The control of electrical power is fundamental to what SPS does and has inevitable safety implications not just in its raw form but also in terms of what it allows you to do to effect motion etc. It is something that SPS takes very seriously in all aspects of what it does to protect its staff, customers and end users. This is epecially so in certain sectors such as automotive, medical, railways and industrial where over the years formal functional safety standards have evolved.
SPS has recently been officially recognised by Microchip as having sufficient experience in this area to become one of select few functional safety design partners. SPS uses Microchip products to implement all of its embedded control partly as they have products with the required features and tools/libraries available to aid meeting safety requirements. A summary of their capabilities can be found here.
We will be continuing to expand our expertise in this area by investing in training and the relevant processes and software tools especially with respect to software development and testing.
Not quite sure why it has worked out like this but June seems to be the month for Training this year. First of all one of our Principal Engineers (Peter Moriarty) went on a 4 day course run by Ridley Engineering on Power Supply Design. This is a world reneowned course run by one of the leaders in the SMPS industry which is both theoretical and hands on.
Next our production staff are renewing their IPC qulifications in IPC A-610 – Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies and IPC WHMA-A-620 – Requirements and Acceptance for Cable and Wire Harness Assemblies
All of staff have a target of doing at least 1 day training a year. Sometimes this is in the form of internal mentoring but where possible we try to find external courses so we can expand our knowledge within the company. This is one of our stated QMS objectives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had our first external audit of our ISO9001:2015 QMS by BSI since we made the 2008-2015 transition yesterday. I am pleased to announce that we passed with no issues at all, not even a minor non-conformance. Well done to all involved. Two “Opportunities for Improvement” were made that we will be taking on board in due course. We will publish the new certificate when it comes available on our quality page.
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.
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.
We have recently made one of our most expensive equipment purchases in order to expand our validation testing capabilities and improve our efficiency. This is a bidirectional (source or sink) power supply that is capable of both AC and DC operation. This 30kVA / 800VDC / 510 V L-L unit also allows single or 3 phase outputs to be generated with huge flexibility in terms of both steady-state and transient waveforms. We have been looking to purchase such a unit for a while and our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott spent a lot of time researching what was available on the market. In the end we are delighted to say that an independent Spanish company called Cinergia were selected. The unit has clearly been designed by practising power electronics engineers who know exactly what is required on the user interface, communications (Ethernet and CAN) and advanced DSP based controls. The unit has already been used for testing a high efficiency motor drive system. It will also be used for production testing some high energy storage “ultra capacitor” systems in the near future and no doubt plenty of other projects moving forward.
We are not exhibiting at PCIM this year as PEMD was so close but our Technical Partner (Dr. Charlie Elliott) is going to visit. This key exhibition is a great opportunity to see the very latest in new technologies and meet with many key suppliers. Charlie spends a considerable about of time maintaining our excellent direct links with many power semiconductor, passive component, signal level control, isolation, sensor and ancillary component technology companies. This assists SPS in providing cutting-edge future-proof designs for its customers and also ensures that if any technical issues are identified with components that they can be resolved as rapidly as possible.
We are now back from the PEMD 2018 Conference and Exhibition which was held last week at the ACC in Liverpool. As expected we had warm welcome from the folks on the other side of the Pennines. Liverpool docks is a fantastic area to visit. Well worth a long weekend. The event was well attended and we had plenty of interest in our stand showing the huge diverse range of power electronics we have been involved in.
The papers presented were on a very broad range of topics. For me one of the stand-out areas being looked at by Sheffield University was in the area of using piezoelectric devices as resonant electric transformers at lower powers. A transformer with no windings with power transferred by vibration!! There was also a very interesting tutorial discussion on which of the various power semiconductor technologies is the “best” at 600V. For sure that is an interesting battleground.
We have been big fans of Plexim’s PLECS simulation tool for power electronics for quite some time. We use it across most of our projects for component sizing, controls development and looking at system level behaviour. Our technical partner first came across it many years ago when it was still a free netlist-based basic tool provided by a university. Since then it has been fully commercialised and has come on in leaps and bounds. We have just added another seat of PLECS as we are so busy. This time we have decided to go for the standalone version which doesn’t require Matlab or Simulink. This version also has some additional features which we will no doubt find useful.
We are great believers in investing in our lab equipment to make us efficient but always have to keep an eye on costs. Being a modest size outfit ourselves, we are also keen on supporting the small guys out there. When one of our scopes recently failed and it was uneconomic to repair, we therefore had a good look round for what was available from both the big T&M outfits and the smaller independent ones. Not only did we want 4 analogue channels with decent memory depth but also preferably higher resolution than a standard scope and digital logic inputs. At the same time we had been finding that making power switching measurements at high DC voltages was becoming increasingly difficult especially with more modern (faster) transistor technologies. Thus we also wanted something with very low coupling capacitance to earth and preferably isolated inputs, We were amazed to find a unit which met all our requirements by buying the PC based CS448 from NZ based based Cleverscope. Our technical partner was particularly impressed with the care and thought that has gone into the all important front-end of the product and their money back guarantee was the final clincher. The first job the unit was used for was to look at detailed gate drive waveforms on a high power SiC based inverter system. The results were very impressive indeed with very clean waveforms showing the expected “miller effect” waveforms that were previously covered in noise. They even had some custom x200 probes made so we could do power switching waveform measurements at higher DC bus voltages!! No we don’t have any vested interest in those clever chaps in NZ but when you see something you like you should let others know…
As part of our ongoing software quality improvement initiative, our Technical Partner (Charlie Elliott) and one of our Principal Engineers (Mark Berry) are going on a two day training course on MISRA C 2012 next week. This is being run by one of the top software QA tools vendors (LDRA) at their offices in Liverpool and will be presented by members of the MISRA working group. For those of you who are not aware, MISRA C is set of “good practice guidelines” for C and C++ developed by a consortia of (mainly) Automotive engineers . MISRA stands for the Motor Industry Software Reliability Association and was set up to promote good practices within that industry for C/C++ code portability, safety, security and reliability especially within embedded systems. These same guidelines have now been adopted across many industries and as such MISRA C is generally accepted as THE set of guidelines to use on many applications that SPS is involved in.
The week commencing 29th January was a tad busy for our Technical Partner Dr Charlie Elliott!!
Tuesday 30th was the Reinforcing the Grid for the Roll Out of Electrical Vehicles event in London. A very well attended event with interesting and diverse talks. It was particularly interesting to hear from National Grid who think that provided simple charging delay is used so not everybody charges starting at 5-6pm, the increase in demand is very manageable. They think with 150 or so clusters of rapid chargers along key roads (which are often close to the HV grid) a very high percentage of the population will be covered and really range anxiety should become a thing of the past.
Wednesday 31st was the Vehicle To Grid event organised by Cenex and LEVEL in Nottingham. There were a wide range of talks and it was clear that there is still much debate about how people will be able to generate revenue from V2G. One thing is for certain is that it is a great opportunity and that specialist kit available at a sensible price needs to be developed. Watch this space as V2G is a perfect space for SPS given it’s past experience and capabilities!!
Thursday 1st February was the Power Electronics Grand Challenges meeting in Birmingham organised by Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network, Power Electronics UK and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult. This meeting was held to discuss direction for potential work with the CSA Catapult and to review whether the 3 grand challenges previously identified with PEUK were still valid. There was much lively debate and the possibility of rolling in the high power requirements for electric powered short haul flights was thrown into the mix. Very interesting times!!!
Charlie commented that it is very clear that new and challenging Power Electronics applications are being identified all the time. Bring it on!!
Our Technical Partner, Dr. Charlie Elliott, is attending this fascinating discussion being held in London on the 30th Jan 2018. As SPS is involved in both smart grid and EV charging development it will no doubt be great of great interest. Charlie is looking forward to meeting other professionals within this sector and learning more about this crucial subject.
Yesterday we had our ISO9001:2015 external transition audit by BSI. We are delighted to report that we passed with flying colours with no non conformities!! This is a great reflection of the hard work and dedication of our Quality / Production Manager (Alan Yarker) in particular. We are expecting our updated certificate in due course and will update it on the site when we have it. At the same time we are also going to post some of the key aspects from our QMS (scope, policy and objectives) so that you can get a better understanding of our company.
The concept of using EV battery storage as a distributed flexible energy storage system for the grid is not new. It has been talked about for many years. Our technical partner Dr. Charlie Elliott can recall conversations going back almost 10 years. These days it is called Vehicle to Grid and abbreviated to V2G. Charlie, along with Peter Moriarty one of our Principal Engineers, will be going to the Training Workshop on 31st Jan 2018 organised by LEVEL with Cenex. If you are going please call by our table for a chat as this is an area we are very interested in and have exactly the right skill set to develop the technically challenging bi-directional power flow chargers required.
We have now had our readiness review for ISO9001:2015 with our external auditor from BSI. The outcome of this was very favourable with just a few areas requiring some improvement. This has now been carried out and we are looking forward to our first external audit which is booked for the 11th January 2018.
We are exhibiting at the PEMD2018 Conference which is being held in Liverpool between 17th and 19th April 2018. We will be bringing with us a selection of examples of work we have done in the past which demonstrates the very diverse range of power electronics applications we work on. We are looking forward to also attending the conference which will no doubt have an excellent range of high quality papers. Please call by our stand and have a chat if you are coming.
We have now completed the first key stage of our transition to ISO9001:2015 by having a full review of our QMS vs this new version of the standard. As a result we have rewritten large sections of our QMS manual and changed some of our procedures. In many areas (especially risk management) we found we were already doing what is required by the new standard but just needed to tighten up on recording. BSI are now booked for 8th December 2017 to carry out a full readiness review and provisionally booked for 11th January 2018 for the first external audit at which we hope to gain certification.
We have recently made a significant investment to upgrade our PCB Layout software (Mentor PADS) to the latest version. This introduces a whole range of new features including significantly enhancing 3D mechanical integration and allowing more complex rules to be defined for meeting electrical safety spacings. This should improve our efficiency in carrying out the challenging designs we have to do which regularly require complex mechanical interaction and also reduces risk as accurate 3D (step) files can be both imported and exported easily. At the same time we have taken the opportunity to improve our parts library to provide better uniformity across projects.
We are delighted to report that two new members of staff have joined SPS as a result of our recent recruitment drive. Both of them have a keen interest and relevant experience in power electronics applications. This is great news for the company as we are so busy. We are still interested in anybody else who would be interested in working with us. Please contact us via the form.
In recognition of his technical ability, experience and commercial enterprise, our Technical Partner Dr. Charlie Elliott was recently appointed to be a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology as reported here.
Charlie commented that although this is a personal achievement that the entire staff at SPS have all made a significant contribution to the success of the business which formed a key part of being eligible for the award. He wanted to pass on his thanks to them.
As part of our ongoing training program and commitment to improving quality, our Production and Quality Manager (Alan Yarker) and one of our manufacturing staff (Liz Thewlis) have recently taken the 3 day IPC/WHMA-A 620 Application Specialist course at The Electronics Group just round the ring road from us in Leeds. This intensive 3 day course is aimed at training staff in the Acceptability of Cable and Wire Harness Assemblies. Both Liz and Alan said the course was very worthwhile and passed with no problem. We are very lucky to have such excellent training facilities local to us in Leeds.
We are delighted to announce that SPS will be collaborating with one of its longest standing customers Ceres Power Ltd. on a new Innovate UK project for the next 18 months. This is aimed at taking the existing fully-qualified compact power electronics (PE) system for domestic micro CHP and making it production ready for other markets including the Far East. The existing PE unit has been in constant use for 8 years at Ceres Power, including the SteelGen™ units deployed with British Gas in the European funded ene.field programme.
SPS is looking forward to the opportunity to apply the latest technologies to the system as well as gain experience in different geographical markets each of which has their own challenges.
SPS has recently joined two industry bodies which closely reflect the type of work it is involved in. Both are managed and promoted by TechWorks https://nmi.org.uk/techworks-launch/.
AESIN – The Automotive Electronic Systems Innovation Network http://aesin.org.uk/ is a dedicated UK initiative focused on the accelerated and advanced delivery of Electronic Systems into Automotive Applications and infrastructure. This is another perfect fit given the work we do on xEV systems and other intelligent actuator and motor drive systems for automotive applications.
SPS has recently joined two industry bodies which closely reflect the type of work it is involved in. Both are managed and promoted by TechWorks https://nmi.org.uk/techworks-launch/.
Power Electronics UK https://www.power-electronics.org.uk/ has been set up to promote the thriving UK power electronics sector and provide a forum for collaboration. It is a very natural fit for SPS and we are looking forward to being actively involved.
Our Technical Partner Dr Charlie Elliott attended the IET PEMD Event at IET Austin Court in Birmingham today. He reported that despite the clash with a couple of other events in related fields it was well attended with very high quality papers presented by both Academia and Industry. The papers can be found here https://communities.theiet.org/communities/files/493
As a result of a significant increase in customer project activities we are current recruiting. Please see our dedicated page for more details Careers
Our Technical Partner Dr Charlie Elliott attended the relaunch of Power Electronics UK https://www.power-electronics.org.uk in Birmingham today. He reported that the event was well attended and had some great presentations on a diverse range of subjects including not only future Wide Bandgap developments but more immediate industry 4.0 subjects.
We are now back from PCIM 2016 in Nuremberg. This was the first time that SPS had exhibited at the show and it turned out to be very successful for us. We had plenty of interest in our stand and were complemented by many visitors (including a competitor!) on the breadth of our product development experience. Our mix of power electronics and embedded control really impressed people.
BSI have now carried out the final stage 2 external audit to ISO9001:2008 and we are delighted to report that we have passed!! This is a fantastic achievement and we are as convinced as ever that this will bring real value to the company and our customers. We have now added a dedicated quality page to our site where you can download our certificate and also find out about our other quality initiatives.
Zen Production Ltd. have now fully commissioned and installed our vapour phase SMD reflow oven. Since first trialling such an oven in October 2015, Zen kindly loaned SPS their demonstration oven until the model we had selected was available. We have now swapped over to using this and are looking forward to the same high quality results.
We are delighted to report that SPS will be attending the PCIM exhibition in Nuremberg between 10th and 12th May 2016. We will be in booth 6-338 and will be exhibiting both the design and manufacturing sides of the business. PCIM is a unique event and we believe that SPS will be able to demonstrate quite a unusual offering at the show given it covers the full spectrum of both design and manufacturing. SPS is able to take on complex subassembly and even full system builds unlike others companies in the market.
SPS is making great use of its general purpose power conversion controls platform again. This was initially developed as part of a Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) part-funded project in 2009 – with TSB funding this meant the IP was retained by SPS. The controls platform was developed to allow rapid prototyping of systems for customers in the initial proof of concept phase. For the TSB project it allowed SPS to implement a very specific motor control hybrid vehicle requirement. The platform has been invaluable on numerous projects allowing us to use existing building blocks to rapidly prove out initial concepts to customers with low risk and cost. Once the concept is proven, a lower cost targeted implementation can then be developed. The current use is on a 50kW compact static power conversion application.
We are already in the process of revamping this controls platform to take advantage of the latest generation of microcontrollers and to also incorporate additional robustness and flexibility so that it can be used in lower volume niche applications for the manufacturing side of the business. We hope to be able to report on that progress in Q2 16 and publish a full specification.
Following on from a positive “pre certification audit”, BSI have now carried out the stage 1 formal external audit to ISO9001:2008 which focuses on the Quality Manual in particular. No non-conformities were found but a few suggestions for improvements have been taken on board and the scope of the QMS expanded to include servicing and maintenance activities.
SPS is trialling an Asscon VP450 small batch vapour phase oven kindly provided by Zen Production Equipment Ltd. (www.zpel.co.uk). We were very impressed by the professional and open approach of Zen both in terms of sales and on-site commissioning support. The very first PCB trialled with the unit was a complex design incorporating significant copper floods with larger SMD components as well as other areas with just signal electronics. Our experienced production technician was very impressed with the excellent quality solder joints that were immediately evident and the simple operation of the machine. As a result of this initial trial and other subsequent successful uses of the machine, the decision was made to go ahead and purchase.
As the next step to achieving ISO9001:2008, SPS have engaged the services of world renowned British Standards Institute (BSI) to carry out a “pre certification” audit of its existing Quality Management System. This was duly carried out with no issues found but just a few suggestions for improvement. These suggestions have been taken on board and minor changes made. BSI have now been fully engaged to carry out stage 1 and stage 2 external auditing with a view to achieving certification in Q1 2016.
In anticipation of seeking certification to ISO9001:2008, two SPS staff have attended BSI’s internal auditor course which was held over two days in York. Both Alan Yarker (Production and Quality Manager) and Peter Moriarty (Principal R&D Engineer) found the course to be very helpful in providing a structured approach to auditing. It also allowed them to get some specific key questions answered by people who had clearly been auditing for many years. Having fully trained internal auditors was viewed as being the first key step to achieving certification which is targeted at Q1 16.
Having our own internal capability for high quality assembly of SMD PCBs for prototyping and small manufacturing batch runs has always been essential to meet customer lead times. Without a large multi-zone heater reflow oven and the possibility of tweaking parameters to optimise production yield, this is not a straightforward task. This has been compounded by the move to lead-free soldering and the same PCB having a large range of size and weight of components and tracking / flooding. Historically a modest size convection reflow oven has been used by SPS but it was apparent that a higher performance oven would be required for future use. An internal review of different reflow technologies was carried out by our production department and advice sought from various suppliers. After poor results from trialling a popular oven specifically designed for low volume / batch work, advice was sought from Electronics Yorkshire. They recommended using vapour phase technology which SPS was familiar with as a technology as it has been used for many years for soldering copper base plates to the underside of the DBC in isolated power modules.
We are fortunate in having a very experienced production technician (Elizabeth Thewlis) who joined SPS in June 2012 having previously worked for many years in the power electronics industry. Liz had previously been trained to IPC-A-610 but her certification had lapsed. Given her experience it was an obvious decision to ask her to take the IPC-A-610 certified instructor course at Electronics Yorkshire so she could then instruct other members of staff. She duly completed the course in July 2015.
As a result of a significant increase in both manufacturing and development work, SPS has taken on another full time engineer. Kyriakos Papameletis (Kyri) recently completed his Master’s degree at Leeds University in “Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Systems”. He will be assisting with supporting test and debug work in manufacturing as well as development work on the design side of the business. This means that we now have 7 Engineers on the development side of the business who all studied at Leeds University and between us we have 3 PhD.s, 3 Masters and 5 Bachelor Degrees!! Two of us are also Chartered Engineers – the equivalent of P.E for our North American colleagues.
After a 1 month trial, SPS has gone ahead with purchasing a combined frequency response and wide bandwidth impedance analyser (PSM1735 + IAI fixture) manufactured by UK company Newton’s 4th Limited. Having access to this piece of equipment will allow more accurate and reliable characterisation of the frequency response of the significant range of complex control systems that SPS develops.
The previous piece of equipment SPS used for this was limited in its ability and was reaching the end of its life. The Impedance Analysis Interface module will also assist SPS with assessing the performance of both standard and custom designed components all the way up to 35 MHz which is an essential part of switched-mode power conversion and Electromagnetic Compatibility development work.