Aviation manufacturer cuts downtime with uninterrupted power supply

Aviation enthusiasts agree that the innovations behind general aviation began with the pursuits of the Wright brothers, two likeminded young men who built and controlled the world’s first successful human flight. But before their success could be attained, a bit of trial and error was required, as the two studied the workings of bicycles and printing machinery to learn how to propel their ambitions. Such is the case for all entrepreneurs, including the engineering staff of one of the world’s leading general aviation manufacturers who, while understanding the necessity for reliable power systems, had to look to past experience to learn that not all systems rate equally for the assurance of soaring operations.

In the civilian aircraft industry, only a few manufacturers actually supply the market, primarily due to the high level of technology and stringent manufacturing and safety standards demanded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and other governmental agencies. Today’s sophisticated manufacturing systems of lightweight composite materials are an amalgam of technology, chemistry, cutting-edge equipment and quality assurance.

The manufacturing floor is a literal maze, incorporating networked computers, PLCs, robots and other power-sensitive electronics which must operate reliably from the same utility power that is supplying motors, heavy machinery or welding processes that generate high levels of localized power pollution. It was in this maze of power-hungry technology that this leading general aviation manufacturer had to assure uninterrupted process control. In an initial attempt to address power problems, the company’s engineering staff made the right decision in implementing an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to safeguard day-to-day operations. They did, however, make the common mistake of thinking all UPSes are equal.

This became very clear as one day an unexpected power problem resulted in the scrapping of thousands of dollars’ worth of parts. Due to the high cost of the scrap, engineers searched helplessly for the culprit. As the problem was not initially obvious, the engineer in charge was able to assess the problem based on his experience with a previous company. It seemed the micro-controller responsible for monitoring a key stage in the parts manufacturing process had been plugged into an ineffective low-cost, Line-interactive type UPS.

“We determined that the Line-interactive UPS that we expected to protect our sophisticated manufacturing system only provided basic battery backup and minimal power conditioning. It was designed to protect computers in a home or office from power outages,” said Rob Ayala, CNC engineer. “The Line-interactive UPS would let transients and dirty utility power directly through to the micro-controller. This would frequently result in the loss of critical data communications, requiring the process to be shut down prior to completion.”

Having spent more than two decades in the aerospace industry, Ayala started out in a technical support role at another major civil aviation company. It was there he became familiar with the different UPS topologies.

“After we had solved the process power problem by deploying On-line UPSes at that particular cell, we moved the Line-interactive UPSes to backup non-critical computers,” he said. “As time passed, we noticed that the batteries inside the On-line UPSes would last for several years, typically two to three times longer than the one- to two-year life we would get from the Line-interactive systems. In my support role, I would frequently receive calls about malfunctioning Line-interactive UPSes, and it was almost always the result of weak or dead batteries that had failed prematurely. In some of these cases, we discovered the batteries had swelled up inside the UPS, making them impossible to replace. We then had to scrap the entire unit. We rapidly discovered that even though the On-line UPS cost us more, the overall cost of ownership was less.”

Now, faced with the present problem of a less-than-desirable Line-interactive UPS causing a revenue drain from costly scrap, Rob decided to employ his knowledge of UPS design topologies.

“A true On-line topology UPS regenerates new, continuous, clean AC power,” said Ayala. “This process eliminates a much wider spectrum of power quality problems, maintaining the optimum power levels demanded by the equipment. We did some research and chose an On-line UPS from Falcon Electric Inc. After installing the UPS, we haven’t lost a single production run.”

“When I went to the Internet to research On-line UPSes, I initially selected the manufacturer I previously used. I wasn’t impressed with the Web site or the product selection and decided to look at other brands that might be more rugged. I went to www.falconups.com and was impressed with the information I found there. I called and the sales and technical staff were very knowledgeable and helpful. Falcon’s SSG Industrial-Grade On-line UPS models proved to be ideal. They are specifically designed for industrial applications in environments with temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius. We ordered several of the SSG 1.5kVA units.  

“We have been using the SSG units for protecting our critical manufacturing processes for over six months without any problems. It’s clear that as more and more microprocessor-based equipment finds its way to the production floor, an industrial-grade On-line UPS is the right power solution to ensure reliable operations.”