Is dirty power cleaning you out?

Typically IT departments prepare their systems for situations such as power failures brought about by area-wide shutdowns caused by inclement weather or disasters. However, not many enterprise systems are geared to deal with smaller power failures and fluctuations which over time take their toll on operations, equipment and personnel.

Frequently referred to as “dirty power,” these surges, sag, fluctuations, interruptions and “noise” is a type of power supply abnormality which originates outside of within a facility. Daily fluctuations from electrical equipment can cause cumulative power hazards, system and equipment breakdown, loss of productivity and tie-up IT personnel as well.

According to some studies as much as 87 per cent of power-related issues result from low-voltage spikes and surges that cause “logic confusion” which leads to system lockups, error codes and malfunctions.

In many workplaces the impact can be felt on multi-function peripherals or managed and network print systems.

For instance about a decade ago, most office copiers were stand-alone machines that contained very little digital circuitry and they were not affected much by dirty power, according to Anthony LoGiudice, vice-president for service and operations of the customer solutions group at Sharp Electronics Canada Ltd.

“Approximately sixteen years ago when digital copiers started to come into the marketplace, they started to be connected to office networks.” He said. “Most copiers are now digital and connected to a network, so a lot more things are in play. That makes it much more sensitive to electrical noise. Any spike or surge can cause image quality issues or corrupt functions such as scanning, faxing and document filing.”

Logic confusion often cause intermittent or temporary machine failure that mysteriously disappear once the repair personnel arrives at the scene. By that time though, operation has be interrupted, employees’ time is wasted and cost is incurred.

“Anytime we have a ‘no problem found’ service call, there is a cost associated with it,” said Shawn McVay, director of service for the Ray Morgan Company which specializes in providing office technology solutions for over 22,000 organizations nationwide.

Many IT administrators operate under the assumption that uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units, power filters and surge suppressors will solve the problem but these machines are designed for more catastrophic situations like lightning strikes which only account for one to two per cent of power issues, according to Roger Faridi, vice-president of operations for Smart Power Systems, a maker of power protection and battery units.

What is needed he said is a power conditioning mechanism to provide a “clean, level voltage supply with minimal noise.”

Smart Power’s Copier Guardian is a two-pound device, that’s the size of a paperback novel. It uses a transformer based filtering (TBF) technology developed by the company which incorporate a transformer and an electronic circuit which constantly monitors the line power and makes corrections when fluctuations or noise are sensed.

TBF provides protections for lighting strikes up to 6000 volts as well as smaller voltage spikes from internal sources like air conditioners compressors, office shredders or an elevator more, said Faridi.

“If the voltage exceeds the normal 120 VAC (voltage alternating current) by even just 40 volts, for more than 5 cycles (approximately 80 milliseconds) − powerful enough blow out the power supply and motherboard of most copiers and fax machines − then the power is cut off to prevent any further damage to the machine,” he said.

Electronic power conditioners help ensure that document management proceeds without interruption. It also reduces as many as five to six service calls per customer per year, according to Faridi.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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