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Eliminating 'Dirty' Power

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 11:19am

Maselli multiparametric stationWine making is an ancient craft, and the basic process of converting grapes into wine requires elements that have not changed: The climate has to be “just right” to ensure the grapes reach peak flavor, and the production facility requires cutting edge instruments to provide quality and consistency. To that end, clean power plays a major role in eliminating downtime in wine production. One major winery not only lost time, but had to practically shut down their grape receiving station after installing a popular, computer-grade “switching” uninterruptible power system (UPS) to address unregulated, ”dirty” ac power problems.

For over 40 years, Maselli Measurements has been making sophisticated analysis and titration instrumentation—their Multiparametric station performs measurement of sugar content, pH levels and acid-base titration of the grape-juice, or “Must”, before it is transformed into wine.

Maselli Company is headquartered in Italy and the U.S. branch—called Maselli Measurements—is located in Central California. Luis Corominas, technical director, has spent his life in the business of making wine and carbonated beverages. In addition, his electronics background includes knowledge from Argentina, where he grew up. In Luis’s experience, ac power quality was not stable and the issue of brownouts—not power outages—is of concern to all home and business users, since sensitive electronics end up “burning out” long before they should. Given this background, Luis understands the effect poor power quality has on electronics and sensitive instruments. Many business owners and facility managers in North America and Europe have the mistaken impression that their ac power quality is good and, that aside from the occasional power outage, there is nothing to worry about.

Luis explains, “It’s a great example of the cost of being uninformed. In the U.S., power outages are still relatively rare and everyone assumes that power quality—meaning a clean sine wave at 120 volts ac—is perfect. This misunderstanding was the case with a large customer of mine, and is the path that led me to Falcon Electric’s website years ago. One of the world’s largest winemakers was using our instrument, which was not functioning properly. When I brought up the fact that our SM-03 was plugged directly into the receptacle, and that our instrument may be suffering from “dirty” power, they insisted that his facility’s power quality was fine and Maselli would have to bear the expense of fixing the SM-03. After visiting the facility a few times I learned that the power quality was terrible. I finally brought an oscilloscope on site to prove that the power quality was the root cause of the damaged instrument, and that only a true UPS would solve the problem.

"The winery asked me to suggest a UPS vendor and, after an internet search, it was clear that most UPS suppliers, like the popular brand I use for my computer, target applications for servers, data centers, and telecommunication applications. After refining my search to an industrial UPS, I found that Falcon Electric, along with a few other vendors, offers products designed to operate in harsher environments.

"What made Falcon Electric stand out is the fact that they serve and understand industrial, military and petroleum industries. Falcon’s equipment is truly more rugged than office-grade products. Plus, Falcon Electric specializes in an on-line UPS, so any model, sized properly, would solve the problem. And it did.

"The source of ‘dirty’ power is the heavy machinery, grape presses and other large power consumers that share the same local power on which the SM-03 relies. The surges and drop-outs that occur daily wreak havoc on the various sub-systems that take precise measurements. This makes it essential to have clean, stable power. Therefore, the ‘price’ many wineries pay can be quantified by the potential pitfalls of relying on either facility power, or the wrong UPS, to address the problem. After all the time and money spent to set up an automated wine-making system, the weak link becomes relying on a computer-grade UPS back-up system. But the solution is simple once the facility manager understands how ‘dirty’ the power really is, and that only a few UPS systems actually regenerate and regulate the ac power.

"The regulated power that the Falcon SG Series provides is essential for our Multiparametric Station to carry out its precise and reliable analysis. The timeframe for these tests is critical as well, since they must be executed instantly and automatically, usually in an industrial setting like a winery. We take extra care to ensure our entire product line can stand up to high temperatures, debris from sugar in the air, and, with the inclusion of the Falcon UPS, ‘dirty’ power.

"The data from these tests ensure the final product is consistent, in terms of sugar content, pH measurement and acid-base titration. It is especially difficult to get an accurate measurement of pH levels in ‘Must’, largely because it is a liquid. This is an application where our SM-03 excels. We currently bundle the Falcon SG Series 1kVA on-line UPS (Model SG1K-1T), along with the SM-03, and we have not had a single power-related problem since. This is a small investment, considering the fact that our automatic Grape Must System costs several thousand dollars and requires many hours to set up.

"I’ve found that taking the time to explain some of the problems with factory power, as well as the differences in UPS types is critical. I let the customer know they need a true dual-conversion, on-line UPS, where the inverter is always powering the load, and that they should avoid the computer-grade ‘on-line’ or smart ‘switching’ UPS that can’t stand up to harsh environments, both physically and from a power-pollution perspective.

"Occasionally, I encounter problems from a customer. Frequently, the issue has to do with bad power and it is clear they counted on the huge, facility-wide power conditioner or UPS to address their power problems. After asking several questions it becomes clear I got the call because the power quality at the local level—where the SM-03 is plugged in—has been corrupted by all the heavy machines in the same area.

"This is the situation I encountered last year when one of my customers, a facility manager, called our tech support department. The customer knew his facility had ‘dirty’ power, despite the facility-wide UPS they had on-site. They thought that they had bought a true UPS. After asking about the brand and model number, it turned out to be a computer-grade ‘switching’ UPS. After discussing the inherent power problems with him, I explained they needed an on-line UPS and to go to Falcon’s web site.

"In this case, my customer was in California, not far from Falcon Electric. They took my advice and purchased the Falcon SSG Series 1.5kVA UPS (Model SSG1.5KRM-1), got it the next day, and eliminated the problem. My customer was very impressed that the UPS was delivered so quickly—they called in the afternoon and received it the next day. The facility manager thanked me and expressed relief that he finally solved the problem. He also explained that the product’s price raised a few eyebrows, since his purchasing staff always bought computer-grade UPS from the same popular supplier. My customer had to educate his purchasing counterpart that the SM-03 was not working properly because of using the ‘wrong tool for the job’ and, in this case, a true, industrial-grade, on-line UPS was the only solution."

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