Power supply developers take their cues

It's an evolution that's bringing
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Friday, March 1, 2002

about change in the power supply market
It's evolution, not revolution, that is bringing about change in the power supply segment of the security products industry.

As CCTV, access control and home security systems undergo more sophisticated development, so too do the power supplies and back-up batteries that work with these technologies.

Dan DeMerchant, vice president at Highpower Security Products, Meriden, Conn., said power supplies "are the backbones of the systems."

And these security systems are constantly adding bells and whistles that can require a stronger or at least a more flexible backbone, depending on the changes.

In the CCTV segment, noted Gavin Sinclair, vice president-sales and marketing for Stealth Laboratories, Hickory, N.C., there is a move toward increased use of multiple cameras as well as the need for a DC power supply to fuel newer 12-volt DC cameras.

Kirk Phillips, product development manager at Elk Products, Hildebran, N.C., agreed that multiple camera use has given rise to new power supply products. "People are seeking more power for more cameras," he said, adding this was one of the biggest growth areas for power supply companies a few years ago.

Camera-oriented power supplies now can handle as many as 32 units with one power supply.

And Paul Rizzuto, technical sales manager for Altronix, Brooklyn, N.Y., predicted larger systems and more powerful ones are in the offing for future CCTV power supplies.

The new dome cameras, he noted, "require more current so more power is being requested." Altronix offers 25 amp power supplies for CCTV now "and we see down the line doing more than 25 amps," he said, as well as outputs in excess of 32.

Other changes in the CCTV area, Sinclair said, include power supplies that can accommodate "a trend toward a larger number of cameras in smaller applications."

While battery back-up for CCTV systems hasn't been the norm, Sinclair said he has seen more requests for power back-up, especially from banks.

Typically, Phillips noted, users of CCTV have not sought battery back-up because once the power goes out, so do the VCRs, monitors and other components associated with CCTV. To have the cameras operate without the components doesn't mean much, he said.

Power back-up is critical, however, in the access control industry, where a power failure can render a system inaccessible unless a back-up power supply is in place.

Rick Geringer, vice president of marketing for Security Door Controls, Westlake Village, Calif., said more engineering and new features are going into access control power supplies.

"Before it was just power and one or two relays," he said. "Now people (customers) have more choices."

Field programmability, he noted, offers users the option of customizing a system on site. "Each relay can have a different function," he said, whether it's a timer, an on/off relay or some other use.

DeMerchant agrees it is the controllers added to a power supply that can provide the customization customers seek. A controller, he noted, can provide delayed egress for door systems or an audit trail for the entire system.

Access control power supplies have also been improved, Geringer noted, to better handle inductive loads. Instead of having to derate, or deduct amps from a power supply when a battery is added, new developments have allowed for the isolation and separation of the charging circuitry for lock output to avoid this, he said.

DeMerchant said consistent, accurate voltage from a power supply, or products designed to handle spikes in current, are essential if customers want to preserve the strikes in their access control systems. A 12-volt power supply, for instance, can actually put out 13.8 volts, he noted. "People aren't aware of this," he added, "and electric strikes can burn up in a week because of extra voltage."

John Schum, vice president-sales at Bristol, Conn.-based Dynalock Corp., said although the industry has seen a move toward larger power supplies, "we try to convince the end user to use more (power supplies) rather than have one big one."

Another significant change, Schum said, has been the move toward filtered regulated output. "It's cost effective to do it, and it makes a better power supply," he said.

Access control power supplies has its own category of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. testing, according to Geringer. The tests, he noted, are tougher than for general purpose power supplies, with the emphasis on compatibility with fire, life safety and emergency release accessories.

"In general," he said, "UL wants to see more rigorous testing. They're getting the industry to conform."

Phillips of Elk Products noted a UL-rated back-up battery system has to last for 24 hours, although most are designed to provide power during an outage for four to eight hours.

A goal in product development, Phillips said, is to "make systems last longer when power fails" as well as design batteries with longer lives.
A lead acid battery now lasts three to five years under typical use, he said.

Phillips encourages customers to test batteries regularly "to determine where it is in its life expectancy." Battery testing kits are available now from several different manufacturers.

"Everybody wants a much higher performance product in the same type of footprint," said Doug Pierce, director of sales and marketing for small stationary devices for Enersys, formerly known as Yuasa, based in Reading, Pa. Increased shelf life, more temperature resistant and a more robust power offering also top new demands on these products, he said.

While access control customers put an emphasis on power supply strength and reliability, Phillips and others said home security firms often view the power supply as an area for cutting corners.

"A way to take a few pennies out of the product is to lessen the materials in the power supply," Phillips said. The effect, however, is that the battery itself often ends up being compromised.

A system that has to tap into the battery back-up just to maintain its primary power will eventually weaken the battery because it won't stay charged, he said.

The back-up power supply is meant to go into action, Sinclair said, when the control panel isn't able to supply the power itself. If a power outage goes on for an extended period, he noted, features such as the low battery cut off should go into effect.

Where the industry heads in its development of power supplies is being dictated in large part by customer needs. "We like to react to our customers," said Dynalock's Schum. "The changes have been made to accommodate the installers."

At Altronix, Rizzuto said the company "looks at what's going on and designs what the industry needs." The demand has always been, and will continue to be, "for more power," he said.

Code changes related to fire and access control are also dictating how power supplies will change and improve, he added.

Taking into account recent events, Phillips said factors such as the California energy crisis and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have boosted interest in standby power sources as well as new security applications. "I think we'll see more power supplies aimed toward efforts in homeland security," he said.