UPS Helps Connecticut MRI and CAT Scan Center Serve Its Patients
Monthly power outages that threatened to damage millions of dollars in medical equipment were a new experience for x-ray technologist Beth Kinkade when she left the hospital setting in 1999 and moved into her new job as site manager for an independent imaging center.
“In the Glastonbury area of Connecticut, we have very frequent power outages, when the whole town loses its power,” says Beth Kinkade, site manager at Jefferson X-Ray Group. The outages are usually weather related: high winds, heavy rain, or snow. “We’re always in trouble here.”
When she worked in the x-ray department at a hospital, Kinkade wasn’t really aware of the problem of power outages because hospitals must have their own emergency generators. After all, the lights can’t go out during open-heart surgery. Kinkade says the transition from uninterrupted power to frequent outages was a bit of a shock.
She spent a few years at Jefferson X-Ray Group dealing with monthly power outages, explaining to inconvenienced patients who had driven half an hour—from a community that had power to one that didn’t—why their appointment had to be rescheduled. The imaging center is in a remote part of the Hartford metropolitan area and power quality at this distance from the substation is not the best. There is a lot of interference on the line, which is something MRI equipment and CAT scan machines need to avoid.
“It cost us a great deal of money in patient revenue,” Kinkade says of the downtime caused by power fluctuations, not to mention the very expensive equipment damaged by frequent power outages. The stress was getting to everyone on the 25-person staff; plus, the group of 30 radiologists who use the center were frustrated with the delays and patient rescheduling.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Kinkade says.
The technological straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was damage to a $50,000 circuit board.
The company could not afford to see the same thing happen to its considerably more expensive MRI and CAT scan machines, which are so unusual that contractors must be specially trained to install them. For example, every wire that goes into the room must first pass through an insulator, almost as if a room is built inside another room with insulation between the walls.
Jefferson X-Ray worked with the local power company to explore why this business—which was located as far away as is physically possible from a transformer in Glastonbury—had nothing but problems with brownouts and power losses. Kinkade says the power company was not a lot of help. “We went back and forth with the power company on whose fault it is. The power company wouldn’t admit to anything,” she says. “The have a deaf ear sometimes.”
And then Jefferson X-Ray gave H.O. Penn Machinery Co. a call. The Caterpillar dealer knew just what the company needed: a generator and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
Mike Thibault, a sales engineer at H.O. Penn for the past eight years, says he remembers his first contact with Jefferson X-Ray’s contractor, Pizzitola Electric of Hartford, CT. Tony Pizzitola called him after a meeting about an in-progress remodeling at a new Jefferson X-Ray facility when the power problems were discussed. “He decided it might be a good idea for me to get involved,” Thibault says. “We have a long-standing relationship. We work closely together on a few other projects.”
Because Jefferson X-Ray had not made plans for a special generator and UPS room—this kind of equipment usually requires special treatment because of the size of the machines and the heat they generate—it needed to make some special arrangements to add UPS to its plans.
“They had not planned on this,” Thibault remembers. “This was a new facility, but no room was allocated for anything like a UPS, which usually requires a special environment and a special kind of room.”
Thibault surveyed the site and found a telephone room that wasn’t being used. Because the Cat equipment has a smaller footprint than the average UPS-generator system, Thibault thought it would fit in the existing space, and the company then found a way to improve ventilation by adding a wall-mounted air-conditioning unit without spending a lot of extra money.
“That’s the amazing thing about this product: the size of it and the efficiency of it,” Thibault says. “It saved them in so many ways—delays, construction costs, and everything.”
Before Jefferson X-Ray decided to buy the new equipment, however, it tried one more time to get General Electric (GE), the supplier of its x-ray technology, to find a problem it could fix in the equipment itself. “GE did a survey and found the power quality coming into the building wasn’t acceptable,” Thibault says.
He says he is reluctant to criticize the electric company because the electric grid was built a long time ago for motors and light bulbs. It wasn’t built for the kind of reliability needed for such sensitive electronic equipment as MRI machines.
GE recommended purchasing a UPS system and suggested a number of machines, including a GE product. Jefferson X-Ray decided in the end to go with the Cat equipment because of price, fit, and quality.
“After determining our need for a power-conditioning unit, we evaluated a variety of UPS models,” says Mark Weathersbee, IT director at Jefferson X-Ray. “We were impressed with the reliable flywheel-based technology offered by the Cat UPS over that of battery-based systems, and felt it would work most effectively to met our power-quality needs.”
H.O. Penn supplied a Cat 3412, 550-kW generator set and a Cat 300-kVA UPS to meet the company’s power needs (see Tables 1–5).
The UPS system, which also is available in ranges up to 1,200 kVA, provides constant power protection against surges, sags, and power interruptions by canceling harmonic distortion. Caterpillar claims its is the most reliable, highest-efficiency UPS machine in the smallest package in the industry.
Under normal operating conditions the UPS unit takes power from the grid and conditions it for facility use. If the input power goes outside predetermined limits (such as failure or unacceptably high or low voltage), the UPS signals the standby power unit to fire up and come online. At full load, the Cat 300-kVA UPS will support the load for 13.5 seconds, ample time for the 3412 generator set to handle the load.
“The UPS itself had a smaller footprint and it also did not require ancillary equipment or specialized temperature control. As such, we were able to easily accommodate it in an available space,” Weathersbee says.
At first, GE expressed concerns that Jefferson X-Ray’s new MRI machines would not be well served by the Cat UPS equipment, Thibault says. The company was concerned about the unit’s ability to meet the stringent voltage fluctuation requirements. According to the manufacturer, the specialized MRI equipment would only tolerate a maximum system voltage fluctuation of plus or minus 2%, a requirement the Cat UPS was capable of meeting.
Thibault says he worked closely with the technical staff at GE until everyone was satisfied with the choice. Meeting Jefferson X-Ray’s tight time schedule was a challenge.
“Because the problem was discovered late in the game, they needed to have the equipment making money right away,” Thibault says.
H.O. Penn had the new equipment installed and functioning within a month, from the first conversation about power problems to the equipment working efficiently in the background.
The Caterpillar dealer performs all maintenance on the power train. The UPS requires minimal maintenance. Monthly checks are done as a cautionary measure to maintain reliability. Annual periodic maintenance includes changing vacuum pump oil. At 30 months, the bearings in the UPS are replaced.
According to Thibault, “Caterpillar recommends bi-annual visits to the generator set. One visit is necessary to change fluids and check belts, hoses, safeties, et cetera. The second visit is an operational check of belts, hoses, battery, switching operation, operating temperatures, et cetera. Caterpillar also recommends that the customer perform a weekly walk-around visual inspection of the unit for obvious problems with oil level, coolant level, or leaks.”
Lou Signorelli, UPS product and market consultant for Caterpillar EP, says he believes Caterpillar already manufactures the best generator sets in the world, but if there’s an unreliable link in the electrical chain, a generator is not enough to solve the problem. Signorelli says the flywheel technology used in the Cat UPS is not new technology; it’s just a different way of implementing a reliable technology.
One of the main advantages, in his opinion, is the small footprint. There is no need for spill containment for a battery when you don’t use one, and this system doesn’t require extra fire suppression. In the short term, flywheel-based systems cost more than traditional UPS products, but Caterpillar says the life-cycle costs for its equipment make it a more affordable option, especially when you consider the value of Caterpillar dealer service, warranty, and the company’s long-standing traditions of quality and excellence.
In its “white paper” on UPS technology, Caterpillar says the market for such equipment is huge because of widespread difficulties with the power grid. The company quotes a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, claiming there will be more than 30 power dips of over 10% a year in most US manufacturing facilities. The report says reliability and power-quality limitations cost the US economy more than $30 billion a year from lost sales, downtime, and damage to equipment and materials when the power goes out.
The computerized tools of today’s economy make power fluctuations more costly than ever, because electronic equipment is more likely to be damaged by power problems and because it is more sensitive to the fluctuations. Improving the power grid, a never-ending project for the nation’s electrical industry, is one solution. The other, Caterpillar says, is making sure you have a backup electrical system.
The Cat UPS is also popular in Europe where space is more of a premium. “We have ever-increasing sales in Europe,” says Signorelli.
As machines like printing presses, which used to be simple mechanical devices, get more and more electronic, UPS will become more essential in areas where the grid is unstable, weather is extreme, or there can be a lot of interference on the line.
No More Problems
Kinkade says Jefferson X-Ray has not had to cancel a single patient’s appointment in the two years the Cat equipment has been installed. “That has had to show up greatly on our revenue. And the patients are happy.”
Since the goal is to keep the two MRI units and one CAT scan machine working all the time the office is open, seven days a week, the employees of Jefferson X-Ray and the radiologists are happy too. “It takes a lot of stress away from everybody. It’s just a win-win situation all the way around,” Kinkade says.
The company now easily meets its goals of about 22 MRI patients and 20 CAT scan patients every day, which Kinkade describes as a fairly high volume of business for an imaging center.
“When the lights are out at the corner, we don’t care anymore,” Kinkade says with a laugh, adding that the generator and UPS were worth every penny. “They don’t compare to how expensive the MRI machines are and the cost of downtime.”