Electronics News

Are Your Electronics Protected Against Lightning Strikes?

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William K.
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Re: SOme bad info here...
William K.   8/27/2013 9:10:27 PM
What we often see is that the money that could be spent on a protective system is instead sent off to shareholders so that the upper managers get their bonuses for having higher profits. The reason being that money spent on safety and protection counts against profits. I had that explained to me in minurte detail after I suggested a $500 fix that would prevent the recurrence of a flood that took out a data center for Delphi a few years back. I can't give the managers name, but the office is in troy and he is one noted for his profanity. Everybody in that diesel building will be able to guess who I mean.

Cabe Atwell
User Rank
Re: SOme bad info here...
Cabe Atwell   8/27/2013 2:38:07 PM
I would think Google and Facebook could shell out enough money to create a massive Faraday cage for their data centers. Or some fort of shielding...


William K.
User Rank
Re: SOme bad info here...
William K.   8/22/2013 4:38:18 PM
kf2qd, you are correct. In other words, the lightnibng rods and all of those cables are to spread that current spike over minutes instead of microseconds. Bleeding off the charge is a good defense against direct strikes, but it only works over a limited area. The unfortunate thing is that damage from strikes far outside that protected area will still do damage if there is not adequate protection. So designing in the protection from the very beginning is very smart. One other thing is that some of the things that protect against lightning transients also reduce some kinds of noise susceptability. After all, lightning is basicly noise at least a thousand dB louder.

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New Concept, New Technology, New Solution
Swami-Z   8/22/2013 2:01:39 PM
Great posting, your points hit the mark.  Most people don't realize their power circuit is like a river through a town.  Many sources and events, both local and remote, are contributing some sort of power pollution, the transients from lightning being just one.

A new technology has been patented by Leveler LLC that treats energy surges in a revolutionary way.  Existing non-Leveler technology uses only two of the three power wires; either line to neutral, or line to ground to protect and filter circuits. The key to the Leveler technology is this patented circuit that balances inductance with Metal Oxide Varisters (MOVs) to provide clean sine waves, level power, power factor correction, harmonic attenuation, stable ground reference, and unmatched surge protection. 

In essence the inductors in the Leveler patented circuit maintain a proactive energized magnetic field that is sensitive to any incoming changes in resistance or impedance.  There is an immediate push-back as the magnetic field matches the approaching energy, whether a surge, spike, swell or flicker.  Other devices are passive and react to the spike or surge energy on arrival, and take microseconds to reach full effectiveness against an event that is moving at the speed of light. The leading edge of an energy surge or spike can subject a device to several hundred additional volts of energy, causing fatigue or failure to power supplies and internal circuits. This can be the cause of unexplained drop-outs, damaged or lost data, re-boots, battery damage, and a shorter equipment useful life.

All surge protectors or suppressors require certification to IEEE Catalog A, C62.41-1991.  This test introduces 6,000 volts and 500 amps into a test circuit to simulate the surge energy a lightening strike would generate in home or business wiring.  To pass this certification, a surge protector has to effectively block this massive surge, usually by having the MOVs divert the energy to ground.  MOVs react faster than circuit breakers, but not at the speed of light, so some surge energy does get past the MOVs before being diverted to ground and the circuit breaker is tripped.  Generally, the MOVs and any additional circuitry will not be able to tolerate repeated tests of this severity and need to be replaced. 

The revolutionary Leveler circuit passes this certification easily.  In a more demanding test conducted under UL guidance, the Leveler technology controlled 6,000 volts and 3,000 amps (not just 500 amps), over 1000 times in a 24-hour period.  The Leveler circuit absorbed over 1000 surges with no damage to the Leveler circuit or the device Leveler was protecting.  The balanced circuit's energized magnetic field proactively anticipates the surge, reduces the ramp of the surge energy, and because the inductors generally won't saturate, absorbs the energy like a sponge into the magnetic field. (In rare extreme energy events, the MOVs act as a back up)  This proactive energized magnetic field will not let any harmful energy sneak through to the protected device and also protects the internal MOVs from harmful surge or spike energy so the MOVs do not suffer from fatigue and failure that plague other surge protector technology. 

While all other technologies dump excess energy to ground (which causes other equipment problems), the Leveler magnetic fields hold this energy, re-conditions it, and return useful energy back to the power system without dumping this power pollution to ground.  This remarkable technology recycles this polluted energy back into usable power, saving energy and improving system efficiency.  

The Leveler technology is also bi-directional, meaning it filters and re-cycles excessive energy going into the protected device, but also the transients and harmonics returning from the protected device into the power system.

I believe this new technology will out-perform your three safety suggestions: varistors, ESD suppressors, and silicon based suppressors. Expect the Leveler technology to last over 10 years, regardless of the quantity or severity of the surge events.  Keep in mind the best surge protection is not having your device plugged into the power.  The next best may be the new Leveler balanced circuit approach.  

The Leveler technology is available in a new consumer product called Bantam. Since this technology is new to the industry, we would encourage critical review and evaluations to verify the validity of the break-through.  For more information, visit www.bantamcleanpower.com.

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Obsolete Equipment
Tool_maker   8/22/2013 10:48:54 AM
  I was particularly affected by a lightning strike because the software I used on a daily basis was obsolete and no longer available. I had customizesd it to suit my needs, but so much time had passed that I no longer remembered how I had done it. The various drivers no longer worked with the updated operating system and I was totally lost.

  Fortunately one of my very computer savy coworkers was able to find things on the internet to make things work again and I was able to be productive again, but I still have things I could not reaquire.

  Today I am plugged into UPS with surge protector and felt totally safe until I read this article.

  I know there is a real danger in not upgrading, but the newer versions did not offer anything I needed and the third party software supplier was no longer in existance. Now I just hope the whole thing holds together for another year or so until I am able to retire.

Ann R. Thryft
User Rank
Re: Typical
Ann R. Thryft   8/21/2013 7:41:45 PM
I agree, that's a scary statement. It's about as functional as not considering your fasteners and enclosures until the end of the design, and then realizing you have to start all over. Or not  budgeting enough for materials or packaging. All of these need to be considered from a systems viewpoint.

User Rank
lightning protection for line to remote terminals
feierbach   8/21/2013 3:13:03 PM
In a company I worked for years ago we had a spate of fried RS232 interface chips from a company we shipped a computer system to in the midwest where electrical storms are frequent. The induced voltages in the RS232 lines to the terminals from close by strikes were responsible. We 'solved' the problem by socketing the RS232 interface chips and calling them 'fuses.'

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surge/ligthning protection
Saandy   8/21/2013 10:30:45 AM
One of the more pernicious problems that crops up in this context is not so much whether or not surge protection included in the design: it is the underdesigned case' found in many pieces of equipment.

As a former user of SMPS units , we found to our chagrin that supposedly protected units were: they were so underdesigned that the protection components - when they failed- did more damage to the power supply than if they were left out.

if it were a case of knowing that there was no protection, we could have included it somewhere in the main enclosure. But, being misled, we had to retrofit the surge protection outside of the PSU -which had some crazy form factor- and got away by the skin of our teeth.

Needless to say, that manufacturer is no longer on our QPL lists.


User Rank
SOme bad info here...
kf2qd   8/21/2013 10:17:29 AM
The Article suggests that lightning rods are there to handle a lightning strike. That is the last thing you want a lightning rod system to do. The lightning rod is a pointed metal rod tied to ground. Its purpose is to release a charge off the point and basically neutralize the electric field in the area of the lightning rod. So what the lightning rod does is protect the area near it from lightning strikes. It has no effect on strikes a distance away and that might travel down the various electrical and communications wires running to a facility. And large, metal roofed buildings look just like a huge capacitor to the clouds passing overhead. Better to bleed off that charge than to have a lightning strike (and the related damage) neutralize the charge.

One way to reduce the problems to electyronic devices is to feed all communications signals to the facility over fiber. Phone systems and internet connections over fiber are totaly isolated from any lightning induced problems. The devices at the end of the fiber might be damaged, but nothing electrical can travel the fiber.

User Rank
Re: Education needed
araasch   8/21/2013 9:55:46 AM
Protecting critical equipment from damage from lighting is challenging, especially if the equipment has several metalic interconnects with other equipment or external signals.

As a former broadcast engineer responsible for multiple transmitter sites with large towers, lightning protection was essential for reliable operation.

Proper grounding goes a long way, but the careful analysis of how all external signals enter/exit a facility and how to isolate them from the local "ground" is also important for reliable operation.

When lighting strikes, the local ground may be elevated several thousand volts in respect to the potential nearby.  All telephone lines, DSL, cable TV feeds are going to be at a potential that will be different than the local ground, by how much depends on the effectiveness of the lightning protection systems that are employed.

When a device has multiple metallic connections to it, from a lightning protection standpoint each has to be viewed as a high voltage source with your goal to isolate your device from it.

For instance, lightning could strike the cable TV feed.  Is the protection block which is designed to shunt this surge to ground present? (Installers have been known to skip this important item) What is the condition and size of the conductor and ground rod the protection block is connected to?  Would the situation be better if you were to increase the inductance of the cable TV feed before the protection block? A DIY solution that is often suggested is to install a coil of RF cable prior to the protection block.  An important consideration for this is if the lightning strike is close, the energy the coil will dissipate may be enough to heat it sufficiently to start a fire.  Designing a solution that avoids this risk is probably better.

In a perfect world one would strive to protect the cable modem, as well as all equipment attached to it.  This may not be practical in all cases, so a defense in depth strategy is wise.  By using fiber optic meda converters the metalic path from the cable modem to the sensitive IT equipment can be broken.

Change management at such a site is also critical, as someone installing new equipment can make interconnections which expose equipment to lightning damage.

Tower sites are not the only places that are exposed to such issues.  A facitly I worked at had been expanded in the past with the expansion larger than the original facility.  The electrcal feed to the new facility was separate from the old facility.  A serial data circuit was required from a PC in the new facility to a device in the old facility.  The serial line drivers failed in several electrical storms, both in the PC and in the device it was connected to.  Installing a optical isolator in the serial data path prevented the problem from presenting itself again.

I have seen first hand what direct lightning strikes are capable of doing, protecting sensitive electronics from such damage may not be practical, or possible.  However, isolating them from nearby strikes can increase the reliability of installations and avoid costly repairs.


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