Flexible power distribution systems are energising automotive tier one suppliers’ growth
Growth in the automotive industry is benefiting from an extensive global network composed of thousands of tier one suppliers. While not only good for business, this growth functions as a catalyst for advancements in technology that eventually will be adopted by other markets. In the ever-changing era of personal transportation, highlighted by electric cars and self-driven, intelligent vehicles, tier automotive suppliers must respond to global market trends. Solutions must be implemented on the production floor with speed and efficiency in order to reflect those trends.
Automotive suppliers’ strategic acumen will be tested with regard to their nimbleness and ability to place their company in the vanguard of product trends. To achieve this, expeditious manufacturing is paramount, and must be supported through the creative rearrangement and redistribution of power supply. Traditional power distribution methods – electrical conduit and wire – do not promote this creativity. Extended installations, high labour costs, complicated scheduling, potential downtime and waste generation are some of the obstacles that push the brakes involuntarily on tier suppliers’ growth.
With these challenges in mind, the engineers with Starline Track Busway, a product line of US-based power distribution company Universal Electric Corporation, have developed a flexible, overhead power distribution system that builds on three simple factors: reliability, flexibility, and adaptability.
Flexible track buswayStarline’s design consists of a simple, maintenance-free, compact busway run that includes an extruded aluminium housing. The grounded housing contains factory-mounted insulated conductors made from solid copper or hybrid material for optimal conductivity. The busway is supplied in factory customisable lengths of up to six metres (20ft) which allows faster overhead installation, requiring fewer mounting hangers and optimising transportation due to its light weight. An extended array of power feed units, T-shaped and elbow joints makes power distribution flexibility possible and applicable for both new and existing manufacturing facilities. The busway ranges from 40 to 1200 amps, up to 600 volts, allowing endless applications for lighting and power, which benefits any automotive supplier ranging from fuel to steering systems, vehicle components, chassis systems, tyres, etc.
Starline busway provides continuous, finger-safe power access slots throughout the run; plug-and-play units can be positioned at any point
‘Plug-and-play’ customisable unitsA vital characteristic of Starline Track Busway’s design is its finger-safe continuous access slot that runs along the base of the system. Plug-and-play units can be positioned at any point. Each plug-in unit has a paddle-head connector that employs a clever design, allowing safe insertion before being turned 90 degrees for full engagement. In addition, the patented U-shaped design of the solid copper busbar conductor creates constant tension with the paddle-head connector stabs, ensuring a continuous and reliable connection.
Depending on the load application requirements of voltage and amps, each plug-in unit can be completely customised to include overhead electrical cords terminated with a connector or receptacle at the point of use.
In contrast with conventional conduit and wire, this overhead access feature eliminates the risk of connecting multiple electrical cords which frequently end up scattered or tangled around the production floor. Conduit and wire generates fire and tripping hazards that could result in personal injuries and costly safety violation fines which are financially detrimental to any automotive supplier.
Power monitoring capabilities for phase load balance can also be incorporated. Starline’s M40 and M50 metering devices can be integrated into the power-feed or plug-in units, providing instantaneous power monitoring data made visible through digital LCD displays and/or integrated webpage for any existing protocol.
More power: 1200 ampsThe latest addition to Starline’s T5 Series is its new 1200 amp track busway. The extended amperage range significantly increases the number of possible industrial applications for electrical loads that require high interrupting current capacity, fused disconnects, disconnects under load, etc.
The new 1200 amp design meets the increasing power density requirements of automotive suppliers while maintaining the same plug-in unit compatibility and flexibility. For instance, the T5-type paddle-head connector in each plug-in unit is interchangeable with all systems from 250 to 1200 amps. This simple turn and lock insertion of plug-in units combined with the busway’s continuous access slot provides endless flexibility that tier suppliers need to lay out their operations. This adaptability is fully applicable for automation, power tools, CNC machines, 3D printing machines, conveyors, assembly stations, and many other constantly changing manufacturing landscapes where high power density is required.
Flexible, wall-mounted powerIn addition to providing overhead solutions, Starline offers power distribution solutions for other areas of the facility. The Plug-In Raceway system is a patented, prewired type bus design, which provides power through receptacle plug-in modules. Unlike traditional surface raceway solutions, it provides similar flexibility and adaptability as Starline Track Busway. Plug-In Raceway can be easily modified in the field to meet exact system or room dimensions. Furthermore, modules have localised circuit protection, eliminating panels and adding safety.
Plug-In Raceway is widely used in industrial applications such as conveyor systems or assembly cell designs, providing flexible power for 120 volt to 480 volt max loads. Other areas in which automotive suppliers can benefit from this reconfigurable power distribution system are R&D labs, testing labs, office areas, breakrooms, conference rooms, and fitness centres for employees at the manufacturing facility.
Installation flexibility = labour cost savingsConventional power distribution systems do not offer the flexibility that automotive suppliers need. Redesigns of the production floor and new installations traditionally involve conduit, wire, junction boxes, and multiple homeruns to the panelboard. These installations are labour intensive in nature, prolonged and consequently, costlier. For future changes, it is estimated that the additional cost of a new circuit to an existing facility ranges from $1,200 to $2,200. This does not include potential downtime nor opportunity costs. Furthermore, removed pipe and wire must be discarded and scheduling for the installation of traditional systems can require notification weeks in advance.
Starline Track Busway systems, on the other hand, allow tier suppliers to reduce installation time by 75% or more. In the case of new facilities, the busway can be installed prior to determining the exact location of the electrical load, considering each plug-in unit can be positioned anywhere along the busway run. The system can be re-installed or relocated if needed, which is an appealing feature aligned with green initiatives. In one particular instance, a global supplier required (9) days for the installation of electrical conduit and wire to feed a new circuit board printing machine at one of their facilities. In contrast, the same supplier only required (1) day to complete the same type of installation utilising Starline Track Busway.
With regard to Plug-In Raceway installations, the system can also be installed prior to knowing where the receptacles will be located. Each module offers a unique finger-safe design, allowing users to simply snap the pre-assembled modules into place anywhere along the raceway back plane, without having to shut down power.
Investing in flexibility and reliabilityWhether expanding or renewing manufacturing capacity, automotive suppliers recognise that their investment in Starline ensures flexibility and reliability for the future.
OEMs such as GM, BMW, Toyota, Ford, Honda, along with tier one suppliers such as Autoliv, Firestone and Goodyear, have already chosen Starline Track Busway to distribute power throughout their facilities. Starline continues its commitment to offering innovative, reliable, and efficient power distribution solutions to the automotive, datacentre, mission critical applications, retail, education and bio-tech markets.