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A new era in AC drives

Vacon describes itself as being driven by a passion to develop, manufacture, and sell the world’s best AC drives and inverters. Excellent process control and energy efficiency performance have indeed proved a hallmark of its drives, as customers worldwide have discovered.

Founded just a couple of decades ago – in 1993 to be exact – Vacon is now the world’s largest independent company that focuses exclusively on AC drives and the world’s seventh-largest drive supplier overall. From a modest start with a team of just 13 people, the company has grown into a global business, with manufacturing and R&D in Europe, Asia, and North America and a global network of distributors and service locations extending across almost 90 countries.

Along the way, Vacon has also gone public, and its shares have been quoted on NA SDA Q OM X Helsinki since 2000. Net sales totalled €388 million in 2012 and the company currently employs approximately 1,500 people worldwide.

Vacon estimates that its products currently help save some 44 TWh of energy, the equivalent of the output from eight 700 MW nuclear reactors, and contribute to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Its AC drives also help generate approx. 18 TWh of energy from renewable sources; using coal to generate an equivalent amount of energy would release about 16 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

From a modest start, Vacon has grown into the world’s largest independent company that focuses exclusively on AC drives in just under 20 years.

Uncompromising focus on the essentials

Vacon believes that one of the key reasons for its success – in addition to the hard work and innovation that it has put in over the years – has been its uncompromising focus on AC drives, in all their permutations.

AC drives are used to control the speed of standard induction motors, the workhorses of industry and numerous civil engineering projects, matching the output of motors very precisely to the machines they drive.

Processes always vary, due to changes in input variables and different operational needs; and using AC drives to control standard induction motors typically yields the most energy-efficient result, especially compared to many traditional solutions. An added benefit is that this technology enables customers to make the most efficient use of their equipment, even though it might be running at less than rated capacity, as equipment and processes are usually designed with some margin for expansion at a later date.

Vacon 100 AC drives meet the needs of today’s industrial and commercial applications to a tee, making control even easier and more energy-efficient.
As throughput decreases, so does the amount of energy required to process it. This is most clearly seen in the case of pumps, fans, and compressors. AC drives can yield energy savings of more than 30% compared to classic control methods.

With the spread of legislation such as the EU’s Energy-using Products Directive (EuP), which came into force in 2007, requiring users to adopt more energy-efficient solutions, the demand for AC drives – and Vacon’s proven technology – looks set to continue growing.

Vacon’s product offering just got better – again

The VACON 100 has been developed very much with the latest energy efficiency requirements such as the EU’s EuP Directive in mind; and it represents one of the most important new products Vacon has ever developed.

Together with the compact VACON 100 X and the VACON 20 X, launched at the same time, the VACON 100 has strengthened Vacon’s position as an industry leader in the AC drives market.

The design of the VACON 100 – a multi-purpose drive that can be adapted for hundreds of different applications, while offering an industry-leading low cost of ownership and maximum usability – focuses on minimising its inherent energy loss and transmitting as much energy as possible to the motor being driven.

Its main components utilise the latest technology to reduce losses and improve service lifetime. It also continues the modular concept that Vacon introduced with its first range back in 1993, the Vacon CX, which separates power and control components. This makes it both easier and safer to use drives, as the high-voltage power connections and low-voltage control connections are physically separated, eliminating the risk of touching high-voltage terminals when working on a drive’s control terminals. Vacon’s modularity also allows users to choose the specific features they need from a wide range of hardware and software alternatives.

Vacon has also standardised its HMI (human-machine interface) over the company’s entire power range, simplifying training and facilitating the use of setup wizards to guide people through the commissioning process with only a few, critical parameters having to be inputted.

Ease of use is enhanced by the use of a clear multilingual display, including help texts, that allows users in different countries to use the drive in their native language. The display also tracks a number of system variables graphically, which further simplifies the job of finetuning a process.

The VACON 100 drive features an on-board Ethernet port and a Modbus connection as standard to make control system integration easy; other fieldbuses and fieldbus cards are available as options. A battery-supported real-time clock – that can be used to control a drive as a function of time, to reduce air conditioning in an office building during the night and at weekends, for example – helps further reduce energy consumption. Vacon has also incorporated a small, fieldprogrammable PLC function, making external control systems redundant in most cases.

> Michael Björkman
(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)