Plug in, turn on, and never lose power

Dec. 1, 2009
Among Mike Stout's revelations, Falcon UPS products were used to protect and back up the DNA sequencing equipment used for the Human Genome Project, as well as the FBI Crime Lab and law-enforcement agencies around the world.

This month, MLO is delighted to introduce to
its International Corner Mike Stout, VP of Engineering at Falcon
Electric. For a quarter century, the company has provided products that
keep strategic equipment up and running in dire situations. While
details of uninterruptible power supplies may be new news to some MLO
readers, Stout's answers to questions about Falcon Electric's global
reach are sure to be of interest to all.

MLO: While there is much being made by many
organizations that “global” is a relatively new way of doing business,
it appears that Falcon Electric may have been engaged in global
entrepreneurship for some time. Your website mentions that there are
more than a million Falcon power solution units worldwide being used in
critical applications. Does Falcon Electric have offices overseas? If
so, where and for how long?

Mike Stout: One million units in the field does
not happen overnight. Falcon has been in the Uninterruptible Power
Supply, or UPS, business for about 25 years. Back then, Falcon sold
on-line UPS products on a private-label basis to other large OEM UPS
companies. Falcon developed a reputation for offering reliable
state-of-the-art products. For about the last 15 years, Falcon Electric
has been branding, marketing, and selling its products directly to
end-users and integrators. Our products are rugged, high-performance,
on-line UPS units that provide the highest level of power protection and
voltage regulation, in addition to seamless backup protection.

Over the years, we have expanded beyond our UPS
technology into frequency conversion, phase conversion, and precision AC
voltage regulators. Our products' reliability has been so good it has
attracted the military, hospitals, universities, laboratories, industrial
sites, and a large number of fortune 500 companies. Falcon has achieved its
international success using the Internet to sell worldwide directly; we do
not have sales offices — or, in fact, any other sales offices in the United
States other than the one in our Irwindale, CA, headquarters. Some of our
network of reseller and distributor partners, however, do have overseas
offices.

FalconUPS.com is not only our primary sales website but also a power-information site aimed at our primary vertical markets: truly a toolbox that will solve many problems not addressed elsewhere.

MLO: We are, of course, interested in your UPS and
how those impact all things “medical laboratory.” Can you tell us when you
began to provide such backup power to medical laboratories and why? Can you
tell us who was your first medical laboratory customer? Are any of these
million critical applications mentioned before related to the medical
laboratory or healthcare in any way?

Stout: Falcon products have been sold to medical
laboratories for more than 20 years. Some of our early customers were
hospitals and clinical laboratories. The bulk of our medical-oriented sales
were through OEM customers, such as Baxter Health Care, Beckman Coulter, and
Wyeth, who bundled Falcon UPSs with their own electronic medical products.
With the advent of DNA sequencing, Falcon has also provided products to many
research labs. In fact, Falcon UPS products were used to protect and back up
the DNA sequencing equipment used for the Human Genome Project.

Further, we have supplied UPSs to the FBI Crime Lab and
law enforcement agencies around the world. In addition, our voltage and
frequency converters and UPS are used by MIT Lincoln Labs, Sandia and Los
Alamos National Labs, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and CERN (the
European organization for nuclear research). Our voltage and frequency
converters are utilized when the project calls for the lab to deliver
230V/50Hz required to test systems for overseas or when the instrument,
designed to operate at 120V/60Hz, is being sent out of the United States and
a converter is required.

The Falcon true double-conversion on-line UPS provides a
high level of power protection against the widest range of power problems.
The low-cost line-interactive, or “Smart UPS,” primarily provides battery
backup and has limited power-protection capabilities for suppressing
high-voltage transients. In addition, voltage regulation can be poor.
Basically, the utility power coming into these types of UPS goes through
some surge-protection circuitry and then out to the device. It is only when
utility power is lost that a line-interactive's inverter turns on and
switches in. Due to the low cost of the typical line-interactive UPS, the
typical battery inverter output is a distorted sinewave having a high level
of harmonic distortion.

By contrast, the output inverter in our double-conversion
on-line UPS is operating continuously, both in AC utility and battery modes
of operation. The Falcon UPS converts the incoming utility or generator
power, filters it, and then rectifies it to DC. This removes all of the
unwanted AC frequency and voltage problems, including generator frequency
shift, voltage transients, voltage, and current harmonics. Once the UPS has
converted the incoming AC to DC, it regulates the DC voltage and uses it to
power our continuous duty Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) Pulse
Width Modulated (PWM) inverter.

This provides an output with superior voltage
regulation (120Vac +/-2% Domestic or 230Vac +/-2% European), even if the
utility power supplied to the UPS drifts by +/-15%. As a result, any
voltage sags and surges in the utility power are eliminated, along with
most other power problems. Should the utility power be lost, the UPS
will simply start to draw its power from the internal batteries without
any switchover or transfer required.

The Falcon on-line UPS is like installing a “power
firewall” between incoming power and sensitive laboratory equipment —
essential for medical electronics, which often must be connected to
outlets and circuits shared by heavy-duty equipment that can corrupt the
quality of utility power. And, of course, medical gear is often most
needed in times and places that utility-power quality suffers, is
interrupted, or goes away for significant periods when the use of these
instruments is paramount.

As the connected lab equipment is always receiving
optimum power conditions and voltage, the equipment accuracy,
performance, and reliability are assured, irrespective of the utility or
lab outlet-power quality. Seamless backup-power capability is a
secondary benefit. Since our on-line UPS units are designed with a
continuous-duty inverter, additional battery banks may be added,
providing up to several hours of backup.

MLO: Are the power quality and availability needs
of medical laboratories in other countries greater than those in the
United States, depending on where they are located? In developing
countries, what are those differences?

Stout: It is true that utility power in the
United States and Europe is typically much better than the power quality
in developing nations. Using this as a rule, however, is a poor measure
of the power quality inside any specific lab located anywhere in the
world — including the United States and Europe. One reason is localized
power pollution often being created by other equipment operating on the
same lab power circuits, which can happen anywhere. Large motors or
other power-hungry devices in a lab can create voltage sags, surges, and
even high-voltage transients that can disrupt the operation of sensitive
lab equipment.

Also, many areas within the United States are subject
to power utility problems — sags, rolling brownouts, even power outages
— due to seasonal conditions like a high rate of air-conditioning use
during heat waves. During the rest of the year, power-line problems
often are caused by snow and ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and
flooding. Other causes of power interruption include accidents due to
construction, vehicles downing utility poles, or the ripple effect on
the power grid from an event that may be a thousand miles away. Falcon's
on-line UPS and voltage regulators installed to power the sensitive
computers and lab equipment can eliminate these problems and ensures
flawless operation, regardless of the nature, degree, or frequency of
power problems.

That being said, developing countries' power can
present the harshest of power problems. Local power grids may be without
power for several hours a day. This is often the case in locations like
Iraq or Mexico City in the summer months. Voltage sags and surges may be
excessive, even destructive, beyond the operational limits of most lab
equipment. Differing countries may have their unique set of possible
power problems.

To address these potential problems, Falcon's 230Vac
European models are designed with the widest input voltage range,
typically 170Vac to 275Vac, while providing a regulated user-settable
208Vac, 220Vac, 230Vac, or 240Vac output. We can also provide
battery-backup options of up to several hours. In addition, we offer
models with Galvanic Isolation (completely separating the input and
output) for use in locations where grounding and common mode noise is a
problem.

In addition to our wide-input range European models
supplied to developing-world customers, we also supply specialized
rugged military systems for powering sensitive network equipment in
those countries.

MLO: What about oversight in foreign labs
regarding protecting refrigeration and other laboratory equipment — is
it as widespread there as it is here in terms of government involvement,
or does that depend on the country?

Most medical labs throughout the world attempt to
meet either U.S. or European standards. Of course, some laws change from
country to country. In the case of vaccines, maintaining them in a
proper refrigerated environment is critical to their viability and, as
such, “universal” in nature.

MLO: Just out of curiosity, because this
interview is about presence globally, not in the United States, did you,
by any chance, have backup systems in operation in New Orleans during
Hurricane Katrina? If so, what was the outcome for labs with UPS there?
Can you name the laboratories with which you dealt?

Falcon, along with most other UPS companies, did have
many UPS units operating in New Orleans during Katrina. The big problem
experienced by hospitals and labs occurred after Katrina moved inland,
and the city was flooded. Backup generators for the hospitals and large
labs were located in lower levels of the buildings, below ground level.
They were completely flooded and rendered unusable. This left the
facilities with no long-term source of emergency power, since the UPS
units installed were only intended to supply backup power for the
limited amount of time during the emergency-generator startup.
Therefore, the batteries were discharged during the first few minutes of
the power outage.

This incident led many government agencies to issue
new regulations specifying the installation of backup generators. These
generators must now be installed on roof locations in hospitals, in
addition to provisions implemented for mobile generator power
connections outside the facility to allow a mobile generator to be
driven or flown in as a third source of power to the hospital.

MLO: What challenges do Falcon Electric's
representatives overseas face personally and professionally as part of
Falcon Electric's global outreach? What challenges did/does Falcon
Electric as an organization face in developing its global business? Of
all the details that one must confront in mastering global outreach,
what are the “Top 3” suggestions you would give a newly minted Falcon
Electric employee who was pursuing the global arm of the business?

The Internet is the vehicle that opens the world
market up to Falcon. In other words “the Internet is the great
equalizer.” FalconUPS.com is not only our primary sales website
but also a power-information site aimed at our primary vertical markets:
truly a toolbox that will solve many problems not addressed elsewhere.
An example is our frequency-converter market. We offer many products
that provide 50Hz to 60Hz or 60Hz to 50Hz frequency conversion, allowing
European or domestically manufactured medical equipment (and a wide
range of non-medical products as well) to be operated on either or both
power frequencies. Low-cost line-interactive UPS products cannot be
modified to operate as frequency converters. But the on-line UPS
technology is ideal for this application. The lesson here is to find a
niche that fits your product or make your product fit the niche. We have
done both.

Regarding logistics, our UPS units are small enough
to be shipped all over the world and require minimal service that can be
performed by the average lab technician, after they have contacted us or
visited FalconUPS.com. The only service required, aside from
cleaning the unit out to ensure airflow to internal components, is
battery replacement every four to five years. The simple instructions on
this procedure are posted on our website. Should a unit need to be
returned to the factory to repair damage from a power event, the
batteries can be removed and the unit returned. Users remove the
batteries to reduce the weight significantly, which saves on freight
costs. In the case of our large-volume customers, Falcon provides
service classes to their technical staff and provides spare parts. This,
tied with superior product reliability, negates the need for a large,
costly worldwide service organization — a residual benefit of making a
reliable product.

Reach Falcon Electric at
www.falconups.com
,
or call 800-842-6940 (toll-free in the U.S.), or 626-962-7770.

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