Executive Bio: Andy Steele

Andy Steele serves as the Vice President of Strategic Operations for Voltonix. It is Andy’s responsibility to ensure the company’s day-to-day operations run smoothly while gracefully navigating any unforeseen bumps in the road. He works closely with all external company principals and owns the company’s customer service process, supporting it from initial outreach through onboarding. He believes deeply in single-point accountability and the need to first listen and understand a customer’s goals before offering a solution.

He says a positive customer experience is critical to the establishment of long-term relationships and thus the health of the business. “We have a real focus on quality and the need to make our clients thrive in front of their key relationships,” he says. “By going to market with ‘The Four Ps’, we are in a unique position to help companies save money across multiple verticals while also helping them to deliver on their own vision.”

Andy earned his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Montana and his Master’s in International Affairs at Ohio University. After living and working abroad for over ten years in Thailand, Indonesia and Afghanistan, he joined Voltonix in 2016.

Andy spends his free time chasing warblers and other avian oddities while keeping tabs on a precocious toddler named Emma Rose.



Executive Bio: Ken O’Connell

Ken O’Connell serves as the Vice President of Business Development for Voltonix. It is Ken’s job to ensure Voltonix is connecting with the companies looking to aggressively tackle service burden, reduce warranty exposure and increase reliability across their manufactured products. Ken helps the Voltonix team work closely with executive, service and engineering teams to implement key initiatives around artificial intelligence for predictive analytics, power protection and end user install site preparedness. He helps marketing and sales teams within these OEMs introduce products and services to their customers.

Ken believes simplifying the complexities around AI and electrical engineering problems helps OEMs drive toward the implementation of solutions. He says, “Many OEMs have 2020 and 2021 initiatives around implementing deep learning and artificial intelligence platforms to reduce service costs and predict failures. Often they struggle with the resulting science experiments that don’t lead to actionable services. We help introduce much more simple, cross-platform solutions that drive toward specific and measurable service cost reduction from day one.”

Ken studied Electrical engineering at the Ohio State University. He’s spent over 6 years with Voltonix working with OEMs in the ATM, clinical diagnostic and 3D printing markets.

When he’s not crunching algorithms, Ken spends his time with his wife and two boys Jax and Brady.



What is the Best UPS for 3D Printers?

One of the most common questions we get at Rapid3D and similar trade shows is: “What is the best UPS for 3D Printers?”. Like most things, it depends. A $300 Monoprice Maker Select probably isn’t going to be found in the wild on an online sine-wave output UPS. That said, there are a few questions to ask yourself when pairing your industrial 3D printer to a reliable UPS.

What problem am I trying to solve?

Power problems originate from 2 sources: Inside your facility and outside:
best ups for 3d printers problem sources

It’s easy to think that most power issues are coming from that power plant on the left, right? The lights flicker or you’re searching for candles; this is the most visual representation of power issues, but it’s only a small part of the problem.

3d printer problem sourcesSo if the printer is disposable and all we care about is occasional downtime from a thunderstorm or a car careening into a telephone pole, a big box UPS is probably fine. If the 3D printer is an investment or it produces critical prototypes or products, we have to dig deeper.

What is True Power Protection?

Power Protection keeps the power pumping when the power goes out AND protects the device from non-nominal power from within the facility. Even dedicated circuits with isolated grounds often share neutral wires with additional circuits; until 2011 the NEC allowed it and even still, most inspectors don’t know to look for it. From the NEC code book:
So if your machine is disposable or your installation site was built after 2011 AND you know for sure the electrician did not share neutral wires, you might be ok… unless your device has a connected ethernet port. Assuming the IT rack has a different ground location from the circuit feeding your printer, you probably have a ground loop. Ground loops cause communication issues and connectivity problems frequently; these symptoms are rarely traced to the power problem causing it.

True power protection is prepared to address all sources of electrical problems:

So, What Do I Need?

If you really want the best UPS for 3D printing, it needs to have all of these things:

1. Isolation Transformer

A low impedance isolation transformer creates a copper break between the incoming power and the printer. Damaging transients, harmonics and ground loops will never get through.

2. Battery Back-Up

To protect against power outages and voltage sags/dips, you need batteries in-line to keep the power flowing.

3. Sine-Wave Output

Don’t expect the SMPS to auto-magically rectify a cheap square waveform generated by a sub-par UPS. The fast rising and falling edges of the “modified side-wave” create noise that will be coupled to the DC busses. It is also a stress riser for capacitors and silicon components since there is a resulting current spike. In English: It is shortening the life of the your printer while also generating noise which can cause lock ups. A Sine-Wave is the same type of power that comes out of the wall. The UPS should be proving it too.

4. Noise Filter

Every UPS on the market lists “noise filter” as a feature. The reality is, unless the impedance is known, a noise filter cannot be attenuated to be effective. An isolation transformer creates predictable impedance so an effective noise filter can be implemented.

*Bonus*: Surge Protection

Many UPS systems advertise this as a primary benefit but most every consumer grade UPS will be destroyed with an inbound strike. The printer will be protected but the voltage was just shunted to the ground. If there are any other unprotected devices on the circuit, they are toast. An isolation transformer can absorb up to 6000V @ 500A non-destructively. This means the printer is protected, so is your UPS and everything else down circuit.

Standard UPS systems don’t do anything to impede surges below 300 watts.

So, What is the Best UPS for 3D Printers!?

Ultimately having the best UPS for 3D printing is not life or death (like it is in some cases). We’ve worked with some of the biggest 3D printing manufacturers in the world to answer exactly that question. The answer is a UPS that has all of the above and is sized to handle both the inrush and sustained load of the printer. We’ve developed 3-phase solutions with voltage step-downs that accommodate the 400V input required by some German-based manufacturers. We’ve private labeled solutions for OEMs to market the UPS as a single “Power Protection Solution”.  Whether you’re simple selling desktop 3D printers or large frame 3-phase 3D printers, we can help your team develop, field trial, market and sell a solution that will impress your customers. It’s what we do. Give us a shout and we’ll figure it out.

Power Conditioner vs Voltage Regulator


Power Conditioner vs Voltage Regulator: The Ultimate battle in Power Quality gear. To understand the difference we must take a look at some history and the reason each of these important power protection components evolved. Let’s take a deep dive:

Power Conditioner vs Voltage Regulator Introduction

Since the advent of electronic systems, electrical power related disturbances have had the ability to destroy components, disrupt system operation and interfere with productivity. Almost everyone has experienced the effects of power problems at one time or another, and it’s a common belief that system failure is due to voltage “sags” and “surges”. However, electronic technology is continuously evolving, and it is important to recognize that this evolution has changed the way systems respond to power disturbances. The advent of switch mode power supplies (SMPS) was specifically implemented to address these issues. The adoption of the SMPS replaced the linear power supply opening up modern computers to a fatal flaw.

The Evolution

When John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry invented the first digital computer in 1939 at  Iowa State University, they built a machine that relied on vacuum tubes for the fundamental logic circuitry. These were high voltage, low current devices that were powered by a basic linear power supply. From the ENIAC, EDVAC, and UNIVAC systems that followed to the more familiar systems of the mid-1980’s, little change took place in power supply design. By the late ‘80’s, however, engineers had begun using large numbers of integrated circuits which themselves were being built with increasing numbers of transistor junctions. The result was a “low voltage” computer, which used substantial amounts of current. Linear power supply technology of the time was inefficient. A power supply capable of meeting the current delivery requirements of the rapidly growing computer circuitry would be significantly larger than its predecessors. Designers were striving to make computers smaller and, larger power supplies were just not compatible with this goal. The result was the introduction of the SMPS. This design eliminated the 60 Hz. stepdown transformer and series regulator section in favor of a pulse width modulated, high frequency circuit capable of rectifying line voltages down to usable, well regulated dc power for the computer’s logic circuitry.

Fundamental Differences

This technological change is responsible for some fundamental differences in the way systems respond to power problems. The linear power supply rectified incoming line voltage and supplied power to the logic circuitry through a series regulator. The range of this regulator was limited, however and an input voltage that was too high or too low would quickly result in problems. Low input voltage would cause the supply output to “foldback” or drop below the operating tolerance of the logic circuit. Input voltage that was too high would activate the power supply’s “crowbar” circuit. In the process of protecting itself, the power supply output would again fall below the operating tolerance of the computer’s electronic circuitry. Because line voltage variations are frequent, sags and surges were commonly the culprit in early electronic system failures. Dedicated electrical circuits were the first line of defense against this condition, and if ineffective, a voltage regulator was normally specified.

Switch mode supplies are very different. The series regulator has been eliminated along with the input stepdown transformer. Switch mode power supplies consume current from the AC power supply for only portions of each power line cycle. Not only are switch mode supplies considerably smaller and more efficient, but they are largely immune to voltage sags and surges. An explanation is found in the way the system operates.

Duty Cycle Is Everything

Because the switch mode supply draws current for only a brief time period, much can occur to the line voltage during the time the switcher is “turned off” with little effect on its operation. If line voltage sags or surges during the time the supply is “turned on,” the supply compensates for the variation by adjusting its duty cycle or the time period over which it operates. With less peak current available, the supply compensates by drawing current for a longer period of time. The power supply’s voltage outputs still supply well regulated +5 and + 12 volts under full rated load.

Built In Voltage Regulation

The capabilities of switch mode power supplies with regard to voltage regulation problems are well documented. In fact, it is the inherent tolerance to such voltage variations that makes it possible to operate a modern system from a standby UPS in which the computer may operate completely without power for as much as 5 or 6 milliseconds while it is transferred to a battery powered inverter. Switch mode power supplies can be said to contain their own “built in” regulation capability. It is important to note that most voltage regulators can only adequately regulate down to 75% of nominal line voltage. Switch mode power supplies are naturally tolerant of voltages well below the regulation capabilities of most regulators.

Compatibility Issues Abound

The most popular types of regulators are tap switching autoformers and/or transformers and ferroresonant transformers. Regardless of the type, these regulators all accomplish their function by controlling the current flowing in an electrical circuit. This can have implications for the appropriate operation of switch mode supplies. Voltage regulators tend to be high impedance sources, which restrict the amount of current available to the supply at any given time. Under these circumstances, the switch mode supply can be “starved” for current and in the process cause significant voltage distortion on the output of the regulator. Significant noise generation may result, and there is conjecture in the industry about the stress placed on the supply by permanently altering its duty cycle. All these are compatibility issues of the first order. Voltage regulation is no longer necessary for switch mode technology. Eliminating the misapplication of voltage regulation technology will eliminate any concern for compatibility, too.

Appropriate Solutions

In the migration from linear supply to switcher, the input step down transformer was eliminated. In the process, the system’s natural immunity to common mode noise and high voltage impulses was totally lost. Today’s power protection solutions recognize that these immunities must be restored. An appropriate solution for modern systems incorporates a surge diverter, an isolation transformer, and a noise filter. These three elements work in concert with the natural voltage regulating ability of the switch mode supply to provide all the power protection elements necessary for modern systems.


Voltage regulators no longer provide any needed protection for modern computer systems. Their continued use is largely due to the industry’s failure in educating its customers about the power protection needs of modern systems. Solutions that include isolation transformers, surge diverters and noise filters are far more effective and do not introduce the compatibility issues that can create more power problems than are solved.

Neutral to Ground Voltage: What is it?

Most people believe that “power problems” start at the power company or within the transmission network. It’s true that brownouts do occur and cars occasionally careen off into a power pole; however, in the grand scheme of things, this is super rare. The most common power issue is caused by neutral to ground voltage and it’s coming from inside your facility. So what exactly is it? Where does it come from and how can we prevent it? Let’s get into the details.

Defining the Problem

Neutral to ground voltage is most often called Common Mode (CM) Voltage.  It’s measured between the neutral (white) conductor and safety ground (green or conduit) conductor of the electrical system. Common mode voltage can occur over a wide range of both frequencies and voltages. Neutral to ground events can cause some really serious disruption to the operation of microprocessor based equipment. In the old days, microprocessors used to be fed by large linear power supplies that did a fantastic job of eliminating Common Mode voltage. The tiny switch mode power supplies of today are great at regulating voltage but do very little to suppress Common Mode voltage. Microprocessors are constantly measuring logic voltages against the “zero voltage reference” of safety ground. Since all of a computer’s decisions are the result of discriminating one rapid changing voltage from another, ultra-clean and quiet electrical safety grounds are essential. The microprocessor expects to see very low (less than .5 volts) of neutral to ground voltage. When common mode voltages get out of this range you’ll see system lockups, communication errors, reduced operating throughput, unreliable test data, fragmented hard drives, and operational problems that cannot be explained or duplicated. Software developers and equipment manufacturers get fingers pointed at them, but the facility power is the source. Let’s look at from where in the facility these transients are coming.

Shared Neutral Conductors

Electrical Codes, let electricians “share” the neutral conductor… so they do. This practice allows a neutral conductor to serve three different circuits. On paper this look like the voltages would cancel out and everything would work in a state of total equilibrium. In real life, three-phase systems are not so tidy. Electricians may do their best to try and balance the currents in each leg, but it is nearly impossible to balance correctly.

Equipment like elevators, compressor and air handlers cycle in their operation while computers, lights, copy machines etc. are continuously turned on and off. These changing conditions create imbalances in the system. An electrical environment is very active and is guaranteed to make the balanced math fall apart.

So, what we get is neutral to ground voltage flow.

Load Balancing Difficulties

While changing load conditions make load balancing difficult, all the switch mode power consuming current in nonlinear “gulps’ from the power line makes it even worse. Even if an electrician managed to balance all three RMS phase currents, he will discover that current is still flowing in the neutral conductor.

This circumstance will occur in a modern facility even when good wiring practice and load balancing techniques have been observed.

Branch Circuit Length

Sue’s blood gas analyzer is on the opposite side of the building from the electrical panel. The 240V branch circuit feeding his device shares a neutral conductor with the refrigerator in the break room. Every time that DC compressor motor kicks on, a frenzy of transients are transmitted back to her Analyzer. The additional circuit impedance of the long branch circuit makes Sue’s issues even worse. Sue gets inconsistent results and blames the OEM. Three months later, the support staff is pulling their hair out trying to figure out the issue.

Induced/Conducted Voltages.

An induced disturbance happens through electromagnetic fields. That fancy inductive iPhone charger of yours is creating an electromagnetic field. Lightning, close physical proximity to motors or other devices with electrical windings can all cause issues. The common mode voltage disturbances that affect systems are produced by the systems themselves. “It’s coming from inside the house!”

Personal computers, copy machines, fax machines, laser printers, medical instrumentation, telephone switches, the point of sale systems etc. all are contributors to this effect of conducted neutral to ground voltages.

So what do we do about it?

Finding Solutions

Microprocessors are getting smaller, more sensititve and ubiquitous. Reduce the impact of common mode voltage is imperative. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use oversized conductors to lower impedance
  • Run individual neutral conductors to each circuit
  • Perfectly balance each circuit


  • Use an Isolation transformer at the point of use

The most effective tool for control of neutral to ground and common mode disturbances is an isolation transformer. These allow the bonding of neutral to ground on the transformer secondary. That just means there’s full isolation from the building’s electrical system. This creates predictable impedance (almost zero) it is impossible to cause the voltage drop associated with long branch circuits. Isolation transformers eliminate the problems associated with common mode voltage. Service calls are reduced, uptime is increased and users are happy.


This is why there’s an isolation transformer in most every device we carry.