Brian D. Sparling is a Senior Technical Advisor with Dynamic Ratings Inc and a Senior Member (SM) of IEEE. Brian has over twenty years of experience in the field of power and distribution transformers. For the last 30 years, he has been involved in all aspects of on-line monitoring and diagnostics and condition assessment of power transformers. He has authored and co-authored more than 37 technical papers, including 8 columns in Transformers Magazine, and contributed to many guides and standards with the Canadian Electricity Association, IEEE Transformers Committee and the CIGRÉ A2 Transformer committee. He is one of the key contributors of TB 445 Guide for Transformer Maintenance, TB 630 Guide on Transformer Intelligent Condition Monitoring (TICM) Systems (contributor and co-editor), and TB 761 Condition Assessment of Power Transformers standards as a part of CIGRÉ A2 activities.
Let’s start the interview!
Q. Tell us about yourself
Brian: I have been involved in the transformer business since I began work as a welder in a small factory making single phase pole top transformers in 1971 in Canada. During my work life I advanced to the test department, then production control, and eventually into sales & marketing. My education was based on a technical track in secondary school, including “shop”, basic electrical knowledge, drafting, physics and chemistry. I advanced with different transformer OEM’s to a point where I had the opportunity to get into a new field of on-line monitoring of dissolved gases in oil for transformers. My work effort involving sales, marketing and product development.
I had many mentors from the beginning who passed on their knowledge, wisdom and experiences, that has enabled me to share what they shared with me and my own experiences based on world wide travel.
Q. What inspired you to join this sector?
Brian: In the beginning I needed a job. Fate brought me into this industry (I think), but I have mind set that is curious about how things work. I never stopped asking questions, and to this day, I still ask questions, and thus keep learning everyday.
The topic is everywhere in the world. We need transformers to supply electricity we consume, so it is a must have, and that motivates me to contribute all I can, to CIGRE and IEEE on Guides and Standards. Sharing knowledge is what drives me.
Q. What trends do you think will rule in the next 5 years in this sector?
Brian: The trend towards diagnostics to develop knowledge on the condition of HV equipment. A lot of knowledge I gained from mentors and others with practical experiences is very often NOT found in textbooks or guides reviewed in post secondary education.
These diagnostics will take that knowledge and automate to some degree, however I continue to support the idea of getting away from your PC and go to look at the equipment in question. I have found the visual aspects are sometimes needed to confirm a diagnosis.
The role of an engineer who can think outside of the box (published guides and norms), will be a very valuable asset to the company involved in the energy business.
Q. Can you elaborate why?
Brian: As I stated above new engineers need mentors, to develop those who have a curiosity minded, are not afraid to ask questions, and to make use to their gained knowledge with others.
Q. Most of the people think maintenance and reliability are the same thing. What are your thoughts about it?
Brian: Two different things entirely in my mind. Reliability can be viewed as a result of good maintenance practices. In other words reliability (and the level of it), is a function of good maintenance practices. Reliability can be improved with the use of on-line monitoring systems, and the necessary programs in place
to take advantage of the early warning delivered by on-line sensors and system to make possible Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) regime, and improve safety to workers at the same time. Many cases now in the play with this approach
Q. What is the best piece of advice you would give to a junior professional to succeed in your sector?
Brian: Never stop asking questions. Have an open and curious mind set, and a willingness to share what they have learned. The opportunities are there with organizations such CIGRE and CIRED and IEEE. Become involved in these and never be shy to ask questions.
Q. What is something nobody tells you, but you wish you knew earlier?
Brian: I learned the hard way that working for larger multinational companies is not always the best path for a person with a sense of wanting to see the results of their contribution to the success of a company, and thereby their own sense of accomplishment.
I discovered working in smaller companies, usually privately owned, you have far more accountability (do not be afraid of this), and results can be achieved and appreciated far better. than in large companies, where at times, you are just another head in the headcount of the company.
Q. Can you recommend any books or media?
Brian: CIGRE Electra, joining Cigre is a must. Any trade magazine devoted to the electrical energy sector, and webinars put on my experts, this is a valuable learning experience.
From my own experience, look for and take up a course in Effective Public Speaking. This will prove valuable not only with people outside an organization, but more importantly inside a company, where clear communications (spoken and written) is a vital skill anyone can learn. (I did ).
(Bonus) I’m largely in to history and biographies. And one of the books I’m reading right now is the biography of Nikola Tesla!