Raycap News

The Creation Of A Better Surge Protection Device

The Creation Of A Better Surge Protection Device

To understand the evolution over time of surge protection technology, lightning protection and surge protective devices, we must first understand the history from which they were derived.  The earliest forms of lightning protection were not necessarily concerned with electrical surges, and were more concerned with lightning strikes themselves and the damage that is caused at the strike point.  Previous to the harnessing of electricity in order to power devices, the dangers of lightning strikes came in the form of explosions and fires if lightning was to strike a home or building.  As structures grew in height, they became more natural attractants for lightning strikes, as lightning will generally take the path of least resistance to the ground.  This means that it will strike at the top portions of any structure that is both connected to the ground and closest to the origination point.  Lightning is attempting to go to earth and is thus attracted to connecting with the points that are higher in the sky than all surrounding points.  In modern times we think of huge towers and skyscrapers, but we must realize that the issue will remain consistent no matter how tall or short the buildings or structures of an area are.  Even if all of the structures within an area are only a few feet high, lightning will be attracted to the tallest of them.  Even in times before electricity powered our homes, lightning striking a dwelling posed a serious threat, and as a result the “lightning rod” was developed as the first type of device designed to prevent damage as a result of a strike.  The lightning rod simply became the highest point and was made from materials known to attract lightning. It was positioned in such a way that drew the strike away from structures to avoid having damage occur to the structure.  The lightning rod later became a useful tool for telegraph lines and electrical grids, once they evolved.  The telegraph system was the first to develop what was more of a surge protective device in the mid-1800s, when the term “arrestor” was applied to simple gaps in telegraph lines.  The gap could be operated remotely by a telegraph worker in order to protect telegraph lines during predictable weather that could produce lightning.  Because the surge produced by the lightning strike could travel along telegraph lines, operators realized the need for a method of stopping the flow, and the first crude “arrestors” were born from this need.  The idea was to simply interrupt the flow along a path, then potentially allow the surge to die at that point or to divert it elsewhere.  Interestingly enough, this idea still remains at the core of all surge protection technology.

After the development of methods to harness electricity and allow it to be transported along power lines progressed, engineers realized that new and better devices would be necessary in order to protect the evolving electrical grids.  As higher power equipment was developed, the needs for better protection came along with it.  The earliest evolution of the simple gap systems were the electrolytic arrestor which was introduced in the early 20th century.  This remained the core technology over the next twenty years until the introduction of the Silicon Carbide (SiC) technologies in 1926.  The original SiC devices still used simple gap technology, and while improvements were made to the devices using better components, the technology remained virtually unchanged until 1976, when the first high voltage Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) surge arrestor brought about a dramatic shirt to the surge protection industry.  MOV technology allowed for dramatic increases in protective capabilities, and because of these technological improvements became a near instant industry standard.  MOV technology has been the primary basis for improvements to surge protective devices ever since.

Over the course of the past thirty years, there have been dramatic increases in the need for even further improvements to surge protective devices, primarily due to the increased costs associated with electronics equipment.  Industrial applications have become more computer-heavy, and in today’s installations we will find computers and other processors  involved in nearly every aspect of every process.  Spanning nearly every industry, you will find computers being utilized somewhere in the chain, either driving data collection and transfer activities, or being used to control less technologically advanced equipment in the field.  The integration of computers has added vast levels of improved service to almost every industry, but along with these improvements comes greater cost and risk.  A perfect example of this can be found in the telecommunications industry, where the evolution of the telegraph lines that were protected by simple gaps have been replaced by equipment in the field representing millions of dollar in potential losses if damaged by the exact same type of lightning strike that threatened the most basic lines of the past.  Your cell phone today is your primary means of communication and connectivity to the rest of the world, and the increased demands for faster networks, higher capacities of data transfer, more remote connectivity and clearer signals places demands on the equipment that could only have been dreamt of during the times of the telegraph.  In your hand you hold a device that puts forth and receives signals from cellular towers strategically placed in order to create a coverage map that leaves few gaps.  The nearest tower to you transmitting the signals received by your phone has several key components that are constantly in danger of damage from lightning strikes and electrical surges. The towers themselves are often tallest structures in the area so as to provide unobstructed signals to cell phones. This also increases the chances that that tower will be the strike point for lightning.  At the top of that tower are remote radio heads (RRH) which will be tasked with receiving and transmitting signals to your device.  At the bottom is the base band unit (BBU) which is tasked with transmitting the signals to the network and providing a connection from you to others using the exact same process everywhere.  This process of connectivity also involves a large amount of computerized and circuit driven data collection and control equipment that is also at risk of being damaged if surging electricity is allowed to come in contact with it.  These components are chained together through power lines and data transfer lines, thus creating a perfect pathway for an electrical surge to travel.  A strike to the top of the tower does physical damage to the strike point, and then the surge proceeds to damage all components that it comes into contact with in the flow path.  If left unprotected, damage will continue until a dead end is reached or the surge itself weakens to the point of being manageable, which could literally be miles from the strike point.  The only method of protecting the components involved in these processes is through the integration of the most advanced surge protection equipment available, and this equipment must be on par with the technological levels of the components they are protecting.  Gone are the days of the simple gap.

Raycap introduced one of the most exciting advancements to the surge protection device market with the rollout of its Strikesorb technology.  While the ongoing improvements to the materials that make up the devices are also important due to device failure representing the potential loss of millions of dollars, the advancement that made the biggest difference was the “maintenance free” characteristic of Strikesoreb.  Most surge protective devices still use a variation of the mechanical gapping system, where they are tripped to a gap status when a surge is detected.  The problem is that these devices are generally destroyed during the protection process, or will need to be reset in some way in order to restore not only system functionality but their own functionality as well.  A tripped device is no longer functioning to protect from subsequent surges, and must be replaced or reset in order to once again provide the necessary levels of protection.  Raycap Strikesorb devices are always in a state of functionality, even after they have prevented a surge.  This allows systems to return to a protected and functional state immediately after the surge has been reduced to a manageable level of electrical flow, reducing the need for maintenance work in order to restore total system functionality.  Within the cellular industry, connectivity is key, and if customers are not able to connect they will become very dissatisfied very quickly.  By enabling systems to be more quickly restored, Raycap devices have greatly improved the ability for the cellular system to provide its connectivity to customers.  This same situation is found in countless other industries as well.

The evolution of surge protective devices has been one based on the use of a simple idea of how protection can be achieved, and evolving the methods to create new technological advances to that protection over time.  The ever-increasing need for surge protection of industrial and residential applications has increased the stakes every year, and with higher stakes comes more innovation and technological improvement.  The surge protection industry is one that has been called upon for many years to do a simple job, and will continue to be called upon to do that same job in greater degrees.  Raycap will lead the way with improved systems and technologies to support its customers’ business.