The Pitfalls of Proprietary Generator System Software


Software plays an ever increasing role in our daily existence. We have travelled far beyond that fifth dimension, foreseen in The Twilight Zone back in the sixties. Driving into an automotive service station with an engine problem, what is the first thing a technician will do? They will plug the engine into a computer, because the engine is really run by software.

The same is true for backup generators. Our technicians are well versed in how system software manages and monitors your generator. Sometimes, however, our hands are tied by proprietary software that we are not allowed to operate. It can be more than just frustrating – it can result in otherwise avoidable down time. Let’s use an analogy to get the point across.

How Proprietary Software Impacts Generator Service

If your generator uses proprietary software it still can be serviced by any service company. It is when changes to the software need to be made that proprietary issues take over. Generator manufacturers that use proprietary software certify specific technicians (and provide them hardware “dongles”) to alter certain software settings that may need to be adjusted. So now not only are you restricted to a particular company, you are also restricted to a particular technician within the company. “Down Time” becomes a whole new metric.

The Risk of Having Your Hands Tied

Image if you will a frustrating scenario. You purchase the car of your dreams. You would normally have it serviced at the locally owned repair facility that you know provides the highest quality workmanship without the expensive labor rates of the dealership. Unfortunately, the non-warranty repairs can’t be completed because the manufacturer won’t allow your repair facility (or any other one not directly affiliated with the manufacturer) access to software to make the repairs.

Generator Down Time and Proprietary Software

Let us share how this situation can actually play out. One of our service reps recently had to cope with proprietary software in solving a customer issue. He had no trouble diagnosing the problem: a malfunctioning electronic control unit (ECU). Given that the ECU’s software was proprietary to the generator manufacturer, we were told (after several calls) that an authorized technician, equipped with a hardware interface we do not have, would need to confirm our assessment.

After another series of calls and call backs, we were finally able to arrange a visit by the technician. He indeed confirmed what our tech had determined two weeks earlier. The needed part came a week later but we are still trying to schedule a return service call from that vendor-approved technician. Excessive down time, inoperable or poorly operating generator power, and additional cost turned what should have been an easy layup into a seven game series.

This is not to bash the technician or the service company – everyone involved, especially the generator owner, are forced to operate within a structure that doesn’t scale well.

Purchasing New Generator Equipment

Keep this issue in mind the next time you are in the market for a new generator. You will find that most of the smaller manufacturers utilize controls with an open architecture. This means that the software is not “locked” and it doesn’t require any special connectors that are controlled by the engine or generator manufacturers. This allows you the freedom to choose the service provider that best fits your needs. And, when problems surface you will exercise better control over the “down” in down time.

If you have questions about your generator’s software, or are considering buying a new generator and want help to select one that will fit your needs, give us a call at 866-468-7697. Let us be part of your winning team.

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