Monday, January 5, 2015

Pollution Degree Ratings for Power Supplies

A less common question that TDK-Lambda’s Technical Support team gets asked is “what is the pollution degree of your products?”  It is very important for the safety of the end equipment and can be found listed in the safety certification reports.

Our products go into a wide range of industrial applications, from semiconductor fabrication facilities to off-shore drilling platforms.  The environment that they operate in varies dramatically, and a walk through the service department will show which customers haven’t paid attention to pollution degree!  By “pollution” we mean contaminants that could be condensation, water and a variety of dusts.


The three main safety standards for power supplies (IEC 60950-1, IEC 60601-1 and IEC 61010-1) all call up pollution degree classifications, and in general the wording is similar.

Pollution Degree 1 is the least stringent.  It applies where there is no pollution or only dry, non-conductive pollution.  This not only applies to applications like clean rooms, but also where the power supply is placed in a sealed cabinet or enclosure.

Pollution Degree 2 is a little tougher, applying to non-conductive pollution that with occasional condensation could become temporarily conductive.  Applicable for products used in office environments, laboratories and test equipment.

Pollution Degree 3 you would find in harsh industrial and farming, particularly with unheated rooms.  Conductive pollution is to be expected, with or without condensation.

Pollution Degree 4 is outdoor equipment.  Persistent conductivity, rain or even snow is the norm.
Could a pollution degree 2 power supply be used in an outdoor application?  Yes, providing it is mounted in a suitable enclosure.

When the power supply is submitted to the safety test houses for certification, careful attention is paid to distance between components, pcb traces and the product housing.  The voltage measured say between two traces on a pcb will determine the insulation thickness or creepage/clearance distance.  Creepage is the shortest distance measured on the surface of an insulator; clearance is the shortest distance through the air.  With pollution, this distance could become reduced, leading to the risk of electrical shock or failure.  The manufacturer will advise upon submittal what pollution degree they want the product evaluated to.  For TDK-Lambda’s ZMS100 series of AC-DC power supplies, pollution degree 2 was chosen and because of the product’s 5,000m altitude specification, those spacings were multiplied by 1.48 according to IEC 60664-1.

Power Guy

Friday, November 28, 2014

What pin material should I use for my power supply connector pins?

Open frame power supply manufacturers typically use a supplier like Molex or JST for their input and output connectors. These connectors are low cost, readily available, reliable and easy to use.  In addition, it makes it easier for the customer to second source a power supply, if required, when some standardization exists.
Many power supply manufacturers will specify the mating connector series name in their product documentation, but will often leave it up to the user to determine the actual part numbers.  This usually provokes a call to TDK-Lambda’s Technical Support for a recommendation.

Why do we do this?  Let’s take the industry standard low power 2x4” single output power supply.  The Molex KK® 09-50-3041 housing is widely specified as the output mating connector. Made of nylon, it has a friction lock and 4 circuits; two for the + output & two for the – output.
When looking for the mating pin, one has to be a little more careful.  The suggested pin for the connector is available in 2 materials; brass and phosphor bronze.

Brass is a common material for contacts and pins.  It is low cost, has good conductivity and generally dependable in a benign, low temperature environment like an office.
Phosphor bronze should be considered for more challenging environments.  At higher temperatures, brass contacts can lose their spring properties unlike phosphor bronze.  If there is some vibration, this can cause reliability problems. Brass does have better conductivity, so check current rating capability.

Phosphor bronze is more expensive, 13c compared to 5c for brass (1000 piece pricing from a distributor).  For a 2x4” power supply that could add $0.56 to the bill of material cost.  The user will have to consider the environment and desired field life.
As a note, on higher power 2x4" open frame power supplies (~100W), there are alternatives to the single point of contact KK style pins like those used with Molex's 09-50-1041 housing (SPOX™ series).  These have multiple points of contact for lower resistance.
As Molex advised “Different terminals have different performance and different characteristics”.

Power guy

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ground Continuity & Ground Bonding Tests on Power Supplies

I heard some discussion on this subject in our facility recently, and thought it would make a good blog article.
The safety bodies (UL, CSA, IEC etc.) require that electrical and electronic products are suitably protected and tested; to ensure the user does not get an electrical shock that could injure or even kill.

One of the areas of concern is the grounding (earth) of the product, and the following tests are conducted; not just during product safety certification testing, but also in production.  This is mandated on all products with a pluggable power cord.
Ground Continuity
The ground continuity test verifies the connection between the ground pin on the power cord and any exposed metal parts on the equipment.  An AC or DC voltage can be used, and the current is typically quite low, less than 1A.  A simple handheld device can be used for testing

Ground Bonding
Unlike the continuity test, the bonding checks the integrity of the grounding.  This is typically measured using a 25 or 30A current (depending upon the rating of product’s internal AC fuse or branch circuit) simulating an actual internal fault.  The applied voltage is less than 12V and the maximum resistance between the earth and exposed metal surfaces is 0.1 ohm. The resistance can be determined by measuring the voltage drop.  Depending upon the safety agency requirements, this test is performed for 60 to 120 seconds.
Using a higher current than the continuity test ensures that any hardware in the ground path is fully tightened, any wire joints are properly crimped, and any printed wiring board traces are truly capable of handling the current.  The fuse or breaker should open before a loss of the ground connection.
There are a number of commercially available testers on the market than can be programmed for production use.
If you design your own tester there are two things you should note:
  1. Make sure that you do not include the cable drops when measuring the voltage (have the meter read at the connection points)
  2. Apply the test probes when there is no power applied; otherwise the resulting spark can mark the metal parts and damage the plating.
As a note ground bonding may be also be referred to as earth bonding.
Power Guy

Thursday, July 31, 2014

UL 60601-1 and ANSI/AAMI ES 60601-1

On datasheets for new medical power supplies, you might notice that there is no mention of UL 60601-1, but a new safety standard called ANSI/AAMI ES 60601-1:2005 is being called out.

So what has happened?  ES 60601-1 is in fact identical to IEC 60601-1 but with U.S. deviations to comply with U.S. National Electric Code.  UL is now using that standard to write their reports and is the standard used in the US to comply to the 3rd edition.

The FDA now officially recognizes ANSI/AAMI ES 60601-1:2005 in the Federal Register

Older power supplies are calling up this new standard, and will also reference the older UL 60601-1 standards to keep continuity for existing customers with UL’s “grandfather” clause.

ANSI is the American National Standards Institute.  AAMI is the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.
Power Guy

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cathodic Protection Using Active Corrosion Control

To avoid corrosion in large metallic structures, passive cathodic protection is widely employed.  Such structures include steel used as reinforcement in concrete buildings, bridges, piers, pipelines, offshore platforms and ships.

Basically the steel in the structure is made the “cathode” and a more easily corrodible “sacrificial” metal is connected to it, acting as the “anode”.  The chemical reaction between the two metals generates an electrical current.  The sacrificial metal then corrodes, protecting the original structure.  Eventually that metal part has to be replaced, like the rod in most domestic water heaters. 

Below is an example of a passive system.

For both environmental and operating cost reasons, the traditional passive protection is being replaced by active corrosion control.  In the ‘active’ method, a sophisticated electronic current control system is used to inject a reverse current to that generated from corrosion to protect the structure. Since current flow is closely related to the flow of charge over time (I = dQ/dt), having constant current control allows the user to accurately control the process.  This is also known as impressed current cathodic protection (ICCP)

Active corrosion control was initially discovered in the early 1800s, but was unsuccessful due to the lack of suitable materials and current source.

In larger systems like pipelines, the passive anodes cannot deliver enough current to provide protection, and sophisticated monitoring and control is often needed.

The initial cost of an active system is higher, but in the long term, the environmental & maintenance benefits outweigh this.

TDK-Lambda’s new Z+ series of 200 to 800W programmable power supplies offer a wide range of models and options suitable for active corrosion systems. The series can operate in constant current mode with currents ranging from 2A to 72A.  In addition, the units can be remotely programmed and monitored using a variety of isolated analog and digital interfaces, including RS232/485, IEEE488 and LAN.  Up to six units can be paralleled to supply additional current.


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