Four trends in VFD management

Variable frequency drive (VFD) advances enable users to do more with less.

01/10/2018


Lenze’s i500 inverter is designed for scalable functionality and ease of use. Typical applications include pumps, fans, conveyors, formers, winders, traveling drives, winders, and tool and hoist drives. Courtesy: Lenze AmericasThe demand for efficient motor controls due to rising energy prices and a trend toward energy efficiency has resulted in a growing demand for variable frequency drives (VFDs). The market for VFDs is expected to increase at a rate of 5.94% (CAGR) in the next three years, so it's not surprising manufacturers are investing in state-of-the-art VFD technology.

The latest advances in VFD software and hardware tackle common problems original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), system integrators, and manufacturers have been wrestling with for years: enabling teams to do more—faster and easier—with fewer resources. 

1. Wireless diagnostics

Wireless diagnostics represent the future of VFDs whether it's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or something else entirely. In a typical plant where access to a drive in a closed enclosure may be limited, engineers can connect directly to the system from a distance using the wireless signal built into the drive.

Online software enables engineers to view and diagnose problems without touching the drive or its enclosure.

2. Flexible integration

VFDs with flexible integration allow engineers to solve for the application challenge once and then interface to an upper-level programmable logic controller (PLC) of choice.

For example, say an OEM is selling a given machine to customers both domestically and abroad. Regional trends in PLC preference are not an obstacle for machine integration. The OEM can take a drive with multiple communication options, solve the machine application once, and pick the option that matches the upper-level controller choice for each customer.

VFDs constructed specifically for flexible integration usually consist of a single basic inverter with control or networking modules that can be selected at will.

3. Modular memory

Gone are the days when technicians would have to go into the keypad to program a replacement VFD. Soon, having to use a PC or even just a USB stick to transfer the configuration to a replacement drive will be a thing of the past.

Today, drives with removable, modular, nonvolatile memory make maintenance quick and easy. They eliminate the need to connect additional hardware. If a piece goes bad, device replacement is as simple as taking the memory module out of the old drive and putting it into a new one. 

4. Predictive maintenance

Manufacturers are gathering massive amounts of data from their machinery and manipulating it into business intelligence that drives predictive maintenance.

The Internet of Things (IoT), a global trend in every industry, has had an impact on VFDs by speeding and simplifying the flow of information from machine to technician and back again. As such, manufacturers are making changes to everything from their machines to their information technology (IT) departments to facilitate the collection, analysis, and application of drive data.

From a hardware perspective, teams are moving away from serial and toward Ethernet as the network of choice. Basic IT departments are familiar with Ethernet switches, hubs, and routers, resulting in a more seamless integration when it comes to data transfer.

Complex communication strategies are requiring modern VFDs to report lifetime counters, production rates, downtimes, power output, and more for better real-time decision making.

Joel Kahn is a product manager for inverters at Lenze Americas. Edited by Jack Smith, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, jsmith@cfemedia.com.

MORE ANSWERS

KEYWORDS: Variable frequency drives, VFDs

Engineers can connect directly to VFDs from a distance using the wireless signal built into the drive.

VFDs constructed specifically for flexible integration usually consist of a single basic inverter with control or networking modules that can be selected at will.

From a hardware perspective, teams are moving toward Ethernet as the network of choice.

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