Tech Talk: Smart Industry And Manufacturing

Our General Manager Leo Craig answers the question: ‘Can the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) offer a cost-effective solution to the problems we may see in our smart industrial and manufacturing environments?

Powering the industrial and manufacturing sector has always been challenging. The effects of poor power quality have caused problems in the past, such as issues in process control PLCs crashing and causing extensive damage to expensive production equipment and tools.

These problems are still present – more so perhaps with the restricted capacity of the National Grid and the introduction of renewables into the mix – which means more grid switching to manage supply and demand.

Manufacturing Digitalisation

The prevalence of voltage sags and surges and voltage spikes along with microbreaks in the power because of grid switching are arguably more challenging with the introduction of Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution). Data centres and IT infrastructure converge with traditional manufacturing processes to create smart industry and factories.

Power protection in the manufacturing world is, therefore, every bit as critical as in the data centre world. The impact on manufacturing businesses can be extremely costly if the correct power protection is not in place. When most business managers think about power protection, they automatically think of power cuts. But in reality, the National Grid is actually pretty reliable. Power failures only tend to occur when factors such as extreme weather come into play.

Powering Smart Industry

However, the impact of voltage spike and high-frequency noise, combined with voltage sags and surges can have an unforeseen impact on computers, servers, and sensitive manufacturing equipment and processes. A common issue is the failure of equipment, where machinery breaks down well before its expected end of life. This is often caused – but not attributed to – poor power quality, with mains spikes, continuously hitting sensitive semiconductors and processors.

While a single event may not cause any noticeable damage, it’s the cumulative bombardment of voltage fluctuations that will eventually lead to critical failure. Also, just a simple dip or micro break in the voltage can cause certain production runs to be ruined.

In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, when producing a batch of very expensive drugs in glass or in a semiconductor, a small dip in the voltage will cause an imperfection in the finished product making it unusable. It could even result in the batch being discarded altogether.

Another example is in steel or brick production. If there’s a micro break in the power that causes the furnace controllers to shut down, the process has to be stopped. The material being processed is scrapped and the whole process started again, which can take days.

robotic machinery in a manufacturing factory
POWER PROBLEMS: Smart industry machinery and equipment can be impacted by a whole range of electrical issues, causing damaging downtime

The Role Of The UPS

So, can the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) offer a cost-effective solution to the problems we may see in our smart industrial and manufacturing environments? The answer is yes, but not necessarily in the traditional way.

The main issue with UPSs is that they contain sealed lead acid batteries which store power. In the event of a power failure, the batteries kick in so that the UPS continues to supply power for 10 minutes (or more) to effect a controlled shutdown. Perfect for the data centre environment. But because the batteries must be maintained at 20 degrees Celsius, they cannot be sited just anywhere.

This often causes issues in a manufacturing facility.

Online UPS Benefits

More importantly, the problems that manufacturing processes really want to protect against – micro breaks, spikes, sags and surges in voltage – are now known to cause early equipment failure or imperfections in production. This can, however, be avoided by selecting an online UPS device.

These products operate as a voltage conditioner and run without batteries, meaning that they can operate in temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius. Other benefits of online UPS units are that they take up less space and are a lot lighter. They’re more cost-effective too since they don’t require a rack full of batteries.

A UPS without batteries gives the same high-level protection against poor mains quality with the exception of a full power outage. Such a system can be installed in harsher environments with higher operating temperatures. This makes the UPS without batteries a far more cost-effective voltage conditioning solution than the more traditional methods of electromechanical Auto Voltage Regulators (AVR) or Dynamic Voltage Regulators (DVR).

Conclusion: Smart UPS For Smart Industry

So, to summarise, if your production facility or process needs clean, stable power and you are not worried about total power failure, the UPS as a voltage conditioner will give very fast-acting (virtually instantaneous) voltage stabilisation.

It will correct frequency and wave shape faults, protect against voltage spikes and high-frequency noise, and cover micro-breaks of typically 20mSec and up to 40mSecs in some cases. Finally, the UPS can even be used as a frequency converter 50hz to 60Hz or vice versa.