First generated, sold, and distributed to customers back in the late 1800s, electric power has become backbone of America’s economic sector. The majority of America’s present-day power reaches consumers through alternating current (AC) generation, transmission, and distribution power systems. These systems deliver power through three separate conductors or phases, which reach their instantaneous peak values at different times.
Why is Accurate Phase Identification Important?
An electrical distribution system with similar loads in all three phase efficiently delivers consistent power to end users. However, variable user consumption can lead to load imbalances, which can result in power loss.
It is essential for electric utility providers to identify which phase is which to ensure loads are transferred correctly, maintain optimal load balance, and avoid power outages. To assist providers to accurately and confidently identify phases in transmission and distribution circuits, EDM International, Inc. introduced the AP30 PhaseTrakker® Phase Identification System.
Recognizing that a lightweight and compact phase identification device for substation, transformer, overhead, and underground applications would benefit the industry, EDM began working on the conceptual design of a portable version of the PhaseTrakker. Having partnered previously on the successful design for ConductaClean, EDM collaborated with Avid Product Development once again to turn their conceptual design into a commercial product.
Designing the PhaseTrakker Jr.
EDM’s conceptual design combined the two-piece field unit and sensor component of the original AP30 PhaseTrakker system into a portable, single-operation device. With the intent for injection molding, the product engineering team at EDM joined forces with Avid to develop the final design for manufacturing.
Following preliminary discussions with EDM concerning their new portable phase identification device, Avid’s mechanical engineers drafted a detailed product design.
“[Avid’s engineers] were proactive team players with the design. They looked at what we needed and provided further improvements and enhancements,” stated Neil Hurst, Product Engineering Manager at EDM.
Both teams reconvened and the subsequent feedback assisted in the creation of prototypes. The proof of concept models for the exterior cover and internal mountings units for the circuit board and other components were made on Avid’s Fused Deposition Modeling 3D Printers. These ABS prototypes not only laid the groundwork for the proposed product, but also confirmed the use of plastic for the projected high-demand device.
“Avid has fast turnaround rates on their designs and they’re very responsive. The wonderful thing about them is we don’t just make a decision and they do it – there’s a lot of positive input from them. They make it a nice, seamless, turnkey effort for small volume design and production.”
To assess iterations of the product design and the reliability of different plastic materials, Avid produced nylon prototypes on one of their HP Multi Jet Fusion 4210 3D printing systems. Testing revealed that nylon reflected radio frequency (RF) energy back to the device. Consequently, Avid’s design engineers reverted to Fused Deposition Modeling and ABS.
After the postliminary models were successfully tested for RF interference, it was determined that interior components can be produced with Multi Jet Fusion, while the exterior housing would be injection molded.
“Avid made the design real and plastic the best fit for the conceptual design.”
By leveraging Avid’s on-site 3D printing capabilities to manufacture internal parts, the product was at price point acceptable to EDM and smaller utility companies alike.
Easy to operate and affordable, the PhaseTrakker Jr. Phase Identification System has opened up new market segments for the company. “The new device has opened up all kinds of new markets for us because it’s very reasonably priced,” affirmed Hurst.
Innovation and Reliability
With headquarters based in Fort Collins, Colorado and offices in California and Montana, EDM has become a forerunner in the U.S. electric utility industry. While EDM also does work in construction and communication, it is electric utilities – the delivery of power – that receives the lion’s share of the company’s attention. As Hurst said, “the bread and butter of EDM is to help utilities maintain their overhead power lines.”
Reliability and innovation are the benchmarks at EDM. These qualities set apart EDM and their products and services from the competition. The ongoing collaborative relationship with Avid Product Development has helped EDM achieve the company’s standards of innovation and reliability.
“Reliability is the service we provide in helping utilities inspect their systems, provide reports and help them meet their demands. Innovation is listening to their needs and creating solutions to meet those needs,” stated Hurst.
“They’re a good group to work with and we’re looking forward to doing another project with them.”
Hurst’s intention of working with another project with Avid Product Development is in process with the reoptimization of the PhaseTrakker Jr.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy (2015, July). United States Electricity Industry Primer. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/12/f28/united-states-electricity-industry-primer.pdf.