100. Idea: Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) 101 Transcript

Jonathan: 00:00

You know you can kind of just go through your plant and take an assessment and figure out like, Hey, if this machine, if this server went down, how much data am I going to lose? How much of a headache is it going to be to get this back up and running? 

And if it turns out that it’s going to be, quite the headache, then UPS would be a great fit for you to be able to go in and battery backup that system and to be able to save your data or even potentially ride through that brownout or blackout without having to lose anything. 

Chris: 00:27

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host Chris Grainger, and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market. Instead we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we’re digging in to a fun topic about UPS’s and why they’re important. We have with us today, our Automation and Power Product Manager from South Carolina, Mr. Jonathan Fuller, who has expertise in this, in this space. And we’re very much looking forward to sitting down with Jonathan and talking through this.

So Jonathan welcome. Hope you’re having a great day. Looking forward to this discussion. So can you start us off by just a basic definition of what is a UPS system. 

Jonathan: 01:28

Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me, Chris and I am having a good day. Hope you are as well. you know, what is the UPS? Most people think about the shipping company of UPS, but, in the power world, it’s actually, defined as an uninterruptible power supplies.

You know, most people think of it as a giant battery. Typically what it is it’s going to be a device that you’re going to have plugged into your, what they call the mains, your utility power or the outlet and your wall, things like that. And then you’re going to have critical devices plugged into that UPS. Things like a server or a computer, or just a process in general in your facility that can’t go down.

So that UPS is going to take that main voltage and current, and it’s going to take it and provide battery backup power to that, the device is plugged in. So that you have a brownout, or if you lose power for an extended period of time, this UPS is going to allow you to, depending on that outage, either ride through that outage and continue your process, or if it’s a longer outage and you don’t have the battery power for it, it’s going to allow you to save your work. Save your process and then, successfully shut down without losing anything important.

Chris: 02:41

Okay. So from an industrial standpoint, I know a lot of our listeners work in plants, but maybe not everyone does. Typically when I thought of UPS in the past, I’m thinking the things that keep your computer going. So you’re talking about larger systems that can actually help, from a process standpoint, from power.

Jonathan: 03:01

Yeah, absolutely. There’s UPS is an all in different shapes and sizes. Some of the most common ones you might think about, or chances are, if you go look in your office where you might have a server, like I know in our office where our server room is, there’s going to be a black box UPS sitting there.

That’s going to be backing up that server. I know personally at home I have a UPS for home computer and monitors and things like that. So it can be a small UPS that you can go buy off the shelf or, online at your favorite retailers, or it could be something all the way, to a larger three-phase system that you’re going to have at your facility to help back up a machine or a process.

Chris: 03:37

Very good. Very good. So we call it EECO Asks Why for reason. So let’s go straight to the why. Why do I need a UPS in my facility? 

Jonathan: 03:47

As I mentioned earlier, it’s gonna allow you to save that process or save that important information and gracefully shut down your system.  I know one of my favorite examples to kind of show customers is, if they have something like a computer, an industrial PC that’s running, their process line, their mixing line, things like that with recipes in it, if they have a brownout where they only lose power for a short amount of time, or if they have a total loss of power, then that UPS is going to allow you to save your process where you were at save all of your data.

And back it up and then gracefully shut down your machine, your computer, your IBC, your process. And that way it allows you to make sure that you don’t lose all of that data. I can’t tell you the amount of times, before I had a UPS were in college or something where I was working on a paper and a before auto save it was really a thing, and all of a sudden we’d lose power. 

And I just lost hours of my paper. Cause I didn’t save it.  That’s exactly what a UPS is for. Something as simple as that or something that large scale in your facility. It’s gonna allow you to save things so you don’t lose all of that information.

Chris: 04:57

Very good. Very good. Now you’ve mentioned a term a few times through this podcast so far that a lot of our users may not be familiar with. You said the term brownout. So can you walk us through what brownout is? 

Jonathan: 05:11

Yeah, absolutely. Brownout is going to be, a lull in that voltage, a voltage sag. So it might not be a total loss of power. It might just be you only lose power and part of your facility. So it’s not a total blackout where you’ve lost power completely, but it is a substantial loss of power. And in fact that, like I said, half your plant might not have power, but the other half does.  

Chris: 05:35

Oh, okay. Thank you for that explanation. So when you’re talking UPS’s, obviously you have batteries to provide that power, so how long would a UPS battery lasts? 

Jonathan: 05:47

When you ask how long the battery lasts, there’s a couple of different factors that take into account that. There’s different types of batteries. There’s a sealed lead acid, which is one of the most common types of batteries. And, think about the battery in your car and, that’s a sealed lead acid battery. But then there’s also lithium ion batteries now in some of the smaller applications. So it just really depends on how many batteries you have in that system and how many VA you’re putting on your system.

So if you’ve got a thousand VA UPS and you’ve got it loaded up with a thousand VA. Your batteries are gonna last a certain minutes, but if you’ve got that thousand via UPS and you’ve got, only a hundred VA on it, your batteries are going to last for hours. So it really comes down to your application and how long do you need it to at last? I mean, that’s some of the questions that you need to be able to answer when sizing a UPS and, there’s a couple of ways of getting that answer as to whether you buy something with more VA than what you need. Or some of the UPS is you can actually add more batteries to the system. And so that way you can increase that runtime. 

Chris: 06:55

Okay. So sizing the UPS sounds like that’s a critical piece. So what do you start with when you’re trying to size it correctly? 

Jonathan: 07:04

Yeah, absolutely. So when you’re trying to size it correctly, you need to think about everything that’s going to be plugged in to that UPS that you want to be able to have battery backup power for.

So you need to find out how much power does this device, does my computer, does this process, whatever you’re plugging in, how much power does that pull? What’s the max amount of power that’s going to pull. So once you determine all of that, you can add all of that up and then be able to calculate how many VA you need.

And there are some great tools online, some different VA calculators that you can find online that kind of give you suggested guidelines for, Hey, your average computer might pull this much or this device will pull this much. So they’ll help you size that UPS correctly. 

Chris: 07:48

Okay. So I guess we need to consider loads, right? So what types of different loads will we look at when we’re sizing it up? Can a UPS run everything from your typical automation equipment to motors and w where do you draw the line? What should we consider when we’re looking at a UPS system from a load standpoint? 

Jonathan: 08:08

Yeah. So typically you’ll have things running on the UPS, like a computer or monitors and things like You usually want to stay away from things like, especially, one of the biggest no-nos I’ve seen in my experience is printers. You don’t necessarily want to have a printer plugged into a UPS because it’s going to use a lot of power. Things like motors, things that have a high in-rush. They’re not a good candidate for being plugged into a UPS.

Now most all UPSs are going to have two different types of output on them. They’re going to have a surge protected outlet only. And if you want to plug a printer or something like that into one of those that’s fine, but then the other type of output they’re going to have on them is going to be surge plus battery backup.

And so you don’t want to put those high inrush current devices on that battery backup because they’re going to, they’re going to drain your batteries very quickly. 

Chris: 08:58

Right. Okay. So what if I want to run my motors during that outage? Or is that where we needed to start looking towards a generator instead?

Jonathan: 09:08

That brings up a good point.  A lot of times people think, Hey, I’ve got a UPS, I don’t need a generator. Hey, I’ve got a generator, I don’t need a UPS. When in reality, they’re going to work in tandem together. Things like  your motors, that’s a great thing to put on a generator but a lot of times you’re going to have a whole building or a whole facility generator.

So you can use the UPS in between that generator and that processor downstream things, and that the UPS can provide that ride through on a lot of your devices until that generator gets up to speed and synced in. Because when you start a generator, you’re not going to have a power immediately.

You’ve got to let it bring up to speed and get synced in with everything. So that’s when a UPS really comes into play to help with that ride through. 

Chris: 09:52

Thank you for clarifying that, Jonathan. That was very good. Between the differences there. I’ve also heard digging into the UPS world online and offline. Can you explain to our listeners what the difference is? 

Jonathan: 10:05

Yeah, sure. So the offline UPS is going to be a device that, when you’ve got good mains voltage, say 120 volts in your wall. For example, if you’re backing ups and computer equipment, as long as that voltage is within tolerance, it’s just going to pass that voltage straight through the UPS, out to your devices. And it’s going to offer some surge protection and that’s about it.

Those offline UPSs there typically a little bit less expensive. When you get into the online, you might hear it called double conversion or online UPS. they’re going to be a little bit more expensive, but what they do is they’re, inverter and converter always online. They’re always being used.

So it is always taking that means voltage, 120 volts in our example, and it is always converting it to DC. And then in that DC, inside the ups, that is always going to be trickle, charging your batteries to make sure that they’re maintained. And then the inverter is going to pick up that DC and always convert it back to AC.

So you’re always going to get a pure 120 volts, perfect power on the output. So that’s why those online or double conversion UPS’s are going to be a little bit more expensive because they’re always going to be giving you the best purest power on the output. 

Chris: 11:18

Very good. Thank you for that explanation there. So you mentioned something that came to mind from a battery standpoint and maintenance, because a lot of our listeners are in that maintenance world. So what type of maintenance that should we need to consider for our batteries in our UPS systems? 

Jonathan: 11:37

In some of the smaller UPS systems where the battery is actually internal, if you have a lithium ion battery, there’s really no maintenance there at all.

You’re going to need to change that lithium ion battery within seven to 10 years. Typically, if you’re in a dirty power environment where you’re always having some voltage sags or brownouts or blackouts, and you’re using that ups a lot when that battery is going to be changed before that seven to 10 years typically.

And then in the other type, with the sealed lead acid battery, again, it’s just like the battery in your car. You’re typically going to need to replace that battery in your car every three to five years. It’s going to be the same with this type of ups. Again, depending on your environment, too hot, too cold, things like that’s going to affect that battery life as well.

When you get into some of the larger systems your batteries might be external in a rack versus being inside the UPS. So you’re going to want to make sure that you’ve got it in a temporate, humidity and climate controlled area that you can actually control all that. So that it’s at a perfect environment for those batteries.

You can also do things like testing on your batteries and checking the fluid levels and adding fluid as needed in those batteries. 

Chris: 12:42

Yeah, that was going to be my question. Is it more of a time-based maintenance type situation or is there something that we’re monitoring in these systems? That’s going to be that leading indicator to, Hey, now we need to go act here and do this on this set of batteries versus that set of batteries. Just curious. So just digging a little deeper on the maintenance aspect. 

Jonathan: 13:04

Yeah, some of those sealed lead acid batteries and things like that, they’re sealed, you can’t really get into them.

So yeah. It’s going to be one of those things that it’s mainly going to be a time on some of those smaller ups systems. You can check the voltages on them and see if that voltage is too low and all that. Sometimes you’re going to just need to replace that battery. But when you get into some of the larger system, battery backup systems, you can go in and actually monitor the temperature of the battery.

You can monitor the liquid levels inside of that battery and maintain them that way by adding more liquid to the battery, if need be. Most of the time in most application is going to be just one of those time maintenance things. Where after a certain amount of time, you’re just going to need to replace those batteries 

Chris: 13:48

I got you. Okay. That makes sense. So quick question, off the wall. You ever watched the show Home Improvement? 

Jonathan: 13:57

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. 

Chris: 13:58

All right. So I’m going to have a Tim, the Tool Man Taylor moment here for you. okay. I need to get some more power or can I just add batteries to get that capacity? 

Jonathan: 14:10

That’s a, that’s a common misconception.  you can’t Tim the Tool Man Taylor on these, these batteries by just adding more to get more power. So by adding more batteries, you’re going to get more runtime. It’s not going to increase the amount of stuff you can plug in. It’s going to increase the amount of time you can go without voltage to keep the stuff that you have plugged in and running.

If you need more capacity, you’re either going to need to get a large ups or, just get a second ups and split that load between the two, to be able to plug more stuff in. A lot of ups is out there will allow you to deploy more things in and go into that overload state, but then they’re going to start warning you and telling you they’re going to start beeping at you and yelling at you and it can get quite aggravating.

And then when you do have a brownout or a blackout, and you’re in that overloaded state, it’s not going to be able to provide any battery power to anything. And it’s just going to instantly shut down. So that’s something I’ve run across before too, or we’ll have users go in and say, Hey, I just bought this fancy new ups and it’s not working for me.

And we go in and we dive deeper into it and say, Hey, you’re only rated for a thousand VA, but you’ve got, 1800 VA worth of stuff plugged into it. So that’s why it’s not providing that battery backup. So that’s something you definitely need to keep in mind is the amount of items that you have plugged in and that power consumption.

Chris: 15:29

I got you. Thank you for blowing my Tim, the Tool Man Taylor bubble, Jonathan. I really appreciate that. I felt like I’m talking with Al  here, but not seriously. That was great, man. Great explanation. Definitely helped me think through it as well. So hopefully that brought some value. So I also hear the term maintenance bypass switch. What is that first of all and why do I need one? 

Jonathan: 15:55

Yeah. That’s more common in places with like data rooms and data servers and things like that, but it’s also great for any kind of industrial application. So a maintenance bypass is exactly what it sounds like. So it’s going to be able to you bring your mains voltage into that maintenance bypass, and then you’re going to go from the maintenance bypass to your ups. And then from ups back to the maintenance bypass, and then out to all of your loads. So that maintenance bypass allows you to be able to take your ups offline. Take your ups completely out of the equation without having to unplug all of your loads or without having to rewire everything you can just pull that ups out of the system and add another one in, without even having to worry about really having to rewire your loads or things like that. 

Chris: 16:46

Okay. That sounds very, that’s a pretty handy feature to have then. Huh? 

Jonathan: 16:50

Yes, absolutely. 

Chris: 16:51

So let’s just to wrap it up. What parting advice would you have for our listeners who are considering the ups system in the, in their facility, maybe from a application standpoint or just from sizing? You obviously have a lot of experience in this field that you would offer up to, to our listeners of EECO Asks Why.

Jonathan: 17:11

Yeah, absolutely.  That’s kinda what we here at EECO are here for, we can help you with a lot of power  needs and if you’ve got questions or things like that, feel free to reach out to us. And there’s a lot of tools available online as well. And you can kind of just go through your plant and take an assessment and figure out like, Hey, if this machine, if this server went down, how much data am I going to lose?

How much of a headache is it going to be to get this back up and running? And if it turns out that it’s going to be, quite the headache, then ups would be a great fit for you to be able to go in and battery backup that system and to be able to save your data or even potentially ride through that brownout or blackout without having to lose anything.

So let’s just a couple of questions you’ll need to find out. And like you said, about how much load are you going to have and is it going to cause any major issues at that device where to go down? 

What about before we wrap up the automation side, right? The PLC, what an automation engineer or a process engineer, planning, engineer, whatever, have you whoever’s in charge of that automation platform?

Chris: 18:13

Can they give some parameters or should they be considered in the decision making process for specifying a ups based off of, okay. If this process goes down and we lose these inputs, I need X amount of time, to safely basically decommissioned the process. If you will, from a, from an automation standpoint, this should that be considered?

Jonathan: 18:35

Oh, that’s a great question to bring up. So yeah, absolutely. You’re going to want to be able to put your PLC on a battery backup and a lot of the manufacturers out there and make a great smaller ups. That’s the same kind of form factor as some of those PLCs that are out there. So you can actually din rail Mount it in your cabinet right next to your PLC and that’s going to be able to let you, like you said, say that a certain process, or a certain part in that process. And so you don’t lose that batch of material you’re working on or that chemical or things like that, or to make sure that those inputs and outputs are still working, as needed for as long as you need.

So yeah, a PLC, in my previous experience, one of the biggest places that we use a battery backup was when we were using it in conjunction with the PLC so that, if you lose power, your PLC is still going to be able to be running and tell your piece of equipment hey, I need to close this breaker. I need to open this breaker. I need to signal this or do that. That’s a great point that you bring up. 

Chris: 19:35

Very good. This was a great discussion, Jonathan, thank you for all your insight and your information that you brought to our listeners on this topic.

I definitely think it resonates well from automation all the way, throughout a plant, being protected and keeping people safe. I think ups systems can play into it all those different areas. So thank you again for your time today and for your knowledge that you shared with us and really enjoyed the conversation.

Jonathan: 20:01

Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.