The research and development (R&D) related to the latest generation of industrial equipment manufacturer Schneider Electric’s Altivar process variable-speed drives (VSDs) focused on smooth performance and efficiency, cybersecurity and connectivity to support automated industrial systems, says Schneider Electric industry VP for Africa and the Caribbean Anthony Pickering.
The new Altivar process VSDs feature advanced control, diagnostics and predictive maintenance software, while the hardware has been optimised to ensure that energy efficiency improvements of up to 50% can be achieved over fixed-speed electric drives.
R&D for the new drive focused on improving hardware and software elements, and the controls of the drives can interface with most competing and third-party industrial control systems. Schneider acquired industrial automation and control company Invensys in 2013, providing it with an existing footprint of plants running Invensys systems locally and in Southern Africa.
Only about 10% of electric drives in regional industries are VSDs, and Pickering predicts strong demand from the food and beverage, water, wastewater and mining, minerals and metals sectors. Electric motors consume on average 70% of electrical energy in industry.
Further, the control software and responsiveness of the drives allow for their being integrated into systems that draw power from baseload generation or variable renewable-energy generation, as they can be managed in concert with any changes in power supply. There are also solutions within the range to reduce the creation of harmonics on the local power grid, owing to their smooth changes and precise control.
The cybersecurity of the VSDs matches that of modern programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used in industry. Cybersecurity was a key focus, owing to the connectivity, as well as remote monitoring and control, of the drives that are enabled through the Internet. The connectivity also enables companies to monitor, compare and manage their plants and processes across territories.
Meanwhile, Pickering notes, Schneider Electric provides expert skills for companies to use, developed at its Drive Academy, in France and Austria. The company sends employed postgraduates to the academy for a year, where they also work in the company’s R&D centres and with R&D teams. The postgraduates are then regarded as experts in the application of Schneider Electric’s drives and industrial systems.
There are currently five academy graduates in South Africa who can support the implementation of Altivar process VSDs at local and regional plants.
Meanwhile, demand for the company’s VSDs in Southern Africa has been strong and is expected to remain robust, he adds, noting that Schneider Electric foresees improved demand from the mining industry when mineral resource prices rise.
“The Altivar process VSD is the first in a stable of new Altivar industrial products and they act as a platform for industrial companies to improve the efficiency of and control over their drives, enabling them to match the performance of their drives to the process and variations,” says Pickering.
The company is also growing its medium-voltage products and capabilities. It has already established itself as the main medium-voltage drive manufacturer in China and will be rolling out these products to the rest of the world within the next year. The medium-voltage drives are typically suitable for the water, wastewater, mining and minerals industries and other medium-voltage drive applications.