New drives are a breeze

Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V.visit website


You don’t have to be fan of parachuting to experience why this skydiving simulator has fans of its own.

New drives are a breezeWhen iFLY, the operator of indoor skydiving tunnels worldwide, needed new drives to continue delivering its unique experience at the company’s facility in Milton Keynes, it chose a solution from Mitsubishi Electric. The upgrade, which, according to Mitsubishi was implemented in record time, avoided unplanned downtime and offered improved system control.

Every day, up to 300 people attend the indoor skydiving facility in Milton Keynes and there, people of all abilities can experience the thrill of wind speeds up to 165 mph: as strong as a Category 5 hurricane. The drives power an airstream inside 12ft (3.66m) diameter wind channel linked via four large fans, the speed of which is regulated by four inverters or variable speed drives (VSDs). The responsiveness and accuracy of the system is fundamental for instructors to achieve effective teaching conditions. They need to adjust the skydiving conditions with a high level of accuracy to meet specific requirements, for example the weight of the ‘flyer’ and their experience level: in addition, near-real-time response is crucial to ensure maximum safety for anyone in the wind chamber.

The reliability of the VSDs is also important so that iFLY to maximise the facility’s uptime. Sean Freeman, Milton Keynes Assistant General Manager at iFLY explains: “To accommodate our many visitors, we require a minimum of ten hours of flying time in a day, every day of the week. Therefore, any unplanned downtime affects us commercially, as well as making it harder to maintain our typically very high level of customer satisfaction”.

While iFLY’s centre in Milton Keynes has been running smoothly for many years, a timely upgrade of the drives was deemed essential when the existing system could no longer be guaranteed to ensure the same level of reliability. Sean Freeman continues: “The original inverters featured an old analogue control system which, after many years of operation, was becoming harder to maintain, leaving us exposed to the risk of unplanned downtime events”. The indoor skydiving business contacted its preferred system integrator Rion Designs to upgrade the system, and they in turn got in touch with Mitsubishi Electric to source the new VSDs. The team had already collaborated in the past to build a spare system using Mitsubishi Electric’s 355kW FR-F800 drives. This was used across the three indoor skydiving facilities in the UK when maintenance of the old equipment was required.

Robust and highly reliable

Phil Cutcliffe, Managing Director at Rion Designs, says: “We are used to working with Mitsubishi Electric’s range of automation products. They have proven to be robust and highly reliable for us. Also, the cost versus performance of their systems is very good. From a specification and commissioning perspective we appreciate the technical support and assistance offered by the company throughout any integration project.”

For the permanent replacement project at Milton Keynes, iFLY and Rion Designs again chose Mitsubishi Electric’s 355kW FR-F800 series drives. The FR-F800 is designed specifically to work with fans and pumps, providing advanced excitation control within the motor. This not only provides smooth ramp-up but also delivers fast response and high electrical efficiency too. During operation the auto-adjust routines then optimise energy efficiency. Wayne Turtill of Mitsubishi Electric explains: “Even with the original motors in place, these new drives will simultaneously reduce energy costs, improve system response times and look after the motors”.

The main installation requirement during the upgrade was ensuring minimal downtime for iFLY. Wayne explains: “To do so, the team agreed on replacing the inverters at night, when the facility is closed to the public. More precisely, every night one VSD would be removed and replaced with a new one, for a total of four days”. Other challenges included accessing the room where the inverters were located and storing the new products prior to their installation. Phil Cutcliffe adds: “There wasn’t much space to move around and position the equipment; so, we set up a rig to lift the legacy drives out and replace them with the new ones. The FR-F800s were considerably smaller than the existing VSDs, so they fitted perfectly into the room available.”

The new drives have addressed any system reliability concerns as well as offering iFLY a transition from analogue to digital control. Instructors now have precision control over airflow from a more responsive system. Sean Freeman concludes: “We are extremely satisfied with the work done by this collaboration of Mitsubishi Electric and Rion Designs. I’d go so far as to say that working with them was quite inspiring, thanks to their expertise and project management skills. The upgrade was conducted smoothly and without impacting the availability of our flying times. More importantly, we now have a highly reliable and efficient system that will contribute to delivering the unique, exciting free-falling experience for years to come.”

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26 June 2020

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