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.

Stephenson Challenge / Driving the Electric Revolution

Our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliot has been involved in this cross industry initiative for quite some time as it originated in Power Electronics UK. He recently attended a key update meeting in Birmingham. A detailed video giving more details can be found here. Subject to business case and match funding from industry, government has announced that it is prepared to invest up to £78 million in this challenge. This will be managed through Innovate UK and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – wave 3.
The challenge is all about developping a UK supply chain for power electronics machines and drives across 7 industrial sectors. All 7 sectors are cruicial if we are to hit our future emmissions targets whilst mainting or exceeding the standard of life we are all used to. We will be keeping a close eye as things develop as this major initiative is something SPS would very much like to be part of and is very well placed both in terms of experience and facilities.

Second V2G Workshop

Our Technical Partner Dr Charlie Elliott attended the second Cenex / Level Vehicle to Grid (V2G) workshop held in Nottingham on 6th February. It was a follow on event from the one in 2018 and it was great to see presentations on the outcome from real world installations abroad and in the UK. As last year there was some healthy debate as to the real world commercial feasibility of V2G in the UK. In other countries certain markets for services have artifically high prices which makes V2G a much simpler proposition.

Courtesy of a £30M Innovate UK funded project there is a lot of activity in this area at the moment which is great to see but also a bit frustrating for a UK based power electronics design and manufacturing company not even contacted to be involved!! One project in particular promises to install up to 1k V2G systems for domestic use. Sadly the core power electronics of this and other systems within the IUK project are being bought in from abroad presumably as there was thought to be insufficient time/budget/knowledge to carry out the development in the UK. Driving down the price of the hardware for V2G is essential to make it commercially viable. SPS is exceptionally well-placed to carry out such work given its existing experience in bidirectional grid-tied inverters and DCDC converters built up over many years. It has also previously worked on DC rapid chargers for EVs. SPS is currently investigating sources of funding / partners for such activity. If you are interested then please do get in contact.

Another sucessful project delivered!!

Our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott has just come back from Brazil where he sucessfully commissioned an ultra-compact high-efficiency motor-drive inverter based on SiC MOSFETs. This 15kW system hit 98% efficiency which is fairly special in it’s own right. If you then add the fact that the system has to work at 330 bar pressure on the bottom of the sea bed then you probably have a world first!! Charlie was testing the system flooded with pressure compensating oil in a special test chamber in Rio de Janeiro.

LCV 2018

Out Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott decided to get in the spirit of things and take his own 30kWh Nissan Leaf to LCV this year. It wasn’t just for the free parking (although he has been in Yorkshire for over 30 years so something must have rubbed off by now) but also as a bit of a show of solidarity. Two stops for 20 mins each on the way there and back to rapid charge was no issue at all with a coffee and a few e-mails written each time. Charging was free at the event and he even made use of the measured mile at Milbrook to see how the leaf did – a ton wasnt a problem! He reported that LCV has grown again and it was great to see so many UK based outfits working hard in the Low Carbon Vehicle sector. We may have to think about taking a stand next year.

3rd SiC MOSFET based project won!!

We are delighted to report that we have just kicked off another significant project using SiC MOSFETs. In the past 18 months we have been working on two SiC based motor drive systems. One is for an EV project where the attraction of SiC is the power density and part load efficiency benefits. The latter in particular is essential as it offers potential for reduction in battery pack capacity/size/cost or alternatively additional range.  The other existing project is for an ultra high-efficiency motor drive where size is especially important and cost less so.

This new project is for higher power 500 kVA static-power conversion system where being able to switch at 20 kHz and above is essential to reduce the size of filtering components and eliminate switching frequency audible noise. Up at these kinds of power / current levels there is no choice but to parallel commercially available power modules. This brings it’s own challenges in terms of gate drive function and power circuit layout to ensure sharing of losses and to eliminate the potential for the modules to oscillate against each other. SPS will be using it’s wealth of experience in core power electronics technology and it’s extensive laboratory equipment to carry out this work for our client.