Why Traffic Signal Industrial Edge Applications Require Ruggedized Power Protection Systems

January 15, 2019 Jamie Bourassa

The digitization of everyday processes means that data that was not accessible before can now be both gathered and analyzed in an affordable manner. In many cases, the computation of that data is happening in or around local devices (a concept referred to as edge computing). The emergence of new industrial edge applications across private industries such as oil and gas, mining, telecommunications and public entities such as municipalities, has opened the door to many new opportunities for solution deployments in outdoor environments. For resellers, integrators, distributors, and consulting engineers, this represents potential growth in new business areas.

traffic signal

However, the deployment of such solutions requires a different mix of product, delivery and service specifications from what is commonly found in a traditional data center and network offerings. Many edge computing and industrial edge solutions focus on the capture, processing and analysis of local information often with a limited connection to the cloud or central command center. New technology drivers for edge applications include reduced latency, easier connectivity, and an ability to perform remote management of these edge assets.

Industrial edge solutions typically must be compact and low cost, yet robust enough to withstand harsh environmental conditions. Therefore, solutions providers need to be extra careful in their selection of products as they assemble solutions that address the needs of these application environments.

Industrial Edge Applications for Traffic Signals

Consider for example, municipalities tasked with ensuring the consistent operation of traffic signals. Although traffic signals are devices that nearly all citizens are familiar with, few of us take the time to consider the behind-the-scenes technologies that keep those traffic signals functioning properly.

In most cases, the “brains” behind the traffic signals are a centralized command center run by operators who monitor how the signals in the various intersections are behaving. The true “edge” for traffic signal systems consist of physical controllers and other mechanisms that use traffic data and other sensors to maintain a smooth traffic flow. These devices reside inside metal enclosures called signal controller cabinets located roadside at or near each intersection.

Inside these enclosures are switches, sensors, software, and controllers.  An uninterruptible power supply (more commonly referred to as a battery backup system within the industry because of the long backup times required) serves as a backbone to these devices by supplying a smooth, stable supply of power, even if the local power grid is experiencing a disturbance. Highly resilient and durable components are required within the signal controller boxes for maintaining safety and lowering management costs.

A Stable Power Supply is Critical to Safety and Smooth Operation

For systems integrators, distributors and resellers who service these municipal traffic markets, it is important that the specialty products that populate signal controller boxes be readily available (for the fulfillment of municipal bids won), robust and easily serviceable.

When power quality is poor, traffic signal systems can lock up. When they do, the systems typically default to flash mode (four-way blinking lights that instruct drivers to treat the signal as a four-way stop). Most of us, as drivers, have experienced the frustration of slowly moving through an intersection during rush hour or stormy conditions. Whenever such a condition occurs, police may be called to manually direct traffic while statutes demand that municipal traffic agencies physically inspect the site for safety reasons before resetting the system for normal function. These are costly tasks that responsible agencies wish to minimize.

Such environments require ruggedized components starting with a battery backup system (BBS) that is designed to withstand temperatures that range from -37° C (-35° F) to 74° C (165° F) and that can tolerate dusty, dirty and humid environments. The electronic boards inside of these devices are generally conformal coated (a chemical coating that protects electronic circuits from moisture and/or chemical contaminants). Fans and filters that are part of the BBS unit, must work together to remove particulate from the air space, and wires are oversized to be more resistant to the harsh outdoor conditions. A double-conversion on-line battery backup system architecture ensures that poor power quality problems are stabilized before damaging or interrupting internal components that trigger an intersection flash mode condition.

All of these approaches help to “harden” the infrastructure that manages today’s traffic signal systems. They also help to position municipalities for the future, by providing real-time information that improves the quality of split-second decisions, for when connected and autonomous vehicles begin to operate at scale.  These new transportation trends are increasing the quantity and connectivity of the signal controller boxes.  Each connection can be considered a cybersecurity risk and it is important for the devices inside the controller boxes to enable safe remote management. For example, Schneider Electric BBS device network connections are embedded with the proper security protocols for confident remote management. With this remote connection, system operators track battery life and easily schedule predictive maintenance (replacing batteries at the right time, only when they need replacement) thus minimizing unplanned downtime.

Access Power Protection Resources

To learn more about how power protection devices are supporting traffic signal systems and other remote industrial edge environments, visit our traffic signal resource site.

The post Why Traffic Signal Industrial Edge Applications Require Ruggedized Power Protection Systems appeared first on Schneider Electric Blog.

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