When Knowledge is Power: The Basics of Power Protection and Beyond

It’s amazing that we ever discovered electricity, let alone harnessed it and made it such a central part of our daily lives. From a key on a kite to the massive power grids we know today, we’ve come a long way.

From the day we discovered how to harness electricity, we have been dealing with the challenges of power interruptions. The power grid currently in use in the U.S. was created more than a century ago. We’ve added new methods of generation, but essentially the delivery grid remains unchanged. It was expected to deliver power to simpler equipment and fewer users. The most significant problems faced at that time were delivery issues such as the complete loss of power or a sudden surge of current, which could have a catastrophic effect on equipment. This is one of the reasons we think of “power protection” as “surge” protection. However, today’s electrical products plug into much more than the outlet on the wall. The equipment in use today is not just susceptible to delivery issues like surges and brownouts, it is highly vulnerable to wavelength issues such as overvoltage, undervoltage and power sags — or more precisely, to the current inrush that is associated with these electrical overstress issues.

The trouble with power 

As technology has advanced, so has the complexity of the effects stress can have on the performance of these electrical products. Decades ago, our principal concern was a sudden surge of power frying the product and blowing out the power supply, or the presence of “noise” on the line that would impact the performance of the power supply and cause issues with the function of the equipment. However, today’s power supplies are not affected by noise. They are creators of noise, and almost all power supplies have surge protection technology built into them. This raises the question that many dealers have asked: “Is surge protection necessary?” The fast answer is no. However, as usual, quick answers are incomplete and can lead to wrong conclusions.

As previously stated, today’s microprocessor-based products are much more sensitive to those wavelength issues. Nearly 50 percent of copy quality calls are created by current inrush. We have always known that current inrush can cause problems — this is why there are voltage regulators in the “off/on” sequence of every electrical product ever made. However, protecting against this in the nanoseconds of a power sag is a much more sophisticated solution, which only one company in the field provides. Others can protect when they take a product offline and then restore it, but not on the fly with sags.

Machine lockups. Error codes. Part damage. Jams. Print and color degradation. All of these can occur because of power. Also, because print devices are networked through wires, cables and more to so many other pieces of equipment today, there’s potential for electrical disturbances to damage them via connections other than the ones direct to power outlets because surges can travel through and across many types of lines. Knowing a printing problem is power-related is one thing, but tracing that back to its root can be another entirely.

Providing data not only protects devices, it protects accounts

Enter the need for data. As with everything today, the need for data to validate and analyze is critical, and the field of power protection is not an exception. Without the data to support the issues and help isolate the problem we find ourselves in endless debates about what is causing a service issue. If you are not collecting data, you are only doing half the job — and perhaps less. Some suppliers offer data collection, but each has a separate way to collect and distribute the information, and the collection of this critical data is the beginning of developing a higher level of knowledge — and knowledge, as we know, is a whole other level of power.

The most powerful method of collecting this information is through a Bluetooth application on the technician’s smartphone. Devices equipped with a Bluetooth connection can enable the technician to capture all the power data with the smartphone before even touching the machine. They can also do voltage meter readings from their phones. This enables the quick use and dissemination of the power data and aids in troubleshooting problems quickly and easily.

Ultimately, power protection safeguards more than devices — it protects a service provider’s client base. Leveraging power protection, dealers can protect their margins, reducing their service calls and costs through a correct understanding of what problems they’re facing.

So by leveraging intelligent asset management components, dealers and customers make additional proactive, money-saving choices together. Dealers are continually trying to improve their incremental cost structures, efficiency and ability to manage their fleet and accounts better. Collecting and analyzing power data is another source of knowledge for the dealer that can be leveraged to improve customer understanding in a time when big data and customer intelligence are keys to success.

Energy management solutions can not only bring a greater awareness of and attention to power issues in a business environment, but they can also help gain a better understanding of customers. They say knowledge is power, but in this case, power helps provide the knowledge.

Ed Mclaughlin has 40 years of experience in the information and imaging industries. He is co-founder of Predictive InSight.