A lot goes into the design and construction of a structure. One crucial element in every structure, however, is what Pearl Engineering’s Senior Engineering Associate Steve Philips likes to call “the electrical piece of the puzzle.”
It’s Steve’s job to solve the puzzle.
With over 30 years as an electrical designer, five of which he has spent at Pearl Engineering, Steve works on a variety of projects, both small and large, working on grounding packages, lightning protection, electrical distribution and overall providing his superior knowledge and experience to ensure every building we work on is sound and secure.
But, there’s more to it than that. Steve also has a chance to collaborate with other departments, providing consultation and taking part in projects outside of his normal expertise. That’s one of the things Steve enjoys most about Pearl Engineering.
“Pearl is a smaller company,” he said. “Because of our size, we have the freedom to take on a variety of projects, which enables me to wear lots of different hats. It is an extremely collaborative process here.”
In fact, it was in part because of Steve that Pearl can expand to the scope that it can. Five years ago, before Steve’s arrival, there was not an electrical engineering department at Pearl Engineering. However, a mutual internal connection leads to a collaboration with Steve on a project.
Pearl was so impressed with Steve that they brought him on board and began growing the department around him.
One of the areas that Steve works in on a regular basis is grounding. Although Steve said this is a concern many people overlook, it doesn’t make it any less serious.
Every building needs a ground rod, a rod in the Earth, at the source of electricity and power to keep electrical currents regular. Since there is naturally occurring electrical current in the ground, the grounding allows excess electrical current to flow into the Earth.
Without it, current can build up and surge, often with disastrous results.
“Making sure a building and any equipment or machinery inside are grounded is essential for the safety of personnel and equipment,” he said. “Grounding removes the risk of electrocutions, electrical fires and even explosions that can seriously injure and even kill.”
In your typical home, a ground rod is placed at the service entrance where the electricity can then feed into the house. All of the house’s pipes and wiring run through this rod.
On larger scales, such as a factory or warehouse, a ground grid is required. A ground grid consists of multiple rods, capable of grounding the higher number of machinery and equipment.
What’s at risk?
It is important that every structure is grounded and electrically sound. However, certain settings stand at higher risk.
Steve cites factories or buildings whose operations produce combustible dust or fumes. For these buildings, just one electrical spark can be devastating.
Older buildings, both commercial and residential, also stand a higher chance of being at risk. Buildings older than 50 or 60 years old could be using outdated grounding techniques if they are even grounded at all.
Steve recalled one project he worked on with a building built in the 60’s that originally used aluminum for grounding. Aluminum, although used quite frequently during that timeframe, is prone to absorbing heat which can cause adjoining wires to warp and deform over time, increasing the likelihood of electrical fires and other harmful occurrences.
Although it is almost impossible to tell if wiring is grounded by sight, Steve says there are indicators. If while over the course of a typical day, machinery or equipment continually gives off small shocks or is high in static electricity, it is a good sign that something needs to be checked.
In which case, it’s time to call in someone like Steve for an evaluation of your grounding package. By reviewing existing documentation, inspections and information gathering, a grounding package creates and design of how to best layout your electrical grid, where your grounding rods need to go, cable location and so on.
The effectiveness of grounding rods can also be tested using certain devices.
Steve is a true Wisconsinite, having grown up in Appleton, Wisconsin and attending Appleton High School. After he graduated, Steve began his electrical design career at Fox Valley Technical College.
In his spare time, he likes to stay busy and spend as much time outdoors as possible. Some of his hobbies include boating, motorcycling and golfing, as well as rooting for the Packers. Steve is also the proud father of two sons.
If you are in need of creative solutions, let Steve and the rest of the team at Pearl Engineering be the answer.