4 Ways to Protect Your Industrial Electronics from Lightning Damage

circuit board repairsA lightning strike lasts about 1-2 microseconds…not even time to blink an eye and yet long enough to cause destruction of life and property.  Storms this spring are already ferocious and violent in the U.S.

Lightning bolts and electronics do not play well together.  Check out some shocking facts that put your electronic gear (and YOU) in danger:

  • At any given time, approximately 2000 thunderstorms are in progress around the world with an average of 25 million cloud to ground lightning strikes per year in the U.S. alone
  • 100 lightning flashes strike earth every second
  • Lightning can produce currents as high as 500 kA and voltage up to 30,000 kV  meaning a direct hit is rarely survivable whether human or electronics
  • And no, contrary to a popular myth – wearing rubber shoes will NOT protect you from a lightning strike

Your outside equipment such as your HVAC, fire alarms, perimeter security, remote pumps and controls, even your parking lot lights may already be cowering in fear from the coming electrical storms.

Following a thunder storm, if your industrial electronic equipment fails to start, will not perform normal functions, loses a phase, starters short,  or back up batteries are alarming and will not charge it’s a pretty good sign that you have sustained lightning damage or a power surge, even if your building did not experience a direct hit.

Lightning strikes can cause damage through power surges called “transients” which happen when lightning strikes nearby hitting transmitting devices such as metallic plant equipment, pipes, or wiring.  Even the magnetic field associated with lighting can affect computers nearby causing damage that might not show up until days or weeks later.

Damage to electrical and electronic equipment can include flashover of insulation inside motors or transformers, vaporized traces on printed circuit boards, vaporized transistors and integrated circuits, blown fuses, and more.  None of it good and frequently unrepairable.

The cost of lightning damage is downtime, reduced production, and industrial electronic repairs or replacement costs.  There are some things you can do to help minimize lightning damage:

  1. Diversion:  ground metallic structures
  2. Attenuation:  careful wiring such as metallic raceways, cable shields, twisted pairs, extensive grounding and earthing
  3. Suppression:  up-to-date suppression devices installed at each point closes to the equipment to be protected or where the conductor enters and leaves a structure
  4. Your power distribution systems must be capable of withstanding repeat lightning-induced peak surge currents.   This is not a DIY project.  Make sure you get a qualified electrician for this job.

Know this too:  when you install surge protection devices around your plant, realize that undetected damage may have already occurred to circuit boards, processors, wiring, and connections prior to the installation so some losses may continue for a time and it is not a failure of the new devices.

Even after all that, sometimes your electronic equipment will still suffer damage.  If that’s the case, get a qualified, experienced industrial electronic repair company to evaluate your item to see if it is repairable or “toast”.  If you’re not sure about the potential damage get your equipment checked out whether it’s circuit board repairs, control repairs or any other piece of your electronics.

The best repair companies will provide this evaluation at no cost and give you an accurate quote for repairs.  They should also be able to provide rush repair services and offer a minimum of a one year warranty on most repairs.  If your item is “toast” the company should be able to dispose of the electronics properly.

Keep your equipment safe this summer and most importantly, keep yourself safe.   Unfortunately, there are no surge protection devices for humans!