine tell us the mechanical function of the engine – things like oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel level, battery voltage, and engine revolutions per minute. Those functions are like the base line testing of a patient, and any change from their normal operating zone tells us that not all is well and further deductive work is necessary to identify any problems.

The alternator half of the generator includes the output (voltage, current and frequency) and the optimization of the integrated systems. (For instance, the control panel is powered by, and has dominion over, the battery and charger by providing a float charge. It tells us how much of the battery is being extinguished to ensure its longevity.) The metering device for that output is contained in the control panel.

In addition to output, the machine also employs sensors to measure everything from heat, to moisture both inside and outside the machine. Those sensors are connected to the microprocessor in the control panel.

Some of the areas you may want to adjust include the way the operator interacts with the control panel, how the unit comes online and what information is displayed from the sensors.

Next to the LCD display screen will be a shut off or turn key that allows the operator to override the main system, go into a program and make alterations – all based on the system application where specific needs can be obtained.

Given the size and scope of most large scale gensets, it’s imperative that this sensitive equipment be protected against the elements, weather and corrosion. To this end, most control panels are equipped with membrane switches and keypads that are both temperature and waterproof.

The most important thing to remember about generator maintenance is even though the modern generator is equipped with the latest sensor equipment and information, there is no substitute for hands-on knowledge and training. A machine will only perform as well as it is maintained. The gauges and indicators are just that, measuring mediums to provide the operator accurate information on the machine’s performance. This series on maintenance practices is meant as a guide to help you better understand the processes and procedures that can help you get the most out of your machine.

Generator Operating Temperature – Hello Coolant

The human integumentary system is the medium through which water evaporates to keep the body cool, and it’s also the first line of contact with the external world. And yet no one knows that the skin of our body is actually our largest organ. It goes largely ignored and underappreciated. The same could be said of the internal thermal regulatory process of a diesel generator engine – the coolant.

Most of us have been around motors our entire lives, starting in early adulthood, when the joy and freedom of a license meant our first interaction with a car. Filling it with gas and making sure it had enough oil was probably the extent of our maintenance knowledge. Oil and gas are what we principally associate as being of utmost importance to engine function. And yet, it is estimated that 40% of all diesel engine problems are due to improper coolant maintenance.

Though its principal function is to ensure the optimal internal operating temperature of the engine, the coolant also circulates precious nitrites to the exterior of the cylinder sleeve liner. By means of the vibration of a vertically pounding piston and a rotating crankshaft, the fluid’s inertia creates tiny vacuum pockets, and bubbles of vapour form on the liner wall. The liner vibrates back through the vacuum pockets, and these bubbles implode under pressure, taking small chunks out of the liner. Undetected, and with adequate time, those small chunks can eat into a hole. Newer coolants contain an additive designed to create a barrier and prevent this cavitation of the liner wall.

Step one in preventing this small problem from becoming larger is to know what antifreeze formulation is in the machine’s radiator. There are two major types of supplemental coolant additives (SCAs):

  1. Nitrite/Borate
  2. Nitrite/Mobdylate/Phosphate

It is recommended that these SCAs remain consistent, and that you not mix them (Test strips specific to each composition can be used to determine which is in your engine.) These additives are depleted as the coolant works and ages, however, and must be replenished periodically with an SCA package. An adequate nitrite level is especially critical, although too much nitrite may cause solder corrosion. And excess accumulation of other additives causes “total dissolved solids” (TDS) to increase. As a result, cooling efficiency may be jeopardized, with the end result being a passage-clogging dropout.

Step two in maintaining generator coolant-system health is to regularly extract a sample from the overfill container, give it a visual inspection and test it. Test strips are available or samples can be sent to a laboratory to check for glycol content, nitrite levels and pH levels. During the visual assessment, look for consistent colour (possible mixing of antifreeze types) and clarity (evidence of rust particles.) Further testing of freeze/boil protection can be performed using a refractometer.

Finally, regular inspection of the coolant levels would not be complete without a periodic draining, flushing and refilling of the entire system. As the coolant system is responsible for a significant amount of engine failure, we recommend a complete changeover of coolant on a yearly basis.

Our next post will inspect the systems that integrate the entire machine together: PublishedLights, Switches, Buttons and Knobs.