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Defining the ideal drive for system integrators

Defining the ideal drive for system integrators
Often viewed as an external engineering department for small manufacturers, system integrators need to be quick, efficient and leave behind an adaptable system that can continue to meet future needs. So what do system integrators need from a VSD and how will the choice of particular features or characteristics affect the service they provide to their end user?

Variable speed drives (VSDs) are increasingly forming part of the solutions offered by system integrators. With their well known energy saving advantages allied to their growing control and communications abilities, VSDs are becoming widespread in an ever increasing range of industrial applications. In a VSD module that forms part of a system, system integrators will want to see ease of installation, use and maintenance, some degree of customisation to fit a bespoke application, energy saving features, good reliability and safety and comprehensive support from the manufacturer. 

There are a number of features that can make a drive module easy to assemble into cabinets. A narrow profile combined with side-by-side mounting will reduce the size of cabinet needed and allow the use of smaller control rooms. Simple plug in of ancillary equipment such as I/O, fieldbus, encoders and filters also makes for quick installation together with convenient placement of power input terminals.

A well designed drive will be supported by a comprehensive range of documentation and software tools to support engineering, with product information, manuals, electrical and mechanical diagrams and assembly drawings, as well as help selecting components such as circuit breakers. For its ACS850 module drive, ABB supplies E-plan documentation that includes CAD drawings, parts lists, connection diagrams and information on weights and dimensions, allowing the installer to produce a bill of materials and electrical diagrams. E-learning courses are also available, covering such subjects as cabinet engineering, safety, cooling and grounding. This comprehensive e-library of documentation helps system integrators build a working system more simply and accurately, saving time and money.

A VSD that is flexible and offers a range of options allows the system integrator to order only those features needed for the application. A choice of fieldbus adapters will enable digital communication between devices and systems. The ACS850 adopts this approach, as well as offering a RS485 link that provides a full-featured Modbus for monitoring the drive and for giving the drive control commands such as start and stop. A master-follower arrangement is a common feature of drive based applications and the ACS850's  RS485 link can be configured to work as a high speed drive-to-drive link instead of the Modbus.

Safe and easy to use
Ease of use is a prerequisite for VSDs, ensuring that end users have a drive that is intuitive and allows parameters to be set quickly and accurately. A good user interface is the key here, with the ACS850 employing macros to optimise drive settings. It also has an intelligent start up assistant to guide parameter settings. Set up is helped by several advanced functions such as short and long parameter menus, I/O mapping and lists of changed parameters. Safety is best ensured by in-built safety functions such as safe torque-off (STO), which can be used where power removal is required to prevent an unexpected start up. The function disables the controls of the IGBTs in the drive's output, preventing the inverter from generating the voltage required to rotate the motor. 

Although VSDs are already renowned for saving energy, the latest develop-ments include energy optimising techniques, which adjust the motor flux to minimise current magnitude. This allows the total efficiency of the system, both motor and VSD, to be maximised, while the reduced current still gives the torque required. Another energy saving feature of some of the more advanced VSDs is an in-built energy saving calculator that records the consumed and saved energy in kWh, as well as savings in money and CO2, while a load analyser gives data about current, power, torque and other user selectable parameters. 

Cooling fans on VSDs can be significant consumers of energy. On the AC850, this is minimised by controlling the internal fan automatically and is switched off when not active. The cabinet fan can also be controlled by this function, giving further energy savings and reduced control room noise.

One of the overriding concerns of process operators is to keep the plant running. Again, the ACS850 demonstrates the best practice of drive manufacturers, with features designed to maximise productivity and avoid process interruptions. The drive's PCBs are coated with a varnish to protect them from harsh conditions, while a thermal protection model ensures that the IGBTs do not over heat.

A maintenance assistant reminds the user of the need for maintenance tasks such as fan change, motor bearing lubrication and cleaning of the cabinet air inlet filters, making it easier to keep the process running smoothly. Another wizard is the diagnostic assistant, which helps find disturbances and gives advice on restoring the process. A removable memory unit holds motor settings and user data, making it easy to re-commission the drive after replacing the power unit or control unit. 

Support from before purchase to final disposal of the VSD after the end of its life is increasingly common and drive purchasers and users now expect a manufacturer to have systems and processes in place to support all these stages. To support the ACS850, ABB provides an extensive range of services that span the entire value chain from first enquiry to disposal. Advice on purchasing can be followed by professional installation and start up, including PC tools to make it easier. On and offsite repairs, advice on upgrades to the latest hardware and software, and e-learning and training resources can also be provided.

Defining the perfect drive for system integrators will always be a continuing process as expectations develop and industries and applications change. Manufacturers like ABB will continue to evolve their products to make them more ideal, seeking to get close to that elusive 'perfect drive'.
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