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The changing face of VSD and motor distribution

07 April 2017

While the face of distribution may be changing, it’s important the face of the people remain the same, as ABB’s Pete Myatt explains.

“Brinton Carpets converted spinning frames from inefficient DC control to AC which helped increase production capacity of spun yarn at the UK’s leading premier carpet maker" says Phil Tomkinson of Sentridge Control

The business model for variable speed drive (VSD) and electric motor distribution has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. While wholesalers and distributors still exist, the innovative technology embedded within today’s VSDs and electric motors, coupled with time-starved plant engineers, means that the know-how and application expertise of today’s distributor is critical. It is for this reason that ABB has invested heavily in nurturing and training the UK’s largest bespoke network of VSD and motor partners – the ABB authorised value provider network.

“It takes many years to graduate as a competent technical distributor,” explains John Bennett of iDrives. “Our engineers are loyal and remain with us for decades. This is important as they are trained in every discipline associated with motor-driven applications. As such we have the confidence to encourage customers to give us their most difficult VSD or motor challenges, whether it is nuisance tripping or energy reduction.”

The importance and dependence that end-users place on this high level expertise is reflected in the growth being experienced by technical distributors. Recently ACS Drives & Controls Systems, the only ABB authorised value provider for VSDs in Ireland moved to larger premises. “We recently doubled our floor space to a 12,000 square foot facility in order to stock a broader range of ABB drives and provide a workshop for the building of customised drive cabinets,” says Seamus Butler, managing director.

Problem solvers

It is the deep technical know-how and experience that accounts for the majority of new business wins, as Nick Brown of EDC explains: “Most of our new business starts with solving a difficult problem for a customer that often the customer and our competitors have tried to solve without success. 

“For example, a renewable energy generating plant in Fife had a crane hoist on which the encoder signal was not working. Despite several costly attempts over many months by a competitor, the crane hoist was still not operational. Our engineer arrived on site and within two hours the crane was fixed and working correctly, improving safety and control of the crane and preventing nuisance trips.”

While on site the EDC engineer spotted a 355kW ID fan running at fixed speed with a damper. While the customer wanted to fit a VSD for energy saving, space had prohibited them from doing so. However, EDC came up with solution that not only tackled the space issue but predicted savings of 846,000kWh per year. 

It is this eye for detail that has secured the network much business as Pete Wilson of CovElec explains: “As you can probably imagine, there’s no single, straightforward answer for why motors fail. Power supply anomalies, damaged components or unusual mechanical loads are all potential causes, sometimes in combination. We know where to look… and fast. That gives our customers a real edge.”

Sweating the assets

An ABB synchronous reluctance motor and drive package, supplied by Inverter Drive Systems, has cut energy consumption on a twin extruder application by up to 15 percent, reduced maintenance costs and noise at Radius Systems

Varying the speed of an electric motor is straightforward but there is so much more that today’s VSD can do. “VSDs are packed with intelligent functions such as anti-ragging, multi-pump control and sleep-boost,” says Kevin Brown of Quantum Controls. “Yet sometimes the installer is unaware of the potential of the asset they have purchased.” 

For instance, some drives feature “energy optimisation”. This is a setting that, when activated, can add another 10 percent to the efficiency of the application. In industries like water, rather than replace the existing installation, end-users could significantly save costs by “sweating the assets”. “But to achieve this you need to know where to look. And this is one of the many roles offered by today’s technical distributors,” adds Brown.

Overcoming harmonics

When installing VSDs, there are several technical challenges to consider. If overlooked, the effects can be costly and damaging. “Harmonics, for instance, can have a detrimental impact on a pump system,” says Luke Archer of MKE Engineering Group. “Electric motors may be heating up for no apparent reason; fluorescent lighting may be flickering; or computer terminals could be suffering interference. All of these effects can be the result of harmonics. Yet how do you know this and more importantly how do you resolve it?”

One way is to contact your local ABB authorised value provider and ask for a free lunch and learn seminar that will show you exactly what to look out for and how to resolve the effects of harmonics. The course is free, takes place at your site and takes about one hour.

Alternatively, technical partners are trained to carry out harmonic surveys to the UK standard G5/4-1 or telephone-based health checks. The former are detailed site surveys whereas the latter is an initial telephone chat, whereby answers to a few questions posed by the partner can give an initial assessment as to whether your plant is suffering harmonics.

Electrical system efficiency

The immense energy savings potential of VSDs and drives continues to dominate sales. Most recently Magma Moulding, producers of the Trunki ride-on suitcase, cut its energy costs by £7,800 per year by retrofitting an ABB drive to one of its moulding machines. “We conducted a week-long trial with an ABB drive to see how much energy could be saved,” says Alan Jones of APDS. “The moulding machine previously drew 40kW, but since fitting the drive, this has reduced to 23.5kW. As it runs for 4,500 hours per year, the drive is saving 74,250kW/hrs annually.”

Colchester Zoo suffered a power cut which tripped a drive operating an ozone pump within the sea lion enclosure. “We received the call from the zoo at 08:00 and had an engineer on site in two hours,” says Matthew Gibbons of Gibbons Engineering Group

Another area of growing concern is that of overall electrical system efficiencies. “It is well documented that from January 1st 2017 electric motors rated from 0.75kW to 375kW need to conform to IE3,” observes Darren Beeby of Halcyon Drives. “But do you know the impact of the EcoDesign Directive which now introduces similar efficiency ratings for VSDs when used with motors?” 

There is a simple solution, says Andrew Brown of Beta Power: “Engage with the technical distributor. They are trained to understand how the various component parts interact with each other and can often fine tune the system to squeeze the maximum efficiency.”

More than just energy

Apart from skills in identifying the energy saving potential in pumps, fans and compressors, for instance, the ABB authorised value providers are skilled in finding ways to improve productivity and also keeping a plant running through reliability assessments.

The reliability assessments consider the maintenance requirements of the installed base, whether that be ABB drives or those of a third party, regardless of industry, from oil, gas and chemicals through to food and beverage.

The final word goes to Chris Fletcher of EMR Silverthorn: “Fix it for a fair price and customers come back over and over again. Plant engineers are busy and stretched, so our role is to support them by removing one less worry.” 

To find out what the ABB authorised value provider can do for you, contact your local partner on 07000 ABB AVP (07000 222 287).


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