Power Trip

Power Trip
  • The SurgeX SA82 FlatPak are 8-amp load-capable and have two industrial grade grounded AC receptacles. The SA82 utilizes Series Mode surge protection technology, Impedance Tolerant EMI/RFI filtering, and over-voltage-shutdown.It is one of our industry's strange ironies that, as the speed and robustness of our low-voltage data networks improve, the dependability of the high-voltage infrastructure appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Utility companies may insist they are doing all they can to maintain a consistent and reliable AC supply. But out there in the real world, contractors know all too well that, now more than ever, the equipment they install needs to be protected from mains power irregularities.
  • This is partly because the modern world is making it tougher for utility firms to stabilize their supply. "The utilities have to try to manage the power grid," said Peter Cook, vice president of Juice Goose. "If you see your indoor lights flicker, that's utility load balancing-switching in and out of capacitor banks to match supply with demand."
  • The problems really begin when that demand becomes impossible to manage without significant fluctuations in voltage. "Extreme weather is often to blame," Cook explained, "because when it's very hot people use more AC, and when it's very cold they use more heating. In extreme cases, you get the blackouts and brownouts that we've seen in California and elsewhere."
  • At a more local level, commercial activity may also play a part in creating an unpredictable power supply. "I get people saying to me: 'My voltage is suddenly higher,'" reflected Christos Desalernos, domestic sales manager at Furman Sound. "I ask them if there is any construction going on nearby, and they say: 'How did you know?' What's happened is that the utility company has raised the voltage to allow for the increased demands of the construction, then when that work stops-in the evening, for example-there is too much voltage in the system."
  • The increasing unpredictability of power is only one side of the coin. The other is that today's AV systems contain equipment that is much more vulnerable to AC power fluctuations than was once the case.
  • "Every rack we install now has some kind of microprocessor in it," said Brock McGinnis, sales manager at Toronto-based Westbury National Show Systems. "Once information is reduced to ones and zeroes, there is a huge risk, and most of our customers don't know how to get into the rack and reboot. Customers don't buy equipment, they buy what the equipment does. And if it stops working, they assume it's the equipment that's caused the problem."
  • McGinnis said that no rack leaves his company without either a surge protector or an Uninterruptble Power Supply (UPS)-in some cases both. He cites audio DSP and control systems getting out of sync with one another as one of the worst things that can happen as the result of power supply fluctuation, but added that, depending on the application, things can get even trickier.

Lowell Manufacturing's AC power offerings include 120V AC power panels with surge suppression and over/under voltage shut down protection. Models ACSPR-2009-VTE and ACSPR-1509-VTE are ETL-listed 20A and 15A panels respectively with five switched and four un-switched outlets.
"In casinos and racetracks, we're not just talking to audio processors," McGinnis said. "We're talking about computers that are generating cues for the lighting, the real-time information for digital signage networks, and other data. The larger the system rack, the more likely it is to have a large-and vulnerable-PC in it as well."

Division Of Power
Cook divides the business of power management into three distinct areas: the creation of a stable AC environment, the protection of equipment from any damage that may result from an anomaly in that environment, and the continuation of supply in the event of a total blackout. The last of these is the domain of UPS systems, which in turn can be divided into so-called online and standby types, with the former offering a greater degree of protection.
"Online systems are more robust because they go from AC to DC and back again," explained Michael McCook, one of the co-founders of SurgeX and now a senior principal at the company. "But they can also be much more expensive. It's the kind of area where you'd want to bring the customer into the conversation, and understand what downtime means to them. What are their levels of suffering if the system goes down?"

Package Deal
Unglamorous and, at times, under-valued, power conditioning and UPS products can still be tough for contractors to sell when budgets are tight. As Juice Goose's Peter Cook puts it: "It's the last-line item on the budget. You're going to need a mic, amp, and speakers, right? Do you need a power conditioner? No. Typically things have been viewed that way." Times are changing, however, not least because of the R&D and educational efforts of manufacturers. "The cost of UPSs has come down, and there are more products available," Cook said.

Consequently, systems designers and integrators need to add these technologies to their training roster. "We have backed education in the marketplace since our inception 13 years ago," McCook emphasized. "By supporting groups such as SynAydCon, InfoComm, and NSCA, we have helped to bring about a greater awareness of quality AC power platforms."

And if the typical contractor has become more aware of the technical issues, the typical end customer is more aware of the business ones. In today's commercial climate, it isn't just applications such as security and healthcare that regard themselves as 'mission critical'. "If you're in the middle of a teleconference with a CEO on the other side of the world, then the operation of that conferencing system is critical to your mission!" Cook argued.

"For casinos and racetracks, it's very important for them to be able to operate under virtually any circumstance," McGinnis added. "Electrical standards are very stringent when it comes to emergency lighting, but they don't cover keeping the slot machines running. We go beyond PA systems and being able to evacuate a building full of people; we help our clients earn a living. All our systems require power, and having the right AC environment is a very low price to pay to ensure trouble-free operation for our customers."