Innovate UK Grant Application

Our Technical Partner (Dr Charlie Elliott) had a busy end to last week getting in a grant application to Innovate UK. It is great to see that UK Gov / IUK has responded rapidly to the current crisis. It is running a short turn-around 100% funded grant scheme for up to £50k to be spent within 6 months. SPS has applied to allow it to design an innovative power electronics controller for use a wide variety of applications. The grant will cover the hardware design and prototyping.

SPS gets many enquiries where the volumes don’t justify a fully custom solution. Using a common controller but with bespoke power electronics is a very useful half-way house. It should allow SPS to win more projects and thereby sustain it going forward and hopefully expand!! The controller will support many different applications but will be principally aimed at niche vehicle electrification projects such as emergency vehicles, rail works trains, construction and mining equipment. The hardware and software will support not only motor drives but also ACDC and DCDC power conversion requirements.

If we are granted the funding, we will be kicking the project off in about 4 weeks times. We anticipate having the controller ready for use by the end of 2020. If you think this is of interest to you then please do make contact and we can give you more information in terms of specification and cost targets.

COVID-19 Update

SPS continues to function as effectively as possible during these challenging times in order to support our staff, customers and economy. The safety of our staff is of course paramount. As requested by UK government, where possible they are working from home.  All staff have access to all their normal design tools and resources. Please use e-mail as first means of contact.

Where manufacturing or test/validation work is involved, staff will be in work. We have plenty of space so can easily meet the 2m safe “social distancing” advice. We have also taken additional steps to minimise risk as best as possible in terms of delivery hygiene and additional cleaning etc.

The partners of SPS would like to reassure its customers (and prospective ones) that the business is in a good position to weather this storm both in terms of its finances and its logistics. We have been in contact with our key suppliers and in the vast majority of cases they working although with slightly increased lead-times.

Be safe everybody and let’s hope that some positives can come out of this!!

Visit to Dynex

Our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott visited Dynex in Lincoln yesterday. As well as a general catch up he wanted to discuss possible technical collaboration utilisting SPS’s experience with power electronics systems development. Charlie first came across Dynex when they were GEC Plessy Semiconductors as a graduate trainee at GEC Electrial Projects in 1991. It is about 15 years since he last visited and he reported that is was great to see them thriving with investment from majority Chinese owners CRRC. Not only are they busy with manufacturing their existing range of power semiconductors, but they are pushing hard to improve them.

Their power assemblies unit is continuing with its excellent reputation for supplying specialist traction refurbishment and other high power applications. It operates at power levels well above what SPS can manufacture so there is no real overlap. SPS is hoping it can complement what Dynex already does and assist with power electronics systems when their customers are looking for this capability.

SPS is developing it’s own products!!

During the 18 years SPS has been in business, it has developed a hugely diverse range of products for its customers. These have covered mW to MW (careful with the capitalisation!!) in areas such as Medical, Automotive, White Goods, Oil & Gas, Railways and Industrial. All of them have a general theme of using electronics to control power and ususally with software.  SPS has a very straightforward commercial model with respect to the design rights – if you pay for it you own it!! In all cases to date, our customers have chosen to own the design.

Over the years we have seen a few niche opportunities that we have wondered whether we should exploit independently. We believe now is the time to do this but of course being careful not to compete with our customers and making sure we still have enough resource to properly look after them. We will be initially focusing on products we can manufacture ourselves but also looking at designs we could licence or subcontract if volumes are higher.

When we are further down the road with these in-house products, we will be publishing some details and looking for early adopters. Meanwhile, if you can think of a niche power related product that you can see a need for then please do get in contact.

Visit by key supplier – ST to discuss SiC and other things.

Our Technical Partner Dr Charlie Elliott had a very fruitful discussion with a key supplier (ST) this morning. This was to mainly discuss a new automotive EV inverter enquiry but to also get an update on all sorts of things. Charlie caught up with Keith D’Souza who he has known for well over 15 years. It turns out that on Friday Keith will have been with ST for 30 years. Many congratulation to you Keith!!

Charlie spends a fair bit of time ensuring that SPS maintains it’s excellent direct links with key component suppliers and makes sure they stay up to date with latest technology trends and product offerings.

Compound Semiconductor Application Catapult Visit

Our Technical Partner (Dr. Charlie Elliott) visited the Compound Semiconductor Application Catapult in Newport last week. He commented that is was great to see the fantastic team and facilities that are rapidly being established there. We are very much looking forward to working with them on future projects and already have a perfect application that could involve them for high voltage and high power (muti-MW) systems.

High torque motor drive system testing

Two of our Principal Engineers have just come back from being on site at Newcastle University School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. They were utilising the excellent dynamometer facilities that are installed there. The motor under test was a high pole-count (66!) permanent magnet type which is controlled by a bespoke high-reliability and rugged inverter SPS designed and manufactured for its client. The high torque (1800Nm) system performed very well and pushed the dyno well above where it had ever previously been used since it was installed.

In the new year SPS will be working on updating the software and control interface for the end application and then going on-site with our customer to test the system in the final application.

Succesful External ISO9001 Audit

Today was our annual external audit by BSI for our ISO9001:2015 quality management system. I am pleased to report that we passed with flying colours with no non-conformities at all. We did have an interesting discussion with our auditor on the subject of collaborative working. For certain this is the manner in which we prefer to work with our customers as it benefits both parties. He kindly told us about the Institute of Collaborative Working and the fact there is a specific standard and accredition (ISO 44001:2017) available. Perhaps something to consider for the future!! Meanwhile our training program will continue to make sure out staff have the relevent skills required.

EV SiC-based Inverter Project Update

SPS has just started testing the latest version of the highly challenging PCB it has designed for an automotive SiC-based EV inverter. The PCB not only implements all the required gate drive but integrates many other essential sensing and other auxiliary features to ensure electrical and functional safety. The space available for the PCB is very tight, the DC voltage high (up to 900V) and it has to press-fit to a power module where all the connection locationss are already set. The combined effect of this is that it has really challenged our most experienced PCB layout designer who has 25+ years experience.

The entire development of the PCB has been done in-house including the validation testing and manufacture of prototype PCBs. Given SPS’s senior staff have been working on xEV systems for well over 20 years, it is not surprising that our end customer has also asked us to assist with many other areas of their development. This includes advice on electrical / functional safety, EMC mitigation measures and thermal management. SPS has also carried out critical testing of the inverter system including full double pulse switch testing over the entire range of voltages, current and temperatures. This is an essential aspect of power electronics development that is unfortunately either skipped entirely or not done thoroughly by many other companies. This can result in an unacceptable amount of unknown risk in a product leading to reliability problems in the field. Most certainly not an option for an automtive product!! Please do contact us if our facilities and experience could be of use to your company.

PCIM 2019

May in Nuremberg – must be time for PCIM again!! This year as well as our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott, our Production and Quality Manager Alan Yarker also attended. Sadly no sitting outside drinking cold beers this year and thanks to KLM it was a bit of a truncated visit but still well worth while. Very good to see there is more than just marketing hype to the introduction of Wide Band Gap semiconductors. Very notable increase in the number of major players with physical parts now in modules. Availability and cost are still major issues but things are improving on both fronts. It was great to catch up with many of our key suppliers, find a new one or two and even chat with competitors. PCIM is still the go to event as far as we can see. Can’t say we have ever been to APEC but am seriously considering it for next year.