Somebody at AutomationXchange shows me something I haven’t seen before, or haven’t thought about. This year, it was Softswitching Technologies. These folks, mentored by Control columnist and inventor-of-practically-everything Dick Morley, have created some very novel products and ideas in power quality and power conditioning.
As we talked, the PC sitting on the table across from me “Yeeped,” scaring the pants off me the first couple of times. The “Yeeping” was happening every time a voltage sag was detected in the huge network of power quality sensors Softswitching has deployed across North America. Most people have no clue how many times a day their power sags, but based on what the I-Grid Monitoring System showed me, it happens a lot! Softswitching doesn’t make real money with I-Grid monitors, but it provides them the largest power quality database in North America, and a way to give back to the community some real data on a real issue.
And let me tell you, power quality is a real issue. Talking to Softswitching made me relive some very old, very bad memories.
In the late 1970s, I was the Krohne rep in Northern California, and I got a major wastewater project– one of the first really big ones Krohne got in the US under their own name. We put the meters in, and everything should have been happy.
But it wasn’t. The first thing to go was the “ultrasonic cleaning” modules that Krohne had special-built (read bought from a competitor and potted into Krohne housings so you couldn’t tell whose they were) at my request. They literally smoked themselves.
The DC-field magmeters, at the time the most accurate in the world, started to drift!
Then other stuff, not made by Krohne, at the plant started to die. It became clear to me that it wasn’t the magmeters that were the problem, but the owner and the engineer (who shall all remain nameless because I am still upset about it and it has been nearly 30 years) insisted that the equipment suppliers needed to replace all the equipment under warranty.
So I spent a few nights in a sleeping bag on the floor of the control room, babysitting a very high speed Hewlett-Packard fast transient recorder, looking at the power line. And we found it. During construction, one of the high voltage transformers on a pole outside the plant had taken a direct hit by lightning. The power company had checked it out, so they said, and pronounced the transformer “just fine.”
Apparently not, however. What I found was a very high voltage, very high speed transient passing through the secondary windings of the transformer and blasting through all the low voltage instrumentation in the control room, and all the field instruments around the plant. Finding that saved me from bankruptcy, and defended Krohne and the other suppliers from a major lawsuit.
So when somebody says “power quality” I don’t yawn. I sit up and take notice.