Eaton, a global power management corporation, came to team Lumin, a team of 4 Carnegie Mellon students, to help envision the future of Switchgear-Human Interaction. They wanted us to create a solution tailored for switchgear operators working in hospitals and universities in the year 2025.
What are Switchgear?
Switchgear are large gray boxes, usually found in the basement of buildings, that distribute electricity throughout an institution. Switchgear are the lifeblood of power in an institution but pose a grave safety risk for people who work on them.
We spent 3 months talking to over 30 stakeholders involved in switchgear operation. We employed several qualitative user research methods like field observation, user interviews, guided storytelling, stakeholder visioning, and touchstone tours.
Currently, maintenance personnel regularly collect readings from the switchgear such as voltage, amperage and harmonics. However, this data is used effectively as we saw years worth of data lying unused in offices.
Also, current remote monitoring software does not provide actionable information. Power operations managers do not see much value in it because these systems just give them numbers without interpretation or context.
Switchgear have serious arc-flash hazards and hence, safety is the number one concern of anyone working with switchgear. Although there are several protocols in place to ensure working on the switchgear safely, it is a source of anxiety and mental stress for switchgear operators.
Switchgear operators generally work on switchgear at nights, for long hours at a stretch, in poorly maintained switchgear rooms. This adds to their mental and physical stress.
The number of maintenance personnel working in commercial institutions has been decreasing over time. This has led to hiring more maintenance generalists instead of electrical specialists.
Also, older experienced maintenance personnel are retiring rapidly and the newer, younger hires who are replacing them need expert assistance to guide them.
The maintenance personnel who work on switchgear have a lot of respect for each other and take pride in their work. They form close bonds because they look out for each other during stressful operations that they perform together.
Also, relationships are crucial for selling switchgear. All the electrical consultants and power operations managers we spoke to mentioned the importance of their relationship with the manufacturer’s sales personnel.
SEER is the next step towards the fully-automated, safe future of power management where accidents and faults are prevented before they occur and emergencies can be detected in seconds.
SEER is a remote monitoring system with predictive sensing capabilities for switchgear. It enables maintenance personnel with various degrees of experience throughout all levels of the organization to effectively troubleshoot switchgear-related problems. It predicts future problems and helps maintenance personnel prevent them.
SEER lets the maintenance personnel operate the switchgear remotely. They can remotely switch a breaker off and rack it out without touching the switchgear.
SEER uses a proximity sensor to ensure no one is near the switchgear while it is being operated remotely. In case someone is close to the switchgear, it alerts the user and prevents them from performing the remote operation.
SEER monitors switchgear for maintenance personnel and notifies them if it predicts a problem. They can safely ignore your switchgear and be assured that if a problem arises, SEER will notify them about it.
SEER has two types of notifications - alerts and predictions. Alerts are problems that have occurred with the switchgear and predictions predict potential problems with it. SEER knows what is urgent for maintenance personnel and prioritizes these notifications accordingly.
SEER gives maintenance personnel a holistic understanding of the switchgear problem. For example, it provides them downstream information of affected systems. It also gives them an intelligent trend graph with reasons for unnatural spikes. Finally, it shows them which switchgear sensors are reporting a problem.
SEER helps maintenance personnel locate your switchgear and the specific part in the switchgear line up that is faulty. It tells them exactly what they need to know to help them understand the problem as quickly as possible.
SEER makes switchgear data meaningful and usable. It analyzes data from switchgear meters and sensors to predict problems.
SEER goes beyond providing basic alerts and correlates data from multiple sensors and meters. For example, it can predict a fire by sensing high amperage, loose wiring, and high trip count in a circuit breaker.
We conducted user research from January to April 2014. We used user research techniques like field observation, user interviews, guided storytelling, stakeholder visioning, and touchstone tours. We spoke to over 30 people at universities and hospitals.
We conducted 5 rounds of prototyping and user testing from May 2014 to July 2014. Each iteration increased in its fidelity, starting in the form of storyboards and finishing as a high fidelily clickable prototype on an iPad. We tested each iteration with at least 5 target users.