A solution exists for onboard electronics suffering with power issues
By Keith Reid
Electronics and electricity can be a fickle, but obviously unavoidable combination. That has been true since the analog days, when at least back to the 1980s [when the author served] the common procedure for the startup of a military vehicle basically involved making sure the radios were turned off. Startup could create electrical irregularities such as power spikes, that could damage such equipment.
Those issues only became amplified, pun intended, with the digital age. Surge protectors became the baseline norm for home computer use, and uninterrupted power supplies that both massaged current issues and provided some backup power in case of power failure (usually to facilitate a safe shutdown) became the norm for business computing.
So, it was interesting to find a company that basically developed a solution that addressed the needs of onboard computing in work vehicles, such as those used in the deliverable fuels industry. While the problem is not universal, it does occur in this industry and others.
“I think the easiest way to explain what the product does is we basically will keep voltage at 13.25 V consistently during engine starts, which could drop voltage in the batteries excessively or have spikes depending on what’s going on with the engine. By doing that we maintain the power distribution to sensitive electronics,” said Colin Chambless, vice president sales and marketing at Kussamaul Electronics. The product referenced is the company’s MDP-25.
The company’s origins have been in the emergency vehicle market, but it is branching off into other industries where similar problems exist. Chambless noted the product was actually developed for the New York Fire Department that was having issues with their Motorola MD 800 and 810 terminals. The deliverable fuels industry is considered to a core market for this unit and for other products offered by the company.
“If you look at the computer in your office, you probably have a battery backup that is charging all a time with an internal battery,” Chambless said. “If the power goes off to the plug that powers your computer, the battery backup will keep it running and that is almost identical to this system except instead of being in a stationary AC environment it is applied in a mobile DC environment. It also acts as a surge protector for voltage spikes.”
One company in the industry that has adopted the technology is Milwaukee Wisc.-based Jacobus Energy. The company provides mobile fueling (using truck virtually identical to those used in home heating oil deliver) and delivers heating oil as well. It was having some issues with its onboard electronics rebooting every time the truck was started. That was acceptable in the morning, but during the day that added an extra 20 minutes or so to getting on the road after an engine shut down.
“Each time the truck and started so much power would be drawn that all of our mobile electronics would reset themselves,” said Ken Houston, Jacobus’ national fleet specialist. “So we were looking for something that cleans up the power and replaces the power draw from the starter. We ended up talking with the Kussamaul folk and we worked through the settings for when the MDP would take over versus when it wouldn’t take over, and programmed those settings to fit our needs.”
While aggravating, having these issues can be hot or miss based upon the truck and technology mix. “These issues are really related more to the truck than the onboard electronics specifically, though the impact will vary among those systems,” Chambless said. According to his research, that is linked to some engine designs where an intake heater is used to warm the air coming into the engine. “Everybody understands what you start it in engine you’re going to get voltage drop, but this is happens to be excessive voltage drop,” he said.
Jacobus also found another, unofficial capability that proved useful.
“We like our electronics to be on 24 hours. When you are parked for a long period of time because your driver is sick or it’s the weekend, the MDP will take over and prevent the truck battery from being killed,” Houston said. “The electronics will run off the truck battery to a certain point that is programmed into the MDP, and then the MDP will take over keeping the electronics activated. We never have dead truck batteries now, which was a major selling point for us.”
Chambless noted that the 24-hour capability was not an original design consideration, and it’s not something the company advertises, but so far that feature seems to be working out well for Jacobus.
According to Houston the equipment install has been a simple process, basically involving a training seminar with the company’s technicians and then 25 to 30 minutes per truck to install the unit. “It was a very quick process for us,” he said.
The ballpark cost per truck is listed at $639.