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.



Predictive Analytics Could Have Prevented Disaster – Heartbreak

predictive analytics artificial intelligence

On the weekend of March 3rd 2017 a cryogenic storage freezer failed. 2,100 embryos and eggs were destroyed and hundreds of families were left devastated. It took only a few hours for the finger pointing and allegations to begin. The Ohio fertility clinic blamed the equipment manufacturer; the OEM blamed the hospital. The families, who trusted their potential progeny to be stored, had little recourse but to file lawsuits. What could predictive analytics via artificial intelligence have done to prevent this? Let’s dig in to the details.


What happened?

After a lengthy investigation it was determined that the storage tank was having trouble for weeks. An alarm system had been turned off failing to indicate that the tank’s temperature began to rise. The tank was also undergoing preventive maintenance at the time because of a problem with a system that automatically fills the liquid nitrogen, which keeps the embryos frozen. The manufacturer of the tank, Custom Biogenic Systems, said it didn’t have anything to do with the remote alarm system being turned off. It said the tank functioned properly by indicating a high-temperature condition and activating a local alarm. For potentially weeks, that alarm was alerting staff locally that temperatures were rising out of spec. The staff eventually became annoyed and disabled the alarm. University Hospitals said it doesn’t know who shut off the remote alarm, which should have alerted staff again to changes in the storage tank’s temperature on the weekend of March 3 when no one was at the lab. Because that was turned off and no redundant alert system was in place, 2,100 embryos and eggs were lost.

Multiple Failure Points

  1. Preventative Maintenance

    It’s fairly clear that the tank’s trouble began with a failure to carry out standard, necessary preventative maintenance. After 5-7 years of service life, the Custom Biogenic Systems tank was known to experience ice build up on the solenoid valves that automatically refill the nitrogen. A defrost cycle was necessary to prevent the valve from sticking. The defrost was not performed and the University Hospital staff was filling the tank manually.

  2. Local Alarm Only

    When the tank temperature rose to an alert status, the understaffed hospital clinic was closed for the weekend AND a potentially non-clinical staff member silenced the alarm. Critical alarms with no centralized reporting can (and did) result in catastrophic failures.

  3. No Reporting to the OEM

    Though Custom Biogenic Systems was not named in the lawsuit and appears to not be culpable, there was likely significant damage to their reputation in the market. The UK issued a warning after similar incidents had come to light. Googling the trade name results in pages of headlines about their relation to the destroyed embryos. There is little indication, however, that the University Hospital system is the one being held accountable unless one clicks through and reads the entire article.


What could have happened?

If the OEM had central monitoring of its deployed assets that indicated whether preventative maintenance procedures (like the defrost) had occurred, it could have alerted the hospital that best practices were not being followed. Furthermore, if the OEM had been able to monitor the individual components of its assets, they could have known a failure was imminent. A stuck valve has a very pronounced electrical signal and can fairly easily be identified as non-nominal behavior.


Predictive Analytics via Artificial Intelligence is the Answer

Sigsense allows equipment manufacturers to unobtrusively monitor deployed assets at the component level. An artificial intelligence algorithm constantly monitors the behavior of the device and compares it to non-nominal behavior. If maintenance procedures are not completed or motors or valves deviate from normal alerts are generated. The problems are then addressed before thousands of headlines are published. It’s true preventative maintenance and in this case, a really great reputation management tool.

Sigsense allows OEMs to understand why components fail before they do. By implementing remote monitoring capabilities OEMs can reduce service calls, downtime and reactive maintenance costs. In high-stakes applications like this, Sigsense could have enabled this manufacturer to protect its customers from a devastating disaster.


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.


3 types of UPS Systems and How to Not Pick The Wrong One


There are three main types of UPS systems and each is intended to keep a device, instrument or computer protected from blackouts, brownouts and catastrophic events. Ultimately the job or any type if UPS is to protect your gear from one of the potential power issues out there. A full power quality solution requires a more than just a battery backup.

1. Standby UPS

A Standby or “Offline” UPS system’s load is powered directly by the input power. When the voltage becomes too high or too low, the UPS automatically switches to battery backup mode.

There is a transfer time that occurs to go between normal power and battery power. The switchover can take as long as 25 milliseconds (ms) depending on how long it takes the standby UPS to detect the lost utility voltage. The UPS is designed to power certain non-critical equipment like personal computers.


2. Line Interactive UPS

A Line Interactive UPS is similar to a Standby UPS but with the addition of a multi-tap variable voltage autotransformer that provides built-in voltage regulation – commonly called a buck/boost capability. The special type of transformer can add or subtract powered coils of wire, thereby increasing or decreasing the magnetic field and the output voltage of the transformer. Got that?

This type of UPS is able to tolerate continuous under voltage brownouts and overvoltage surges without using the batteries, which helps to preserve battery life. When the voltage is too high or too low for the buck/boost capability, the UPS will automatically transfer to battery power. There is a transfer time that occurs between normal power and battery power, however, unlike a standby UPS, the transfer time is very quick and should occur in less than 5 ms. This type of UPS is great for devices/equipment fed by a switch mode power supply (SMPS). The SMPS can easily tolerate the switchover.


3. Online UPS

An Online UPS provides a constant source of electrical power from the battery, while the batteries are being recharged from the incoming AC power. It uses a “double conversion” method of accepting AC input, rectifying to DC for passing through the rechargeable battery (or battery strings), then inverting back to the necessary AC voltage for powering the protected equipment.

With Online UPS systems, the batteries are always connected to the inverter so there is zero transfer time when an outage occurs. When power loss occurs, the rectifier simply drops out of the circuit and the batteries keep the power steady and unchanged. When power is restored, the rectifier resumes carrying most of the load and begins recharging the batteries.

Most UPSs below 1kVA are Line Interactive or Standby. An online UPS is for mission critical applications. Clinical, analytical, laboratory and uptime guaranteed IT hardware must be protected with a power conditioned UPS.


Picking the right one

Many consumer applications will tolerate an off-the-shelf big-box store UPS just fine. There can be compatibility issues with newer switch mode power supplies and the cheapest square-wave bypass UPS systems.