Modern Variable Frequency Drives are Already Good – But They are Getting Even Better

Variable frequency drives have emerged as a surefire way to reduce energy costs in induction motor systems. From pumps and fans to material handling and industrial processes, VFDs help save many millions of kilowatt-hours around the world each and every year.

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And energy savings are only part of the VFD value proposition. VFDs can help extend the working life of induction motors-by allowing them to operate at lower speeds for significant portions of their lifecycle. VFDs can also improve process control capabilities. In fact, the most advanced vector controlled drives, when paired with appropriate feedback devices in a closed-loop control system, can offer positioning performance close to that of servo systems.

One thing speeding the adoption of VFD technology is the fact that it continues to grow more efficient and reliable due to continuous improvements in the underlying power electronics, such as the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) technologies developed and employed by Fuji Electric. IGBTs have also seen dramatic improvements in power densities, allowing VFDs to become more compact.

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A related technology trend that’s helping VFDs get better all the time involves the ready availability of low-cost, high-performance processors. More computing muscle allows VFD to run more complex control algorithms at higher speeds, which further enhances the control capabilities of VFDs.

Taken together, technological advances in power electronics and computing power will take VFDs to new levels of performance and cost effectiveness in the coming years. Here’s a look at how these technology trends have transformed some of Fuji Electric’s newly developed VFDs.

General Purpose Performance Boost

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In some ways, today’s VFD technology has already progressed to the point that it meets the vast majority of general purpose application needs. Fluid control applications, such as pumps and fans, are already well served by existing drives. So are many material handling and process control applications.

VFDs have also become much more reliable and efficient over the years. Today’s low voltage drives routinely offer efficiencies in excess of 95 percent up from efficiencies as low as 80 percent just a decade ago.

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As for reliability, modern VFDs typically outlast other components of a motor-driven system. At Fuji Electric, for example, our general purpose VFDs exhibit a failure rate below 0.1 percent even after more than a hundred thousand hours at 40°C.

To say that most applications are well-served by existing VFD technology, however, is not to say that there is no room for improvement. There are growing number of applications that can benefit from improved control performance, in terms of response times or the ability to control speed and torque accurately. Applications that push the envelope for general purpose drives tend to be those that have fast process speeds, braking requirements or impact loads (see Figures 1-5).

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New multi-functional drives have emerged to fill the performance void between lower performing general purpose drives of years past and much more costly servo systems that would be engineering overkill. Think of these drives as high-perfonnance general purpose drives. One recently introduced example of this new class of drive is Fuji Electric’s FRENIC-MEGA drive.

Compared to earlier general purpose drives, FRENIC-MEGA improves control performance and application flexibility with support for not just traditional v/f control but also for three different types of vector control-PG, sensorless and dynamic torque.

When used with the optional PG vector control, the drive’s performance far exceeds what many engineers would expect from a general purpose drive.

The more advanced general purpose drives also share some other technical characteristics.

Improved Reliability:

Avoiding drive related downtime has become more important than ever as general purpose drives take over more control tasks. One route to enhanced reliability is improved increased durability to overload conditions.

Custom Logic:

The more advanced general purpose drive typically support user customizable, sequential logic functions. While not a replacement for dedicated PLC in applications with high I/O counts, this built in logic capabilities can close high-speed control loops and execute time-critical logic that is closely related to the drive application.

Connectivity:

As general-purpose drives move into more difficult process control applications, connectivity via Ethemet TCP/IP, DeviceNet, Profibus and other industry network standards has become essential.

Future Drives Approaching Servo Performance

Moving a notch up the performance spectrum are the true high-performance drives that take positioning and control functionality beyond even the best general-purpose drives. One such drive is the FRENIC-VG, Fuji Electric’s next-generation product.

These FRENIC-VG series drives have a speed response of 600 HZ, or six times better than previous high performance models (See Table 1). Accuracy has improved too. Torque control accuracy is ±3 percent, while speed control accuracy is ±0.005 percent when using a PG card.

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The performance gains are due in part to the VG series’ use of dual processors, which doubled the processing power available to crunch control algorithms quickly. The previous high-performance drives, by contrast, had a single processor.

To make the VG series as adaptable as possible, it supports a lineup of interface cards, including the E-SX high-speed synchronized communications card and a PG interface card. A safety card will be added to the lineup soon as will integrated servo functions. The VG series conforms with common safety standards, including ISO 13849-1 safety standards for EN terminals of inverters and IEC 61508 SIL2 for the optional cards.

The FRENIC-VG series is intended for applications that need tighter control than possible with a general-purpose VFD but still less than a full-blown servo system. Among these applications are those, like steel making equipment, that require precise torque control across the entire speed range. Cranes and heavy-duty material handling systems are also a good fit for the VG series, which can accommodate rapidly changing torque requirements. Additional applications involve industrial machines, such as stamping presses or automotive testing equipment, which require responsiveness at high speeds.

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Author: Don

A Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) is a type of motor controller that drives an electric motor by varying the frequency and voltage supplied to the electric motor. Other names for a VFD are variable speed drive, adjustable speed drive, adjustable frequency drive, AC drive, microdrive, speed controller, and inverter.

One thought on “Modern Variable Frequency Drives are Already Good – But They are Getting Even Better”

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