Power Supplies: Custom vs. COTS (Part 2)

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This is part two of a three-part series on how system design engineers can weigh benefits of custom vs. COTS power supplies. Read part one.

By Robert Richardson, Senior Design Engineer, dB Control

One of the biggest misconceptions about custom power supplies is that they take too long to procure; they have to be designed from scratch and lead times are prohibitive. While custom power supply timelines ultimately depend on the application requirements (e.g., SWaP-C and operating environment demands), dB Control regularly completes difficult designs and ships a first unit within six months.

dB Control has applied a modular architecture to our power supplies for more than 15 years, allowing us to create and modify designs quickly using modules that have been MIL-qualified to EMI DO-160, MIL-STD-461, MIL-STD-704E, and MIL-STD-810E guidelines, as well as field-proven. Very little, if anything, has to be designed from scratch. We know each module’s capabilities and the applications it is designed for, from low-voltage up to 40kV systems. These modules operate at power ranges from 100W to 1.2kW average, and up to 90 kW pulsed, with efficiency typically >90%, while utilizing any combination of high- and low-voltage inputs/outputs.

We continually create and approve new modules that improve upon SWaP-C, drawing on a library of designs that dates to the company’s 1990 inception. Typically, customers requesting a preliminary design review within 30 days of placing an order are awed by the details we already can share with them, as well as how close early iterations of the custom design are to their requirements.

dB Control has extensive documentation to help support qualification-by-similarity (Qual-by-Sim) opportunities. Whether the client’s application demands uncompromising electrical performance, electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compliance (EMI/EMC) qualification, or survivability in extreme temperature changes, we have tested each module to comply with a wide range of regulations, from benign environments to the most severe airborne, shipboard, and ground mobile environments.

Each operating environment presents different challenges, whether it is temperature extremes (shifting from very cold to very hot), extreme vibration/shock, EMI, EMC, fungus growth, dust/dirt, high humidity, severe weather (e.g., for a unit mounted on an outdoor antenna), pressures from altitude, and decompression shock — to name just a few. Often, we’re able to create a report for clients showing the similarities between their product and previously qualified modules, saving that client significant time and money on qualification testing.

This design-to-fit approach does not end after the initial order. When we receive initial specifications, the customer‘s requirements may still be evolving. Thus, the specifications can change during design: perhaps the load manufacturer updates its voltage or current requirement during development, or excessive margin was built into the initial spec and SWaP can be improved.  Often, a COTS solution cannot accommodate this change in requirements, forcing the designer to start again from scratch.  Alternately, dB Control’s custom solutions are easily reconfigured through an engineering process that constantly works toward fine-tuning the unit to the client’s exacting requirements — even if that means venturing into the field and modifying units on the customer’s platform, at their site.

That unwavering technical support is at the heart of dB Control custom products’ advantages over COTS. Every customer question is answered pre- and post-design; we typically have weekly or bi-weekly technical interchange meetings with our clients, so no surprises accompany delivery of the first unit. COTS product support generally is limited to reference documentation, which is not all-inclusive.

When dB Control begins a custom power supply project, we assign a program manager, a single point of contact for queries into engineering, schedules, etc. Additionally, clients have direct access to our VP of engineering who — after 30+ years with dB Control — knows our products inside and out. This unparalleled access and ease of communication drives our clients’ success, whether the project is a one-off or a long-term collaboration.

Have a custom power supply project? Email us today.

Stay tuned for part three.

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