Celebrate Manufacturing Day

The second annual Manufacturing Day arrives on October 4, and we’ll be quietly celebrating the achievements of American manufacturers by manufacturing some of the finest power electronics in the world. It’s not that we don’t care (we do!); it’s just that we’re busy.

Just this month, we received orders for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy for power supply equipment that we must deliver in a timely manner.

Just because we aren’t openly participating in the activities surrounding Manufacturing Day this year, we don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm around such a worthy cause. As a manufacturer, we take pride in the work we do and appreciate the hard work that other U.S. manufacturers do.

Begun just last year, Manufacturing Day was launched to address common misconceptions the public has about manufacturing. “By working together during and after Manufacturing Day, manufacturers will begin to address the skilled labor shortage they face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing, and ensure the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry,” the organizers wrote. Sponsors include: the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, the Manufacturing Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, and the Precision Metalforming Association.

The goal of Manufacturing Day is to educate the public as to:

  • What modern manufacturing facilities are really like these days.
  • What companies located in your community make and who they sell to.
  • What kinds of jobs are available in manufacturing.
  • What skills and education are needed to qualify for today’s manufacturing jobs.

Last year, over 240 organizations hosted events in 37 states that attracted more than 7,000 visitors. This year, organizers expect to double those numbers. We wish them well in their efforts.

And maybe next year, we’ll have the opportunity to join in the celebration fully.

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Kennedy’s Speech Was a Preview of the Future of Space Exploration

On September 20, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations in which he called for the United States and the Soviet Union to cooperate on a program to send the first humans to the moon. Fifty years later, that idea sounds somewhat curious to us; but, in reality, it was a prognostication of what was actually to come.

Originally, Kennedy had been a firm advocate of the U.S. going it alone to achieve history’s greatest feat of exploration. Just two years earlier, he had given a very different speech that had roused the public during the height of the “space race” with the Soviets. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he argued.

Yet, in his 1963 speech, Kennedy proposed that the two world superpowers cooperate in mounting “a joint expedition” to the moon. “Why should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research, construction, and expenditure?” It was a controversial stance to take in the middle of the Cold War; but it was realistic (even the Soviets thought so).

As we all know, history intervened two months later, and the notion of major nations cooperating to share their engineering and scientific expertise in space would have to be shelved for years. Eventually, though, Kennedy’s more clear-eyed stance on space exploration became the model for international efforts in the “high frontier.” First, the Americans and Soviets cooperated on a project called Skylab (one of the world’s first space stations) in 1973, which was quickly followed by the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. Then they opened participation to all willing nation’s in 1993 with the announcement of the International Space Station (ISS).

Today, we still have individual nation’s making major strides in mastering the technology needed for manned spaceflight, but we also have many programs in which a variety of countries (and even private enterprises) work together to get things done up there, such as equipping the ISS. And this is likely to be the favored model for most future spaceflight breakthroughs going forward.

We were thinking about all this, because the folks here at Behlman have had some small measure of participation in the U.S. space program. Several years ago, we supplied some of the power supplies used to test the electronics associated with the launch rocket.

All these decades later, space exploration still has the power to fascinate us, as well as to remind us that we all share a very small planet.

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Powering the (More) Electric Aircraft of the (Near) Future

The futuristic concept of the Electric Aircraft is becoming a little less far-out these days. At the recent Paris Air Show in June, a variety of suppliers exhibited electric-power technologies that “are nearly ready for primetime.” The real heavy lifting, though, has already come from the two major commercial aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing.

In Paris, for example, Honeywell and Safran demonstrated their Electric Green Taxiing System (EGTS) prototype, which uses an APU generator to power motors on an aircraft’s main wheels, enabling the jet to push back and taxi without starting its main engines. “The key attractions at the Air Paris Show were the electric prototypes from big industry players,” said Frost & Sullivan Aerospace and Defense Analyst Alix Leboulanger. “If developments go according to plan, then all-electric commercial aviation could take off by 2035 to 2040.”

Really, the bigger story, though, has already happened, in the switchover to variable-frequency power electronics by Airbus and Boeing. Traditionally, commercial aircraft have used bleed-air from their engines to run a motor that supplied fixed-frequency power (3-phase 115 VAC at 400 Hz) to run their electrical systems. Maintaining a constant 400 Hz requires equipment (such as a constant speed drive) that converts the varying engine speeds to the constant speed, adding weight to the plane. Plus, fixed frequency limited the capabilities of the onboard electrical components to handle advanced applications. In recent years, the two avionics industry heavyweights have begun to adopt the more-sophisticated variable-frequency power architecture as part of a wider effort to build what has come to be known as the More Electric Aircraft (MEA) concept.

Airbus moved first with the A380, which uses four 150- to 380-kVA variable-frequency (380 Hz to 800 Hz) electrical generators. Its power system is fully computerized and many connections have been replaced by solid-state devices for better performance. Airbus has also imposed more stringent electromagnetic interference requirements. And the aircraft is touted as being the first commercial widebody to deploy power-by-wire flight control actuators.

Boeing has followed with the 787 Dreamliner, which completes a transition for the company from bleed-air power to a more-electric architecture.  Engine start, APU start, wing ice protection, cabin pressurization and hydraulic pumps are all powered by variable-frequency (360-800 Hz) generators. Boeing claims that this offers a 300 percent improvement in its electrical systems.

In power electronics, wide variable-frequency often goes by the name “wild” frequency (or AC Wild). We wrote about wild frequency in an article for Avionics Magazine back in 2007 entitled Frequency Change. In it, Ron Storm, president of Behlman Electronics, noted that the adoption of wild frequency will offer “significantly reduced complexity compared to the constant speed hydro-mechanical devices run by previous fixed-frequency power systems.”

“Logically,” Mr. Storm wrote, “if wild frequency is to become widely accepted as the prevalent AC power in avionics, ground support and test equipment capable of providing wild frequency power ranges will be essential.”

To help in this transition, Behlman created a Wild Frequency Information Center to provide background material on the topic for those interested in learning more. We will also try to keep you updated going forward with additional blog posts on the new era of power electronics in aviation. Welcome to the near future.

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Obsolescence: The Problem that Never Goes Away

In our last blog post (please see Form-Fit-Function Solutions: A Modest Proposal for Defense Department Cost Savings), we discussed a method in which replacement parts can be customized to supply the same functionality (or better) of an old part that may no longer be in production or may have become obsolete. While preparing that blog, we came across an article in New Electronics that discussed further problems with obsolescent technology and steps that can be taken to reduce the risk that it poses.

In the article Dealing with the Problems of Obsolescence, Graham Pitcher (an editor at New Electronics) writes that his magazine’s readers listed obsolete electronics as one of the biggest problems facing their businesses. ObsolescenceThe head of the Component Obsolescence Group (COG) told Pitcher that projects that need to “keep something in the sky or under the sea for 30 years” are increasingly experiencing problems with obsolete components. While designers today feel the pressure to shorten the upgrade cycle of their offerings, project managers are feeling the equal-but-opposite pressure to extend the life cycle of their ventures.

“While military projects were an early driver of obsolescence management, COG is now dealing with issues in the oil and gas, rail and nuclear industries, amongst others,” COG Chairman Stuart Kelly told the magazine. “These industries face the same issues, as do any with long-life projects.”

Kelly noted that the best approach to the problem is to meet it head on. COG’s website states: “Most companies deal with obsolescence in a reactive way, where they suddenly find that a component is not available. COG promotes proactive management where tools and procedures are put in place which monitor the life cycle of components and aim to have as much information as possible available on their bill of materials.”

Here at Behlman, we provide solutions to the problems of dealing with obsolete power supplies for a variety of applications. If you find yourself facing a problem involving obsolete power electronics, contact us for a potential solution.

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Form-Fit-Function Solutions: A Modest Proposal for Defense Department Cost Savings

As the federal budget sequester rolls along with no end in sight, pressure mounts on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to trim its spending. Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee warned that unless the Congress and the White House could agree to a long-term plan to reduce government spending that the Pentagon would be looking at $450 billion worth of spending cuts over the next nine years.

That got us to thinking about ways in which the DoD has actually been using some common-sense approaches to the difficult task of balancing cost savings with military preparedness in recent times. One of these methods is called COTS (commercial off-the-Cost savingsshelf) requisitioning (please see our previous blog entry Best Practices for Choosing a COTS Power Supply Vendor). Another method is referred to as FFF (form-fit-function) replacement. Here’s some background on how we view this second approach to practical cost savings in defense requisitioning.

Some of the military’s weapon, communications and support systems can date back half a century, and may need replacement parts that no longer exist. The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may even have gone out of business. We often find that electronic parts used by the original power supply manufacturer have become obsolete, printed wiring boards and castings are no longer available, or original schematics no longer exist.

When the military faces system obsolescence or costly, temporary repairs of existing power supplies, Behlman may be asked to create form-fit-function replacements. The result is a newly manufactured power supply designed to match the “form” (shape, materials and interfaces), “fit” (size and all connectors) and “function” (delivering the same output power from the appropriate input power) of an original power supply. These meet the specifications of the original but also present opportunities to address defects or shortcomings in the original design, as well as improvements in performance and reliability through the application of modern technologies and manufacturing techniques.

For example, an aerospace equipment manufacturer needed a form-fit-function replacement for a 30-year-old power supply used in Air Force E-3 AWACS systems. Over 300 units were extant in aircraft, and the power supply failure rate had become unacceptable. By utilizing existing modules and circuits to replace those used in the original AWACS power supply, Behlman kept development time to a minimum and delivered two qualification units in record time. We also integrated several upgrades that improved performance, maintenance and manufacturability. This economical solution enabled the AWACS to perform its mission long after it would otherwise have become obsolete.

While we can only speak for power supplies, there can be little doubt that electronic and mechanical form-fit-function solutions of all kinds can greatly extend the useful life of military systems. And, due to advances in technology, design and manufacture since the original equipment was produced, it is reasonable to expect a replacement part to significantly outperform the original.  To achieve this higher level of performance, vendors must have the ability to:

  • Identify and outline all alternatives and options, as well as explain the pros and cons of each
  • Look beyond the provided specifications and make recommendations to improve performance, manufacturability and cost
  • Draw from and implement a wide array of proven COTS technologies
  • Ensure that the replacement meets all appropriate standards introduced since the original was manufactured (in power supplies, for example, MIL-STDs for shock and vibration or EMI/EMC compliance standards).

While limited program funding has made sustaining legacy weapon, communication and support systems more challenging than ever, taking the time to research and select the right replacement vendor is well worthwhile, as it can definitely keep our nation’s armament on the front lines long after the OEMs have vanished – and all on budget.

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Using Inverters to Back Up SCADA Systems in Power Substations

In today’s increasingly automated world, system controls must be highly reliable; and the more critical the resource is, the more foolproof the control system must be. For power utility substations, the need for continuous facility control under any circumstance demands that a failsafe electric supply be always available.

Utilities automate substations for obvious reasons, such as lower operating costs and enhanced reliability. This is why utilities have been upgrading their substations for years with ever-more sophisticated industrial control systems. Digital protective relays, remote terminal units, programmable controllers and high-speed computer systems utilizing SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) have all been part of this upgrade cycle.

In an automated substation, the reliability of these devices depends upon the reliability of the power being supplied to them. Substations use banks of batteries as their reliable source of power because the substation must operate even when AC power is lost. The battery voltages are 48, 125 or 250 VDC. The batteries are kept charged whenever AC power is available. In order to power the equipment for the automation process, the battery voltage must be converted to AC. The device that does this conversion is called an inverter. A battery and inverter system is similar to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS); but an UPS is not preferred because the substation supplies the batteries and charger and, therefore, the inverter is the device of choice. The power requirement for today’s substation electronic devices is approximately 860 watts. Allowing for contingencies and growth, an inverter should be able to supply between 1000 to 1200 watts. (Note: This is not VA but watts. Most units are rated in VA, with watts equal to about 0.65 VA. For all Behlman’s inverters, VA equals watts.)

There are three types of inverters. The first type is the on-line inverter that has an AC input (normally 120VAC at 60 Hz) and a DC battery input. The output always runs from an internal inverter that produces the AC output. If there is a loss of AC input, the batteries take over seamlessly. The second type is the standby (or off-line) inverter that has the same inputs as the on-line unit except that the AC input goes directly to the output via a bypass. Upon loss of the AC input, the output is switched to the internal inverter output supplied by the batteries. There is a short switchover time when there is no output. Usually the electronic devices have internal hold up so that this loss of input has no effect. This cannot be guaranteed and must be verified for each type of electronic device.

The third type is the DC battery input only. This unit supplies the AC power from an internal inverter that is always powered by the substation battery bank. The Behlman ACDC-1200 inverter is the on-line type. The Behlman INV-1200 is a battery-only type that can be configured as a standby unit. Both inverters supply a pure sine wave output. Behlman’s INV-1210 is identical to the INV-1200 except that the INV-1210 supplies a modified sine wave with peak and root mean square (RMS) equal to a sine wave.

Behlman’s low-cost inverters offer: rugged construction for use in a substation environment; proven reliability for long mean time between failure (MTBF); and small size for use in equipment racks.

Contact us for more information on how we can help you in this critical area.

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The VPX Story

If you’re reading this page, you’re probably well-acquainted with the power-electronics market. For the sake of common cause, though, let’s take a few minutes to review one of the most significant developments in recent years in the field of embedded systems: VPX.

The VPX (a.k.a., ANSI/VITA 46.0-2007) standard specifies the architectural basics for VMEbus-based systems with support for switched fabrics over a new high-speed connector. Sponsored by the VITA industry group, VPX specifically addresses the needs of next-generation embedded systems, particularly those with industrial, medical and military applications.

Engineers from the member companies in VITA spent years perfecting an answer to the problem of I/O limitations with parallel-bus VME connections. They agreed to start from scratch on a new architecture and implemented a serial-bus, or switched fabric, solution to the connector bottleneck, the MultiGig RT2. The VITA Standards Organization (VSO) eventually agreed on: retaining the 6U and 3U Eurocard form factors; implementing the new 7-row high-speed connector (rated up to 6.25 Gbps); offering a choice of high-speed serial fabrics (e.g., PCI Express, RapidIO, Infiniband or 10 Gigabit Ethernet); including FMC (VITA 57), PMC and XMC (VITA 42) mezzanines; and developing hybrid backplanes to accommodate VME64, VXS and VPX boards. The new specification also offered improvements in power, cooling, and board real estate.Full VPX100CD

The VPX base specification and sub-specifications also enable power electronics modules to provide: 115 watts at 5 volts, or up to 384 W at 12 V or 768 W at 48 V. To upgrade cooling requirements, VITA advanced the Ruggedized Enhanced Design Implementation (REDI) standard to provide for improved cooling methods such as forced air, conduction- and liquid-cooling arrangements. Moreover, VPX accommodates legacy VME technology with hybrid designs that map the VMEbus onto the VPX J2 connector.

The OpenVPX specification enhances the VPX standard by improving interoperability between various VPX system providers, leveraging the various dot upgrades to the overall standard. (For more on OpenVPX, please see its FAQ at VITA.)

As a member of VITA (serving on its power supply committees), we at Behlman have been longtime backers of VPX development efforts. Our VPXtra™ line supports the design, manufacture, operation and cooling of high-density 6U OpenVPX-compliant COTS DC-DC power supplies and a COTS AC-DC front-end module. They are OpenVPX Vita 62 compliant with a wide input range and typical efficiency of 90 percent. The VPXtra™1000CD series delivers 1000 W of +12V DC power with a 3.3V AUX. The VPXtra™1000CM series delivers 700 W of DC power via five outputs. In both, the +12V outputs can be paralleled for higher power and redundancy, and both can accept a 28-VDC input, IAW MIL-STD-704.

For more information on our VPXtra offerings, please feel free to contact us at sales@behlman.com or 1-800-874-6727.  We’ll be happy to discuss the latest in VPX technology with you.

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Keeping the Railroads Running

Upon hearing that this is National Transportation Month, we thought we should praise our friends in the railroad industry, the men and women that keep people and product moving. After all, we’ve been working with them for more than 20 years.

One of our specialties is providing power supplies for railroad signaling applications. This is a mission-critical area in which absolute reliability is the standard. TrainThere is no room for error when it comes to railroad safety. And our clients have come to trust in our equipment so much that we have become the brand name in this specialty. Before going any further, though, let’s take a moment to discuss the basics of railway signaling for our friends in other fields.

Railway signaling goes back to the mid-nineteenth century when signalmen used flags and a variety of semaphore signs. By the latter part of the century, the myriad railroad operations began to unify around a set of guidelines called the Standard Code of Operating Rules (SCOR), produced by the Association of American Railroads. To this day, the SCOR guidelines are the grand-daddy of all North American railroad signaling rulebooks. Now, most Class I railroads in the U.S. use one of two sets of rules: the Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee (NORAC) rulebook and the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR).

Amtrak, Conrail and several commuter and DART trainshort-line railroads in the northeastern U.S. use the NORAC rulebook. The GCOR is used by every Class I railroad west of the Mississippi River, most of the Class II railroads and numerous short-line tracks. A few operators, including CSX, Norfolk Southern (NS), Illinois Central, Metro North and Florida East Coast, have adopted their own rulebooks. In the case of NS and CSX, the NORAC rulebook was integrated into their existing rules structure with the Conrail merger. Metro-North uses a rulebook based on NORAC. The Long Island Rail Road still uses a rulebook that is based on SCOR. So railway signals can vary somewhat from one system to another. Here’s a page displaying the various NORAC signals as an example.

OK, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s take a moment to thank our customers in the U.S. transportation sector for their hard work in keeping the railways safe for passengers and efficiently moving the goods we need across the country. Their efforts are truly vital to us all.

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A Time to Salute the U.S. Armed Forces

As we go through the daily grind of the work week, focusing on the job at hand, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture going on around the world. The United States has been engaged in two full-scale wars recently; and saber rattling from the governments of North Korea and Iran should serve to warn us that America could become involved in another major conflict with little or no warning in the future.

American flags on battleshipKeeping potential enemies from disrupting our personal and economic security as we attend to our weekly grind is the job of this country’s armed forces. That’s why we want to take this moment to note that May is National Military Appreciation Month and to offer a gesture of support for all our customers in the U.S. armed forces and to their colleagues.

Various organizations around the country during May will be holding activities, large and small, to recognize the contributions of veterans and active service members to the defense of our way of life, and May is the perfect month for these honors. The U.S Congress passed a resolution in 1999 establishing Military Appreciation Month, in part, due to the various holidays and observances already on the calendar: Loyalty Day (May 1), Public Service Recognition Week (May 5-10), Victory in Europe Day (May 8), Military Spouse Appreciation Day (May 10), Armed Forces Day (May 19), and Memorial Day (May 30). This year’s theme is “The United States Armed Forces: The Strength of the Red, White and Blue.”

As we mentioned in our last blog post, our team at Behlman has been privileged to work with members of the military in supplying power equipment to several branches of the armed forces for applications in a variety of frontline defense systems. We’ve helped the Navy with mission-critical units used for shipboard, airborne, and special operations purposes. We’ve worked with the Air Force to install power supplies for large-body, fixed-wing aircraft. We’ve worked to provide power components for the Army’s state-of-the-art Patriot Missile System. And the list goes on and on.

So as we go about the daily grind this month, we’ll be keeping in mind that the work we do plays some small part in helping the armed forces of America do their job: securing the nation. And we can take an occasional moment out of the day to salute the men and women in uniform who are carrying out that dangerous mission.

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Calling All Customers

Welcome to our new blog. We’ve taken the plunge because we want to reach out to you to start a digital dialog. In these pages, from now on, you’ll be able to read about some of the ideas we have in mind for the future of Behlman Electronics, as well as topics in our industry we think will be of interest to you. We hope you’ll find these ideas engaging enough to get in touch with us to begin a conversation about how we can help you meet your power supply needs.

Let’s start with a little background on Behlman. We’ve been in business for over 55 years, serving a diverse array of customers as an engineering, manufacturing and consulting firm for power products. In that time, we’ve grown to become a world-class provider of the highest quality Standard, Modified Standard, Custom and COTS (commercial off the shelf) AC Power Sources, Frequency Converters, Inverters, DC-DC, AC-DC, DC-AC, VPX, VME, and Uninterruptible Power Sources (UPS) for commercial, industrial and military mission-critical applications.

We’ve demonstrated over time that we have a proven ability to solve our customers’ most challenging power requirements, and we support our products with personal service that should exceed even your highest expectations. To be honest, we recognize that our competitors make quality power supplies too, so we understand that providing our customers the highest level of support is what sets us apart.

Some of the projects we’ve worked on recently for our clients include:

  • Products used in the U.S. Navy for fire-control systems, because they can withstand the rigors of shipboard, airborne and mobile applications. These products are designed for missions with a focus on littoral (near shore) and land attack, as well as for special operations.
  • Power supplies selected by a major manufacturer of nuclear power plant reactor-control systems.
  • Products used on U.S. Air Force large-body, fixed-wing aircraft.
  • Power supplies that have been an essential tool for oil and gas exploration, because our remote monitoring and control features enable customers to use them in locations too hazardous for the deployment of full-time, on-site operators.
  • Power systems that support the operation and functionality of missile systems such as the Patriot.

Our goal is to ensure Total Customer Satisfaction by providing you with the most reliable equipment and highest level of service, so you will recognize Behlman as your source for power.  And we want you to get in touch with us, to offer your feedback as part of our new digital dialog.

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