ABB equipment protects critical work at Europe's largest biomedical research institute

ABB equipment protects critical work at Europe's largest biomedical research institute

Scientists at Europe’s largest biomedical research facility, the Sir Francis Crick Institute, protect sensitive laboratory equipment with ABB technology. Events on the grid, such as adverse weather or switching on large loads, can lead to common voltage fluctuations or “sags” in the network. These have little to no effect on normal electrical equipment but can seriously affect sensitive electronics and data collection processes.

These power quality issues were a big challenge for the Sir Francis Crick Institute, the largest biomedical laboratory in Europe. The 1,250 scientists at “the Crick” perform cutting-edge research into cancer, neuroscience, physiology, ageing and homeostasis – finding new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent human disease. The laboratory was opened in 2016 to provide the best working environment for its researchers. That means that all scientific equipment – from advanced microscopes and high-performance computers to fridges for storing samples – must consistently function at peak performance, day and night, all year round.

However, power disturbances were causing significant disruption. Scientists feared that equipment would drop out of service at a critical time, potentially losing data or delaying research programs.

“Being able to provide our research teams with the highest quality environment means they can have the confidence to proceed with their vital research. So, we started to log both the equipment failures and the electrical supply anomalies and were soon able to determine that problems occurred with a sag incident,” said Lee Downes, Senior Project Manager for the Facilities & Infrastructure Team at the Crick.

At the start of 2023, the Institute’s facilities team called on Sentridge Controls, a UK automation and control specialist and long-term ABB partner, to investigate and put forward a solution. It analysed the equipment failures and the electrical supply anomalies and quickly identified that problems were occurring due to voltage sags. Despite the local grid meeting the UK’s high standards for power quality, the sensitive nature of the scientific equipment required additional support.

Its solution included eight ABB PCS100 AVC-40 Active Voltage Conditioners (AVC) rated at 225 kVA along with low voltage bypass switchboards. The AVCs regulate the incoming electricity supply to keep voltage within a very tight quality window. Voltage sags and flicker are now counteracted within milliseconds so that sensitive equipment now functions normally, and the Institute’s valuable research is not affected.

Their system draws the extra energy needed to make up the correction voltage directly from the utility supply, eliminating the need for expensive batteries and the maintenance costs they come with. It includes advanced control software, a reliable converter platform, and works at more than 98 percent efficiency. 

“Thanks to the AVCs, even in extreme conditions, a voltage sag up to 40 percent would be corrected automatically – avoiding costly downtime and loss of valuable data or research,” said Phil Tomkinson, General Manager at Sentridge Controls. 

Large research centres typically have standby generators and uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), utilising large battery systems to ride through power quality issues and outages. The UPS battery systems require regular maintenance and testing and take up valuable space. 

Stuart Dealing, ABB’s Product Marketing Manager for UK Power Protection, said: “The Sir Francis Crick Institute is one of the world’s foremost biomedical research facilities. The fact that they have adopted ABB technology shows the level of performance and reliability that we’re known for.” 

More information on ABB’s active voltage conditioners for facilities.

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