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Industrial Switch Mode Power – Small, Light and Rugged

Switch mode power conversion technology offers many benefits not available with line-frequency converters such as those employing SCR technology: small size, light weight, high efficiency, modularity, and very clean DC power. But, most switch mode power supplies and chargers were not designed for the rigors inherent to industrial environments such as dirty air, electrical transients, and temperature extremes.  That’s no longer the case with SENS industrial switch mode chargers.

What is a switch mode power converter?

Switch mode power converters and chargers are ubiquitous in modern life.  They power or charge everything from mobile phones, to computers, to telecommunications switching systems, to electric vehicle batteries, and nearly all military and aerospace electrical power systems. In contrast to line-frequency converters that use large transformers operating at 50 or 60Hz to transform voltages, switch mode converters use much smaller transformers operating at high frequency (from around 25 KHz to over 1 MHz) to achieve voltage transformation.

What are the advantages of switch mode power converters?

Switch mode power converters are much smaller and lighter than line-frequency converters of similar rating. This is their biggest advantage.  Well-designed switch mode converters produce cleaner power, waste less power, and operate over a wider input range than their line-frequency counterparts.  Because of their small size, switch mode converters are often designed to be modular, so they can operate in parallel for higher current output.

But not all switch mode chargers are well designed. Many are engineered to be very low cost and perform poorly.  Even well-designed commercial converters are usually not suitable for industrial applications.

What is an industrial switch mode charger?

Manufacturers design most switch mode chargers and power supplies to work in controlled environments such as homes, offices, telecom switching rooms and data centers. Protected indoor environments typically have conditioned air and electrical supplies free of transients. Because most switch mode products target applications in these relatively benign environments, they include little protection against ingress of dirt and contaminants or damage from electrical transients and surges.

Harsh environments are typical in industry.  Equipment is often subject to temperature extremes, dirty air, electrical transients, and lightning when outdoors.  Because of this, many industrial users in North America[1] have justifiably preferred line frequency power converters, believing them to be more durable in harsh environments than switch mode converters.  Large iron core transformers provide these units good protection from AC electrical transients.  Convection cooling, common to most line frequency units, eliminates the need for fan cooling that most switch mode converters employ. Fans force dirt and contaminants onto electronics. Over time, this both impedes cooling and can cause short circuits.  Because fans are rotating mechanical devices they exhibit higher failure rate than the electronics they are cooling.

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But, as the military proved decades ago, properly engineered switch mode power converters can deliver reliability and resilience as good as or better than line frequency power converters in challenging environments.  Well-designed switch mode converters enable users to enjoy the size, weight, efficiency and modularity benefits of switch mode technology and the high reliability and transient resilience associated with line frequency designs.  Industrial switch mode technology delivers the best of both worlds.

How are SENS industrial switch mode chargers different?

There are two big differences between SENS industrial switch mode chargers and other switch mode offerings: Cooling schemes and transient/surge protection.

Difference #1 – Convection Cooling. SENS switch mode chargers never use fans to blow air directly on electronics.  SENS employs convection cooling for all MicroGenius 2 based chargers and systems.  This is possible because SENS made its switch mode power converters highly efficient (meaning there is less heat to dispose of) and equipped them with large heat sinks. In contrast, competing products employ either fans, with the inherent reliability disadvantages mentioned earlier, or potting that impedes heat transfer.

Difference #2– Engineered-in Surge and Transient Resilience.   Creating ruggedized switch mode power converters isn’t magic, but it does take highly skilled engineering carefully focused on design goals specific to industrial environments.  SENS engineers, through the use of effective electromagnetic filter designs, transient-suppression components, and strict attention to creepage and clearance distances, created industrial switch mode converters that are equally or more transient-resilient than SCR type line frequency converters. MicroGenius 2 family chargers meet or exceed all the same industry standards used for electrical transient and surge protection in line frequency units: IEC 61000-4-5, IEC 61000-4-12, ANSI/IEEE C62.41 and ANSI/IEEE C37.90.

Summary

Users of SENS industrial switch mode technology can enjoy the high reliability and transient resilience normally associated with SCR type chargers while enjoying the advantages of well-designed switch mode converters that include smaller size, lighter weight, higher efficiency, modularity, and exceptionally clean DC output. These advantages ultimately translate into lower capital costs and reduced operating expense.  Over time it is highly likely that switch mode technology will be become as predominant for industrial power conversion as it has in other segments.

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[1] In Europe and Asia, switch mode is already the predominant power conversion technology used in industrial applications.