I recently went to work to help a company that was in desperate need of a technical expert to solve some of their problems. These problems are not rocket science to solve which makes a very easy job to do.
The issues I found last night were so ridiculous that I just have to share them with you.
Previously, I had given a RV battery charger to a mechanic to replace the failed one in a mobile work trailer. Yesterday, I got a call from the mechanic. He told me that he replaced the battery charger and it didn’t work. I told him not to worry, I will drive over to the location to take a look for myself.
A little background about the trailer:
It is a very large box trailer that has work benches, equipment, machines, air conditioning, and lighting. It has an on-board 8KW diesel generator and a separate fuel tank. Just recently, the company installed an air compressor to provide air to one of the machines. Previously, the compressed air came from the semi-truck air system. The air compressor was intended to make the work trailer self-contained and not rely on external compressed air. While not necessary to have compressed air to the machine, it makes the work much easier to have the air supplied to the equipment.
This is what I find
The first thing I notice is the trailer is packed with cases of spray solvent. Every cabinet and available space was full of these cans of solvent along with the cases of the solvent stacked on the floor. This is odd since one of the machines is a washer that eliminated the need for spray solvent. This is the machine that needs the compressed air. So, I had a sneaking suspicion that the crew wasn’t using the very expensive parts washer that the company paid for. I’ll get to why the crew opted for the enormous amounts of spray cleaner instead of using the washer a little later.
Anyway, on to the mission at hand. “The battery charger that wasn’t working”. The battery charger was necessary to keep the 12V battery charged as the diesel generator didn’t have an alternator to charge the battery. This is not some cheap generator, it is a very expensive commercial grade generator from Onan/Cummins. They just are not equipped with an alternator to charge the battery. When the battery dies, then the generator shuts down as it needs the 12v power to run its electronics. It was painfully obvious why the charger wasn’t working. The 120v plug wasn’t plugged in! But the failure doesn’t stop there. The battery charger was a RV type charger that supports 45amps of charge rate. It is a box that is bolted in to a specific spot in the trailer. The spot where the charger bolts into the trailer has no electrical outlets anywhere near the charger. I asked the mechanic where was the previous charger plugged into? He said that he wired it up exactly the same way the previous one was wired (which included not plugging in the 120v plug). So, I asked the crew how long they have been having problems with the battery. They responded that they have always been having problems with the battery (Of course). Apparently, every time the battery goes dead, they swap it out with a new one. The batteries that they use are heavy duty (very expensive) truck batteries. I didn’t even bother to ask how many batteries that they have already gone through, because I didn’t want to know how much money they were burning in batteries.
The battery charger issue doesn’t stop there. Nooooo, it gets better. Upon further inspection of the charger, I notice that it had a very hefty ground cable tying it into the ground of the trailer. This is normal for a 45amp charger. The problem is that there wasn’t a similar cable to the positive terminal of the charger. Instead, there were a few random small gauge wires attached to the positive terminal and one to the negative terminal. I measured the voltage at the charger. If one of those wires went to the battery, then I would read the battery voltage. I got nothing (zero volts). The battery charger wasn’t even wired to the battery. So what were the other wires? They went to some random LED lights and a set went to the diesel fuel gauge (for the generator). So I asked the crew (which I already knew the answer) how long has the fuel gauge been broken? The answer was always. LOL! I asked how do they know how much fuel they have in the tank for the generator? They simply reply that they don’t know, and they just top it off every crew shift.
What was interesting about the random wires attached to the battery charger is that none of them had fuses, so if there were a short in any of them, those thin wires would have received the full wrath of a 45amp power supply. What is ironic, is that there is a circuit breaker panel within 2 feet of the battery charger. That circuit breaker panel has a DC fuse bus with about 20 places to install a fuse (like the fuses you find in a car). It unfortunately has never been wired with a 12v supply and the pre-wired pigtails on the back have never been used.
So, I decided to go ahead and get these problems corrected. First thing was to add a circuit breaker for the battery charge so that an electrical outlet can be installed. Also, while in the circuit breaker panel, I decided to add a breaker for the newly added air compressor as they were supposedly using an extension cord. Well, I discovered that the air compressor didn’t have an air hose connected to it. Upon further inspection, the parts cleaner was bolted down to the floor in such a way that the quick-disconnect air fitting on the back was right up against the wall. This prevented any air hose from ever being connected. Since the air line was never in operation, this made the parts washer difficult to operate. This is why there were so many cans and cases of spray solvent stashed throughout the trailer.
OK, while those problems are easily solved, I found that I wasn’t able to start the generator from the remote generator control panel within the trailer. So, I asked the crew how long has the control panel been broken? And of course, the response is that it has never worked. Yes, I already knew the answer, but I just had to ask. The crew just opens the door to the generator and starts it from there. I pulled the generator control panel, and wouldn’t you know, that the start switch was connected incorrectly.
Finally, that fuel gauge that was connected to a power supply that was never plugged in… It was wired incorrectly as well. The power wire was connected to the fuel measurement side of the meter. Since it wasn’t fused and connected directly to a 45amp power source, it is a good thing that the power source never was plugged in.
So I had a fleeting though of just taking out life insurance policies on each of the crew and wait for the inevitable to happen to cash them in. But, I am just not that evil. Instead, I will help them live a little longer.