5 Keys to Selecting a UPS that Will Ensure Business Continuity for Critical Industrial Applications

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While UPSs in data centers are critical for business continuity and protecting the bottom line, in other instances loss of power can be even more catastrophic. Consider a petrochemical station or a ship at sea, where power loss could well be a matter of personal safety, and even loss of life. Or an assembly plant, where a power failure could result in the waste of inventory and many man-hours of labor. The list goes on and on.

So when it comes to applying UPS technology to industrial applications, customers have numerous issues to consider in order to select the right solution, one that will ensure not only effective disaster recovery and business continuity but safety, efficiency and the proper functioning of the facility and the equipment in it. With that in mind, the following are my top five issues to consider when selecting a UPS for critical industrial applications.

1. Environment
The environment in which the UPS will live often dictates the type of UPS you’ll need. A UPS intended for a typical data center is intended to function well in a room with temperatures of 32° to 104° F (0°-40°C) and a relatively humidity range of 0 to 95, with ingress protection sufficient to prevent disruption from fingers, tools, large falling debris and stray cables. That may seem like sufficient environmental protection, but not if you’re putting the UPS on a ship at sea, where it’s subject to exposure to salt water spray and salt air. Or consider an oil exploration field in the southwest, where a UPS could be subject to temperatures well over 100° for long stretches, not to mention plenty of dust and sand. In other situations, such as a factory floor, a ship or areas subject to earthquakes, vibration and stability could be an issue.

These sorts of extreme environments call for specialized, often ruggedized UPSs that are built to withstand such conditions. Various certifications and design approaches exist from the likes of NEMA, OSHPD and others for all sorts of such conditions, such as outdoor corrosion resistance, heat, residual or spraying water and excessive humidity. The key is to work with an engineer or UPS vendor to determine what special requirements you have and select or custom-build a UPS that will perform in that specific environment.

2. Load profile
Your UPS should also be sized to appropriately fit the electrical properties, or load profile, of the equipment the UPS is intended to protect. Consider factors such as the maximum load the UPS will protect, and whether that max load typically happens in short bursts or for long periods of time. Some equipment, such as industrial or 3D printers, laser cutters and scanning devices, also present non-sinusoidal current requirements or harmonic complications, which may boost the load requirements of the UPS that protects them or the sorts of filtering accessories it needs. Similarly, a typical commercial UPS can’t absorb power generated from the load, such as regenerative feedback from synchronous motors. If a variable frequency drive or soft-start kit is being used with a motor-based load, that will likewise affect the UPS size you need.

Here again, it takes a careful conversation with your engineer or a trusted UPS vendor to thoroughly assess the loads that need protecting and to select the most appropriate UPS.

A UPS protecting industrial loads should also have sound metering and reporting capabilities, so it can send an alert if any load issues arise and show reports on load over time, to help you assess the impact of any changes that have occurred.

3. Efficiency
Another selection criterion for a business-critical UPS (or any UPS, really) is energy efficiency. While a more efficient model may cost a bit more up front, if it provides a savings of even 5% or so over its lifetime compared to other models, in a large environment you could be talking six-figure savings – more than enough to pay for itself. (Read this previous post to learn more about various approaches to UPS efficiency.)

4. Network integration
These days, just about anything can be monitored – but not if you can’t connect to it. So be sure to consider whatever network you have in your environment and to get a UPS that can connect to it. Any UPS deemed suitable for critical applications should support management, whether via a network management card or simple web interface, and protocols such as SNMP. So long as you can connect it to the surrounding network, whether it’s Ethernet, Modbus or a serial network, you should be able to feed UPS management data into whatever tool you use to monitor the rest of the operation.

Keep in mind, of course, that anything that connects to your network should be secure. So be sure your chosen UPS has a track record of security, with features such as strong authentication and encryption. (Check out this Frost and Sullivan report to learn more.)

5. Industry experience and service
Critical applications should only be trusted to UPS vendors that have a track record to stand behind. Ask about industry experience and the extent to which they stand behind the product. How fast can they respond in case of an emergency – and to the exact location that you require? Ask, too, about the range of options available in terms of accessories, including those from third party partners. Extensive safety features are another sign of an experienced UPS vendor, including back feed protection and dead front panels. Multiple energy storage options are also a plus, including not just traditional valve-regulated lead-acid batteries (VRLA) but newer lithium ion batteries, which promise longer life and the same power in a smaller footprint compared to VRLA. Another option is kinetic flywheels, which also reduce footprint and eliminate electrolyte and hydrogen concerns from the site.

For more background on UPSs and their characteristics, download the free APC by Schneider Electric white paper, “The Different Types of UPS Systems.”


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