In today’s digital world, when we think about problems around power interruptions, the systems that are top of mind for many of us are information technology (IT) systems, meaning everything from home computers and modems, to the banks of servers and cooling units that run corporate data centers and enable cloud computing.
But beyond the IT realm, there exists a whole range of mission critical systems that need secure power in settings such as hospitals, manufacturing plants, airports, oil rigs, or even ships. For example, medical imaging systems in a hospital need secure power, and so does the air traffic control system at an airport. If power is unreliable or unavailable for this class of systems, it often means a major disruption, and might be a matter of life or death. That’s why critical power in these non-IT settings is so important.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into what secure or critical power for non-IT applications means, where it’s needed, and why it’s a challenge that usually can’t be addressed by buying a few off-the shelf products.
First point, we are speaking about the protection of mission critical equipment and systems that need reliable, quality power, but are not IT assets in data centers. The commercial, industrial, and facility infrastructure assets that need critical power are found across many industrial and commercial verticals, and typically are crucial to operations. Ensuring secure power for these applications may involve an integrated approach that spans multiple domains of expertise, and looks beyond the point issue of backup power to broader issues of power quality, reliability, and energy efficiency. Under this integrated approach, monitoring for secure power solutions may need to be linked with other systems for building management, plant automation, or process control.
The types of products that might be used to provide secure power to industry and infrastructure applications would include uninterruptable power supply (UPS) products, cooling units, 3 phase power distribution, and industrial grade surge protection. It’s worth noting that in many critical power scenarios, especially ones involving harsh temperature or humidity conditions, there is the need for special “industrial” UPS that can perform reliably under these conditions.
Critical power also involves more than simple backup in case power from the grid is interrupted. Since UPS equipment and other gear for secure power serve as a buffer and/or filter between critical loads and power from the grid, secure power also is about clean and reliable power at all times. More than that, most of these commercial, industrial and facility infrastructure loads are sensitive assets that require high quality power, surrounded by other very noisy loads that tend to spoil the quality of the power source. Roll all these factors together, and it’s easy to see the importance of the critical power equipment to the correct and efficient operation of these loads.
The non-IT critical loads or “applications” that require secure power span many industry sectors. Here are just a few examples:
- In a hospital, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system needs secure power, as might many other types of equipment, such as specialized monitoring consoles found in nurse’s stations.
- In airports, the air traffic control system is extremely critical, but so are other systems such as security screening stations and access control systems.
- In manufacturing plants, there are process control and machine control systems that automate important manufacturing processes. In a pharmaceutical plant, it might be mixing equipment. In an automotive plant, it might be an assembly robot. In semiconductor plants, there are specialized materials handling systems, test equipment, and clean room systems that need secure power.
- Train systems and tunnel systems aren’t your typical “buildings,” but they typically need secure power for their control systems and signal systems.
- Oil & gas industry plants or upstream rigs often need secure power for emergency shutdown systems, fire detection of fire suppression systems, or process control systems.
- Ships need secure power for navigation systems and various other subsystems.
Most of these applications have specific standards related with their domain. This is one of the additional difficulties to provide secure power in these cases: the systems to provide secure power to these loads need to be engineered to meet these strict and specific standards and later be qualified to ensure compliance, meaning that only proven and experienced manufacturers can play in these specialized markets.
It can be seen that commercial and industrial critical power is sometimes needed beyond the bounds of what many consider to be “building,” such as a ship, a tunnel system, or an oil rig. Secure power also is increasingly needed in commercial settings such as casinos, entertainment complexes, or large retail stores. The overarching trend is that most industries have become highly digitized, driving the secure power need for assets that perhaps a generation ago were still analog in nature.
So we’ve dug a bit into “what” secure power is, and “where” it’s needed. We’ll be following up with a post about “why” secure power is so important across so many verticals, but let’s stop and think a moment about the nature of the critical power scenarios listed here. In almost every case, the applications involve crucial subsystems that need high quality power on an ongoing basis, but often need to work in concert with other systems like building management. No one wants “islands” of automation, so the UPS, cooling or other secure power gear should be able to communicate with other systems that help run the facility.
This integration need is why it takes a company with broad-based expertise to help configure and service secure power solutions. This is where Schneider Electric comes into play, drawing on expertise across five key areas of infrastructure: power management, industrial automation, IT infrastructure management, building management, and physical security.
In reality, it also takes a “community” of partners with different skills to achieve the critical power life cycle. There are the consulting specifying engineers, electrical and mechanical contractors, maintenance engineers and staff, and facility and operations managers who all play important roles in designing and/or operating these critical systems.
With our secure power blog posts, we want to encourage dialogue among this network of stakeholders. If your needs are changing, if there are specific standards or industry scenarios that you are concerned about, please contact us. We stand ready to help, either by responding to your inquiries, or tackling specific topics in future secure power posts.