Powering a Homecoming in 90 Days: Part 1

The weather was clear and the seas were calm when the orders arrived instructing the captain to come about and plot a course home to Norfolk Virginia – some one hundred days away.  It was a call to all hands that it was time to begin the preparations allowing the ship to return to its home port.  This included getting all of those systems checked and working that were turned off some nine months earlier when it put out to sea.

One of about a dozen key environmental in-port systems that allows the ship to function when in port was found to have a faulty power supply.  No big deal at first, until it was realized there were no spares.  A quick check using a global-linked inventory system tied to the command that manages those active ships at sea resulted in this discovery – the power supply was no longer available.  Our valiant crew’s homecoming could be delayed by a challenge that has plagued the modern navy since it began.  It is called obsolescence.  At this point those in command of keeping big ships such as this one afloat, including an admiral or two, became involved.

It goes without saying that the Navy has plenty of experience with this sort of problem.  They use a broad global network of suppliers for their components.  Unfortunately, even specialist maritime suppliers were unable to find an off-the-shelf replacement for something that was made some ten years earlier.  The Navy needed a custom power solution.  And that is when the phone rang at Vicor Custom Power.

The call was brief.  In 90 days they would need a solution.  Would Vicor step up to the challenge?  Of course!  Now all we would need were the specifications.  But here is where the story gets interesting: other than the wiring diagram with voltage and current measurements that the ship’s electricians used to connect the units to the power distribution bus, there were no details to be had.  There would be no more data forthcoming as the original supplier of the power supply along with the vast engineering archives of the Navy had no record of it by itself, only as part of the system.  As hard as this was to believe we said we’ll take whatever you have.  It would have to be enough.

Handwritten notes and diagrams were copied, scanned and transmitted.  The unit that failed was flown off the ship to a shore post.  From there it was flown to Norfolk, where it was transferred to yet another flight heading for Vicor Custom Power, and then hand carried to us, arriving some 48 hours after leaving the ship.  This had given the Vicor team some 24 hours to organize, review the materials, develop an electrical architecture and await the unit.  Unknown was the physical size, mounting, cooling and most importantly, the reason for failure.

Find out how we approached the challenge and developed a custom replacement in the second post in this series.

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