Power supply market sees a surge of improvements, adaptability

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

As the surveillance and access control markets go through technology advances at warp speed, so has the need for the supporting element of these products—power supplies—to keep up with this pace.

For example, there is now a movement toward intelligent power supplies and UL-ratings specific for access control, burglar or surveillance power supplies. And, as the security and life safety systems grow, power supplies have improved in accordance.

“There have been a lot of changes made to power supplies lately to meet building codes, fire codes and life safety codes,” said Scott Kittell, technical manager for RCI.

One trend Kittell noticed surrounds regulatory listings on power supplies. Instead of a general purpose listing, showing the product is safe for use, more and more power supplies come with a specific Underwriters Laboratories stamp of approval specific. For example, the power supply may be listed for access control or surveillance applications, or both.

“If the government is tendering a job, they would want to know that the power supply has been tested and certified as a device for the thousands of cameras that it’s using,” said Kittell.

Though increasingly important, since today’s more sophisticated security systems require power supplies proven for their use, having a power supply UL-tested specific to an application comes with a price, said Richard Geringer, vice president of marketing of SDC. The cost for such tests recently doubled, he said, an expense that is then passed on in the price of the product.

“People seem to have a difficult time spending the money on the properly designed power supply for that application,” said Geringer, who has seen integrators and installers try to save money on power supplies.

“It’s a hard sell when you have a properly designed, or listed, supply that may save them money at the end of a situation,” he later added.

The industry is also beginning to see the introduction of intelligent power supplies, according to Gene Pecora, general manager of Honeywell Power Products. A power supply can now report to the control panel if the power line shorted out, or provide a status report on the power level of a security system’s backup battery.

“The intelligence is still in its infancy,” said Pecora, who credits the advent of intelligent power supplies on the increasingly popular intelligent video market. Pecora estimated there are only a few products on the market with this capability today, but that could grow in the coming years.

Another trend that is expected to catch on are more efficient and environmentally friendly power supplies. “There’s a lot of wasted power,” said Jerry Baker, vice president of engineering at Electronic Security Devices. “For instance, in a security system not swiping cards, the amount of wasted energy for it to idle in an older power supply can be 10 watts of power.”

Today, there are power supplies on the market that only consume a few millawatts of power when idling, according to Baker.

Pecora concurred with the energy saving trend, also noting the same movement from linear power supplies to switching power supplies. The benefit is that the power supply gets smaller, lighter and produces less heat.

The state of California has begun to support the use of linear power supplies, more specifically targeting cell phone and PDA chargers. It recently proposed legislation to ban linear power supplies within the next few years.

Since “wall space is at a premium” with security installations, Pecora expects this trend of small, environmental power supplies to catch on.

But while there have been numerous changes with power supplies over a short period of time, several trends that hit the market a few years ago are still gaining popular within this market.

Gavin Sinclair, vice president of sales and marketing at Stealth Laboratories, continues to see an increase in the request for rack-mounted power supplies. Instead of simply hanging the power supply, the unit comes configured in a rack format, similar to what you may see in a room filled with servers for a computer network.

“People are looking for at neater installations,” said Sinclair.

Pecora concurred with this trend, noting an uptick in demand for rack-mounted power supplies within the last 12 to 24 months. Not only can it help make an installation neater, it can also save time.

“Big-box retailers like the idea of getting into the story very quickly,” said Pecora. “They want to rack them up off site and delivered in a semi-completed fashion.”