Standing out in standby

From load acceptance to power density, and ownership costs to the impact on the environment, today’s back-up power customers have exacting requirements. In this fiercely competitive market, engine manufacturers need to continually power forward on engine innovation and design. 

The demand for standby power solutions across the globe shows no sign of stalling, with the market expected to grow more than 3.5 percent between 2020 and 20251

The factors driving this growth are dictated by geography. In Europe, for example, expansion of the data centre industry, coupled with favourable regulatory policies, is spurring the increase. 

In North America, a surge in weather-related disasters has created more demand for emergency power. While in Africa, a combination of unreliable grid infrastructure and explosive population growth is shaping the surge for standby. 

This hunger for electric power (EP) criss-crosses virtually every sector – education and financial institutions, hospitals and telecommunications, as well as the industrial sectors of so many emerging economies. 

Of course, customers won’t just throw money at any available solution. With many operating in highly competitive business environments, their buying criteria are extensive. Even at the most fundamental level, they’ll want to be sure their purchasing decision minimises their capital, installation, and maintenance costs – and meets local environmental standards.

Important challenges for EP engine manufacturers

In a highly competitive space, where customers’ buying criteria are in perpetual flux, engine manufacturers have a weight of responsibility to continually innovate across all critical areas of EP engine design. 

As the product strategy manager for Perkins, Graeme Oliphant appreciates the challenge at hand. 

“Standby power remains an essential input for many global businesses,” says Graeme. “For many, it’s essential for ensuring their business maintains productivity, minimises expensive and disruptive downtime, maintains IT security, and avoids lost revenue and reputational damage. The challenge for engine manufacturers is that we continually innovate and optimise our offering and support the continued productivity, growth and success of our customers’ businesses.”

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Designing engines for standby power applications

When developing engines for standby power, modern manufacturers need to factor an array of customer requirements into their research and design.

Arguably the most important buying criteria is an engine’s load acceptance. That was the area that came out on top when Graeme conducted research for a new EP engine range, the Perkins® 5000 Series – the first model of which was launched in North America earlier this year. 

“Through our programme of customer research, we reconfirmed our view that load acceptance is the number one technical priority for today’s standby customer,” says Graeme. “As a result, this formed a key design thread in the development of the new range.”

Graeme continues: “Load acceptance is critical to the operation of any generating set. It’s the amount of kW load the engine can take in one step, so the more load it can accept, the more back-up power it can provide at the moment it’s needed. So essentially, it helps end customers get the output they need from a smaller engine.” 

Manufacturers are constantly looking to move the dial forward on load acceptance to gain a competitive edge. In the case of Perkins, the business chose to utilise two smaller turbos per bank on each unit, rather than one large turbo on each bank. According to Graeme, this enables the unit to get up to speed quicker, spool quicker, and compress air quicker, which enhances load acceptance.

Graeme explains that the Perkins product team has also developed patent-pending technology to improve cold-start capability. 

“We did a lot of work with the engine software and improved cold start capability, including transient response at low temperatures,” he says.

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Key reference points for standby engine engineering

Power density is another critical piece of engine design where manufacturers are looking to set new benchmarks. Power density is all about getting more power out of a smaller displacement engine. And with the spiralling cost of fuel globally, power density has become a competitive point of difference.

Developments in power density can be witnessed industry wide. Many commentators trace the foundation for these improvements back to the introduction of Stage/Tier emission standards. As a result, manufacturers created more advanced technology and systems, which brought unexpected rewards in terms of improved machine efficiency and the ability for engines to pump out more power per cubic centimetre. 

“More customers are searching out engines that are smaller, cleaner and built for the future,” says Graeme. “Compact, power dense engines are easier for EP OEMs to package, reduce complexity and simplify transportation – all of which generate cost-savings in the highly competitive EP marketplace.”

Graeme says that during development of the new 5000 Series, Perkins’ product team had power density front of mind. For the first engine release in the series, they achieved the same power output of 1,000 kWe from a 30-litre, in-line 8-cylinder engine, which previously required a 46-litre V12 unit to deliver the same power. 

“This boost in power density enables our customers to operate more cost-effectively with cleaner, smaller, more efficient engines with no sacrifice in durability, reliability or performance,” he says. “And because it’s an inline engine, we’ve moved from double-side to single-side servicing, which simplifies maintenance and reduces running costs.” 

The location and environmental conditions of generating sets constitute further consideration for manufacturers of standby EP engines. As a rule, engineers need to optimise engines to run reliably at extreme ambient conditions and altitudes. 

“In certain environmental conditions, generators can suffer power losses. So manufacturers need to work hard to foresee and counter the effects of power derating,” adds Graeme.

Graeme says the Perkins product team was able to achieve high ambient and altitude capabilities with their newest range, offering up to 131°F (55°C) ambient temperature. 

“One of the ways we achieved this was by selecting turbochargers that utilise titanium housings, which enables us to get to increased temperatures, and raise our operating limits improving ambient and altitude capability,” he explains.

Customer criteria that are critical to consider 

Engine design considerations shouldn’t end there. According to research by Perkins, additional key buying criteria include demand for greener products, remote engine monitoring, improved oil service intervals, and the expectation that engines are robust and reliable enough to be used for prime operation too. 

Again, Graeme and the team at Perkins optimised the new 5000 Series to meet the full weight of customers’ expectations.

“We assessed and enhanced every component on the engine for improved reliability, while also extending oil service life to two years, which meets customers’ needs to reduce the cost of ownership in a challenging marketplace,” he says. 

“The ECM and electronic sensor pack allows operators to remotely monitor the engine utilising third party telematics solutions. And in order to meet demands for ever greener power solutions, we developed an optional closed crankcase ventilation system that reduces crankcase emissions.”

Manufacturers can’t afford to stand still

As global demand for standby engines keeps growing, and customers become increasingly exacting in their requirements, manufacturers of standby power equipment can’t afford to stand still.

“Sustained business success for engine manufacturers depends on following a process of continuous innovation,” says Graeme. “At Perkins, we constantly drive our engine innovation forward. Drawing on nearly nine decades of engine-design and manufacturing expertise, we focus on delivering what our customers have asked for – cost-effective and reliable power.”

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