The Secure Power Difference: Risk Mitigation and Beyond

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In our first post, we defined what industrial secure power is and some vertical industry applications, but this leaves the all important question of “why” secure power solutions are needed.

We are referring to Secure power as the protection of mission critical commercial and industrial equipment and systems that need reliable, quality power, but are not IT assets in data centers. Examples would include a medical imaging system in a hospital, the air traffic control system at an airport, or a process control system in a plant that automates the mixing of pharmaceuticals.

The question of why we need secure power in such settings is a risk-based proposition. Anyone designing or operating a facility or subsystem needs to ask, “what would happen if that system went down, even for a second?”

For some systems, such as an air traffic control system or a navigation system on a ship, or an emergency shut down valve in the oil & gas industry, you wouldn’t want any interruptions, not even for a split second, because lives would be at stake. Secure power is a must-have in these scenarios. With other systems, the justification for the secure power investment might be based on the cost of the critical load being down, or having to be restarted.

The cost of a power interruption to an industrial process can be significant, even if there isn’t a safety risk. Remember that any system controlled by programmable logic controllers might need to completely reboot and be revalidated, which could take hours. Now if the batch that’s in process during a power event is relatively low in value, or can remain in queue during restart, there is probably less of a need for an advanced secure power solution. If, however, the batch being processed is high value—let’s say a pharmaceutical mixture—and procedures call for the batch to be discarded in case of a shutdown, the case for secure power gets a lot stronger.

The same risk-based approach holds for many other scenarios. Would a semiconductor manufacturer really want to redo a whole series of wafer tests if there were a power interruption that caused the testing station to reboot? Would the research lab for a drug company want to risk the loss of a sample that might have taken weeks to develop if lab equipment needed to be restarted? The operating cost of the secure power layer would be peanuts compared to the potential loss of a batch of high value materials, plus the loss of productivity during restart time.

Viewed another way, critical power solutions ensure productivity for revenue-generating activity. For organizations steeped in concepts such as lean, critical loads are vital points in the “value stream” that need to be protected. Make these points more secure, and you make your revenue stream more secure.

It’s also important to remember that secure power products such as uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and power distribution units can do much more than provide standby power. They act as a buffer layer between the grid and the critical load, ensuring that clean, high quality power is delivered to the loads on a consistent basis.

In an industrial facility, it’s possible that activities within a facility, such as major loads starting or stopping, can impact the power quality in another part of the facility. A secure power solution can ensure that any power spikes or poor harmonics coming either from the grid or by patterns within the facility get filtered out before they reach the critical loads. With loads that lack secure power, it may be these subtle power quality events, rather than a total power outage, that cause a load to malfunction or shut down.

Another value add for secure power solutions is that they provide a monitoring function and means of tracking power consumption in a more centralized way, which helps energy management goals. UPS systems, for example, have software monitoring utilities that can be integrated with building management systems, giving facilities managers a more detailed view into energy consumption for all the loads protected by the secure power layer.

More companies are placing pressure on facilities managers to reduce energy costs, and setting guidelines for energy efficient buildings. Secure power solutions with monitoring tools and eco-modes of operation can serve as useful components for such efforts.

Energy management goals are growing in importance, but make no mistake, the overriding priority for facilities managers comes down to peace of mind. Owner/operator organizations want to identify the big risks to safety, to loss of work in process, to loss of productivity if a system go down, and make sure those risks are mitigated. After these risks are addressed, then energy efficiency ranks a close second.

Similar motivations exist within the community of consulting engineers, electrical and mechanical contractors, and other specialists involved in designing and operating industrial facilities. While they often are called upon to come up with energy-efficient designs or subsystem configurations, these partners can risk their reputation for quality if the systems they deliver fail to properly protect against shut downs or loss of quality power.

Ultimately, achieving goals like risk mitigation and energy efficiency is a group effort. It takes the owner/operator experts, the third-party experts from the different disciplines, as well as a team of secure power solutions experts, to bring it all together. But it starts with asking those basic questions about risks to critical loads, and then finding ways to mitigate those risks over the lifetime of the assets.

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