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Heat Wave Came with Cascade of Chiller Failures at the University of Wisconsin

In July 2011, Wisconsin suffered a four-day heat wave.  Heat indexes ran as high as 117 degrees.  Among those feeling the heat from the first day on was the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Two of its large chillers already were under repair when Madison Gas and Electric "experienced a failure with one of its chillers at the West Campus Co-generation Facility."

The result was a campus-wide shortage of chilled water used for air conditioning.  What little remained went to critical operations at the hospital, servers, animal labs, and experimental facilities, while maintenance staff sweated night and day all week to make the needed repairs.  The MG&E chiller was restored within 24 hours, and one day later cool water began to trickle to to 20 of the 47 buildings that had been without it.  But it would be two more days--and the end of the heat wave--before the need for chilled water was again fully met.  By then, many university classes and events had been canceled.

Murphy's Law pays no attention to the clock or the calendar.  Periods of peak need are precisely when your critical systems frequently fail.  Predictive maintenance, which helps you schedule your repairs and minimize the downtime for HVAC, and other key infrastructure, can be a powerful ally in the maintenance specialist's eternal struggle to keep "anything that can go wrong" from wrong at the worst possible moment.

(Sources: "UW only cooling essential buildings; chillers under repair," Wisconsin State Journal, July 18, 2011; and "Air conditioning reported at normal levels," University of Wisconsin - Madison News, July 22, 2011.)

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