As VFDs continue to grow in popularity, here are four trends to check out.
By Terry Smith and Adam Brouwer
Variable frequency drives have continued to grow in popularity in recent years due in part to their incredible versatility and optimized control features. The trend will likely continue as VFDs today continue to offer benefits in terms of their functionality, including more streamlined operations and enhanced energy efficiencies.
Yet with a technology like a VFD, there is always room for improvement. Throughout the water well industry, the latest innovations across VFD platforms are giving owners and operators more reason to choose this technology for both new and existing pumping systems.
Here are four trends and some innovative ideas that are making VFDs more useful than ever.
Trend 1: Smarter Pump System Optimization
The biggest trend to hit VFDs is in overall pump system optimization. VFDs vary the speed of the motor and pump based on demand in multi-pumping configurations using built-in lead/lag and alternation capabilities. Pump owners and operators that were early adopters of VFDs were promised better pumping performance—and VFDs delivered. Now, more users are choosing drives over pump starters, especially soft starters.
This is due not only to the performance VFDs deliver, but also the way they can optimize an entire operation. With the acceptance of drives increasing, more installs are taking advantage of the unique control features VFDs offer.
This has inspired new opportunities and innovations, including today’s VFDs pushing optimization benefits even further. When the pump-motor assembly and VFD are designed and built together, they work together more effectively and efficiently.
They deliver advanced speed controls and soft start that maximize a pumping system’s life and lessen maintenance costs throughout its lifespan. Maximum efficiency is engineered into the entire system. This benefits the user in terms of energy cost savings, ease of installation, and streamlined maintenance.
Trend 2: Ease of Use, Including Smarter Connectivity
The latest VFD platforms are designed specifically for use with water systems. They offer pre-programmed parameters and simple startup that give installers and operators a setup experience that feels as intuitive as installing a plug-and-play drive.
These features save users time during installation and servicing. They also expand users’ tools for professional setup, monitoring, and troubleshooting. Modern VFD-powered systems have continued to become more turnkey in recent years, offering a new feature that has become especially popular—connectivity.
Adding connectivity allows a customer to quickly loop in another person with deep knowledge of the product. With some of today’s drives, users can download all the drive settings and logs via Bluetooth and email them directly to the drive manufacturer’s technical support team. This allows users to streamline the service or commissioning process.
This not only minimizes callbacks, but it can also save installers several hours on the jobsite since they no longer need to manually record each drive’s programmed settings during installation and startup.
Connectivity is also ideal for large projects, and specifically within the drive unit. When access is needed for monitoring logs, assisted setup, and troubleshooting—connectivity is invaluable. Users might also prefer companion apps to minimize contact with the physical unit when safety is a concern.
Future innovations in connectivity could lead to the VFD borrowing motor information from a product database to set up and configure the motor parameters itself, or even direct communications between the motor and drive to exchange this information.
Trend 3: High Efficiency
As various operating costs rise—including labor, fuel, and materials—end users continue to be more conscious about the total cost of ownership on equipment. This is especially true for significant property investments, and this is where VFDs can deliver big benefits.
Pumping systems that utilize a permanent magnet (PM) high-efficiency motor are becoming more widespread due in part to their functionality across a wider range of pumping application needs. When PM technology is paired with a VFD, owners can maximize the efficiency benefits of their entire system.
VFDs are essential when using a PM motor since they are the only device that can vary the speed of a pump and PM motor system. PM motors have no slip and are designed to run with a synchronous speed at their rated voltage.
The latest innovations across VFD platforms are giving owners and operators more reason to choose this technology.
There’s no compromising speed for efficiency. A PM motor paired with a VFD delivers not only energy savings and protection but also advanced speed control and soft start that maximizes the system’s life and reduces maintenance costs throughout its lifespan.
In addition, VFDs that have been optimized and designed for water systems will support the prevention of a dry-well scenario, protect against pipe leaks and electrical surges, and reduce stress on plumbing, thanks to its pipe-fill mode.
Trend 4: Power Density
Moving water takes tremendous power. Often that power equates to bulky equipment that’s hard to place and transport. For decades, VFDs were no different: they used hardware-based logic that occupied precious real estate. Today’s VFDs have changed all that.
They use streamlined embedded software designs that are more compact and easier for the average person to program and operate. The advanced nature of the units also allows them to have more computing power while drawing less electrical current and occupying a smaller physical space: what’s known as power density.
Just as products in the technology sector like cellphones and tablets tend to become more advanced as they become smaller, the same holds true for many of today’s most vital water system components, including VFDs.
They have become smaller in size, minimizing their overall footprint and delivering more advanced power and performance. VFD microcontrollers and power electronics have become more powerful, allowing more features to fit into the drive without increasing the cost. Today’s drives have enough computing power to remain generalized products while utilizing integrated PLCs, multiple motor control methods, and a wide breadth of input/output (I/O).
Increasing power density also allows owners and operators to benefit from more streamlined units that are easier to ship and install without sacrificing performance or reliability.
From a product design standpoint, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to improve the user experience with the drive. In any case, ease-of-use will always remain a key factor and litmus test for determining the viability of any new idea. After all, users won’t adopt a new technology or design if they can’t figure out how to use it.
The old design question “Just because you can do it, should you?” will remain important for developers and encourage them to create technology that makes sense for the application needs of well water professionals.
And that’s a trend that will always be in style.
Terry Smith is a senior product manager, Small Drives & Electronics, at Franklin Electric. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Adam Brouwer is a senior product manager, Large Drives & Controls, at Franklin Electric. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.