Interview with PULS President – Mr. Bernhard Erdl. |

Interview with PULS President – Mr. Bernhard Erdl.

 Interview with PULS President – Mr. Bernhard Erdl.

By Stephen Las Marias.

Powering Growth

PULS president Bernhard Erdl talks to CE Asia about the company’s latest product launches; the PIANO series and CPS10 DIN-Rail mount power supplies.

Established in 1980 by power supply expert Bernhard Erdl, PULS GmbH manufactures DIN-Rail switched-mode power supplies for the industrial automation industry.

From the start, PULS has been a technology driven company. It has always been the commitment of Erdl, who is the company’s president, to use technology for the benefit of their customers and users. The company never went into the PC/IT power supply category; since its founding, it has been focused solely on industrial applications—giving it a very solid background to understand the need for industrial power supplies.

Initially, the company manufactures different kinds of power supplies—panel-mount power supplies, 19in plug-in power supplies, and even custom-made power supplies. But in 1997, Erdl became convinced that the concept of a DIN-rail power supply will be the future in industrial applications.

Since then, PULS stopped all its other activities and focused only on DIN-rail power supplies. While this was a very risky move at the time—the company has competitors that are very good power supply companies—it has been a unique move in the power supply industry as well as only PULS has the dedication and focus on DIN-rail mount power supplies.

And this proved right. Over the past three decades, PULS’s growth rate figures and profit figures have been better than the average in the industry.

PULS has always been committed to quality. Since its start, the company did a burn-in of every product in its range. Now, it is a common practice—everybody in the industry does a burn-in of power supplies. But PULS pioneered it.

The company was also the first in the whole of Europe to introduce automated testing for power supplies. Until that time, there were technicians in manufacturing who tested the power supplies manually. PULS has been the first one to automate it to achieve better quality. These are just examples of PULS’s DNA when it comes to its commitment to quality.

Such company philosophy is also included in the new product that the company has launched recently in Asia—the PIANO series of DIN-Rail power supplies, and the CPS10 products.

PULS president Bernhard Erdl recently discussed with Control Engineering Asia these new product launches for the Asian market, as well as gave his insight on some of the challenges, opportunities, and technology developments in the switched-mode power supply industry.

What inspired you to establish the company?
I was in the power supply industry since 1972. At that time, we did linear power supplies. It was always a struggle to fight the heat. I tried many things to overcome the limitations that are inherent in the linear principle of power supplies. To overcome those challenges, I introduced the first switch-mode power supply. Before I started PULS, I developed the first switch-mode power supply in 1978. From there, I saw a challenge because it is a much more complicated technology; but I also saw the advantages in terms of increasing the efficiency; reducing size and weight; and finally the cost of power supplies. This convinced me to start a new company based on this, and focus only on this technology. This is also the reason why the company is called PULS: PULS comes from “impulse”, the electrical impulse. It’s like the digital world versus the analog world in the linear power supply.

Given the number of competitors out there, I think the power supply industry is highly commoditized. How does PULS stay ahead of the competition?
You said the right word: commoditized. Our answer is in differentiation. I always make sure that PULS is differentiated; and this not only refers to the product, but also to our approach to customers, to our service level, to our application support. For instance, a very simple thing: our data sheets. Our data sheets are 26 pages long, compared to other products that have only two-page datasheets. We give a lot of information to our customers, and this is much appreciated. For instance, we have a customer, an automotive manufacturer in Germany, who stopped buying power supplies from all other power supply companies unless they give them the same detailed specifications. So, it’s differentiation on many levels.

And I am also very keen to not make a “me-too” product. Sometimes we need the same product, but we prefer to think what the market requirement is, and how we can do a better solution for our end users.

One example is our DC-UPS. Typically, for a 24V UPS, everybody uses two 12V batteries in series because that’s easy, that way you get 24V. The problem is that these two batteries need to be matched. Of course, you can get the matched set of batteries initially from the main supplier; but you have to service the battery as they have a limited lifetime of only three years. Then you need a replacement battery. By then, it is difficult to buy from the original manufacturer the same set of matched batteries.

So we did a different approach. We just used one 12V battery—so the matching is not needed anymore—and we electronically boosted the voltage from 12V to 24V. This way, our users can buy any battery anywhere in the world, and it will do just fine.

Please describe the PIANO Series. What are its key differentiators and features?
The biggest challenge was to make a very cost-competitive product, and still keep the basic features of a PULS product in place—reliability, service life, and efficiency. We struggled a lot to achieve this, because initially it is a conflict: either you have high performance, but you’ll have a more-expensive product.

The challenge for our engineers—and it took us more than three years to develop these products despite the fact that they look very simple—was to make it simple. And it’s very difficult to make something simple and still have the performance. The result was really amazing, and when we did some comparison test of the new PIANO products, we compared the MTBF figures for reliability to our competitors; we are seeing three to five times better reliability and higher MTBF figures.

Regarding efficiency—my requirement is that all products in the PIANO line will have at least more than 90% efficiency. We achieved that. Depending on the product, we have a product in the PIANO line that has 94.5% efficiency figure, which is really amazing because this is the same figure you get from a high-end product in the market. Considering that we have achieved that in a very cost-driven product is really amazing.

We just talked to one of our major customers, and they said every centimeter of the DIN rail costs them a certain number of dollars. So, by having a power supply that is 1in smaller, they save a lot of money. So the small size is also a highlight for the PIANO series. When you look at a 10A power supply, it has a width of only 49mm. Until now, almost every power supply, even the high-end products, has a width of 60mm. We have reduced it from 60mm to 49mm.

The third thing is the ease of use. We had a debate on whether to provide a detailed data sheet for a more cost-driven product. But in the end, the PIANO product is a PULS product; therefore we will give our customers and users the same detailed data sheets. And this is the ease of use, because the data sheets also educate our users on how to use the product, and how to avoid mistakes.

Another highlight of PIANO is the visual appearance. We spend a lot of effort to make the product look nice—and it has a benefit. If our customers use the PIANO product or a nice-looking component in his final equipment, it gives a good impression to his customers, that he is using high-grade components. This is communicated by the products’ aesthetics. We employed industrial designers, who spent a lot of time on this plastic housing, where you can see the stylish design for heat dissipation. The structure not only looks nice, but also gives you better stability with the less usage of materials.

Which markets, do you think, will have a strong acceptance for this particular product from PULS?
We’ve had big design wins in South Korea and Singapore, but we also sold a lot to China and Malaysia already. Even Vietnam, surprisingly, where they are building a very modern cement factory. So we sold into such interesting project. In more developed nations such as South Korea and Japan, and even in the Philippines, we got very encouraging feedback on this product.

I understand that you are releasing three models of PIANO products now. Do you have any other models in the pipeline?
The first three models are aimed for the Asian market, and the markets that do not need the 120V power mains of the United States. By limiting the voltage range to 200-240V, this enabled us to reduce cost; and this is a good example of how we analyzed our customer needs. We may have customers who never export their products to the United States, so why should they pay for a feature that they will never use? So this is the first wave of products, but additionally, we will introduce two more products in the same power range, which can manage the global input voltage ranges.

What about your latest CPS10 product?
We work on both ends of our product spectrum. PIANO is a solution for the mid-market, but of course, we also drive the technology further for the high-end applications. Therefore, we have released a record-breaking new product in the 24V, 10A power range—the mainstream power range. As we have many competitors, we need to show that we are one generation ahead of the market. With CPS10, it is the first time that a power product in this level has achieved 95% efficiency; it is really a breakthrough. Our internal target is more than 94%, but during the engineering phase, we found so many details to optimize that we really can achieve 95%.

What is also nice, and this is also a trend that is coming, is that customers are not only looking at the efficiency at full load—typically, a power supply is operated at only maybe 70% of full load. In the beginning, it was a contradiction. You can either have a power supply that has good full load efficiency, but then you have to compromise on the partial load efficiency—sometimes in no-load conditions, losses can be pretty high. So this is also a major development—to get a flat efficiency curve so that in a typical operating point, the user also can benefit from a very good efficiency.

Next is the size reduction. The standard until now even for high-end products is 60mm. We have reduced that by 35% to 39mm. This was achieved by having high efficiency and a very sophisticated thermal management. And we have done this, to that extent, first with the CPS20, a 20A product launched two years ago. Now we have its smaller sibling, the 10A product.

I am very proud of this product, because I think this will last for the next 10 years. In industrial applications, the product cycles are much longer than in the IT industry. So our customers appreciate that they get the same product from us for 10 or 15 years. They don’t need to change their system once it is approved. We do not introduce new products every two to three years. We introduce new generation of products every seven years, but that means we need to make significant steps from one generation to the next, and that it will be a very interesting product for a very long time to come. We have achieved that with this product.

What technology innovations should we expect in the switching power supply industry in the next few years?
The core characteristics such as efficiencies and sizes will continue to be improved. We also see a trend for DIN-rail power supplies to also be used in more demanding applications, like in a ship, next to a very hot vibrating diesel engine; in offshore wind farms; on railways, and in industrial control cabinets.

So we are hardening our products. In the past, we have special versions for this, which of course, cost more; but based on this experience, we design our new products in such a way that they fulfill these stringent requirements.

Article was initially published in the November/December issue of Control Engineering Asia magazine,

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