Corné Dames is the Managing Director of Independent Transformer Consultants (ITC). She has previously worked as a laboratory manager performing transformer oil analysis and diagnostics. Corné is actively working with customers to get a practical solution on reliability maintenance programs. She has a strong chemical background and majorly work on transformer chemistry, reliability, maintenance, and lifecycle management of electrical assets. Corné has been writing technical articles for Transformer Technology Magazine for three years and was appointed as Associate Editor and Chief of the magazine at the end of 2020. She has been an active member of the Technical Committee at Transformer Technology Magazine for two years. She has also been a member of the EPRA (Electrical Power Reliability Alliance) forum for three years. Her passion is transformer reliability and infrastructure sustainability.
Let’s start the interview!
Q. Tell us about yourself
Corné: Thanks for this opportunity, Sruti. I started out in the chemical and analytical laboratory for transformer oils in South Africa. What triggered me in the beginning was the intrigue of all the systems that connect together. Because if I have been privileged to do all the tests by myself when I started out, I could see the relationship between the results. That made me very curious because I wanted to find out more about how the chemistry in this thing works.
Transformer oil is just mineral oil and there is nothing much to it. You just purify and all the water is gone. You don’t really know what is going on in this oil. And then when you really start looking at the oil you see that there is a vast number of chemical reactions going on in the transformer. At this point, I bought myself a book where I could learn more about the transformers and chemistry of oil in itself.
Q. What inspired you to join this sector?
Corné: The thing is, you can’t stop where you start. You always have to move forward and keep up with the newest trends of the industry. I’m a very curious person by nature. So, every time there is a new application, or a new report that comes out from IEC or IEEE, I can’t wait to read it. Because the changes that have occurred within the industry. And for the 20+ years that I have been in the industry there’s been a vast amount of changes.
Many things remain the same but there is a lot of going forward. And we have to move with these changes to keep in the loop and to know that, while we are moving ahead, we are not losing grounds. It’s important for everyone in the transformer industry to move forward and keep-up with the changes to see the environmental impacts of say, the bio-fuels and bio-oils now. Similarly, with solar power, we have to incorporate these changes in to the system to make sure that they are still viable for the industry.
Q. What trends do you think will rule in the next 5 years in this sector?
Corné: Consider the example of South Africa (SA), which is a third world country. For us, moving towards online monitoring and away from laboratory methods is a must now. So, making this move towards continuous monitoring of units, to get a better reliability curve on every unit and ensure optimized maintenance and lifetime optimization of units. I think that is a big thing. Also, switch to bio-oils as I said previously. There are a few hiccups with bio-oils because the application is a bit different and you need to implore many things.
Q. Can you elaborate why?
Corné: For example, you cannot use the same transformers as you did with mineral oils, but you know that the biodegradability and risk of fire hazard are being decreased with the bio-oils. That’s a big thing in the market that’s moving towards environmental-friendly and sustainability. Besides, bio-oils are much more expensive than the mineral oils and it’s going to take some time to replace mineral oils. Mineral oils have also got few drawbacks if you compare them with ester fluids, but there are also some benefits too.
So, I think the main thing is the software systems where we can monitor the condition and get all the data from the system and do an immediate diagnostic from that data. And we can apply that diagnostic in to a maintenance program. So, there is no time that is wasted. Now with the click of a button, you can get the history for that transformer for the last week or month or year. It’s better to establish trends for a transformer because if something goes wrong with the unit then it’s much easier to pinpoint the stage where problems started and it’s criticality. Just like the health indexing that we’ve got with Seetalabs to make the maintenance jobs much more effective and efficient.
Q. As you talked about the local economy, do you think it hinders the adoption of such software based tools?
Corné: Definitely. It is very costly for a company to install these online applications. The SA companies can’t always make use of the latest technology because of the cost to company.
Q. Most of the people think maintenance and reliability are the same thing. What are your thoughts about it?
Corné: Maintenance and reliability are two different aspects of transformers. Maintenance is when you implement actual steps to ensure the reliability of the system. If you look at the health index as well, it can only indicate about the reliability of your transformer at that specific time. If you look at a transformer with low health index and a lot of moisture, if you remove that moisture from the transformer then the health index will go up again. So, it will reflect better on your system and the lifetime of your system will improve.
Doing analysis on poorly collected samples is meaningless. This is the first link in the maintenance chain. It’s important to begin with a good quality sample. If you have online condition monitoring you don’t have to worry about it. Simply put, you need to have good analytics from either laboratory results or online monitoring to effectively decided the maintenance plan and ensure the reliability of your transformer until the next maintenance cycle can be applied.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you would give to a junior professional to succeed in your sector?
Corné: Always keep on studying and stay on top of the latest trends and research.
Q. What is something nobody tells you, but you wish you knew earlier?
Corné: Never give up. And there is no use of accumulating a vast amount of knowledge and not sharing it. Knowledge only means something where when you can share it with people in the same industry.
Q. Can you recommend any books or media?
Corné: I periodically contribute to Transformer Technology magazine and there are a lot of courses they are hosting as well. Then, IEEE, IEC, and ELECTRA contributions to have a hands-on knowledge about the maintenance and condition monitoring topics. I am also a part of EPRA (electric power and reliability alliance), which is based in US but operates globally and I highly recommend following them.