Severe Weather and Surge Protectors

This year has been a particularly active one for severe storms, especially in the southern and southeastern US. Whether it’s caused by climate change, global warming, or flying monkeys is a matter of debate.  But it’s clear that we are experiencing lots of powerful storms: and they’re affecting sign industry equipment. What’s the connection between severe weather and sign equipment? Are printers and cutters being damaged by floods, hail, fire, and tornadoes? Nope. Power spikes. Power surges from electrical storms are frying main boards across the fruited plain.  Since this weather pattern may be around for a while, it’s a good idea to take proper precautions to protect your equipment.

The Problem

Plotters, printers, and engravers all rely on the precise function of electronic components. These components in turn rely on a managed supply of electrical current.  The PrismJET VJ54, for example, requires 90 – 132V. During electrical storms and power outages, excess voltage can be sent through the power grid. Even a brief outage can cause drops and spikes in the power supply to equipment. These spikes can damage key electrical components, especially main boards.  

SIGNWarehouse Product Support has received numerous calls recently from customers whose equipment appears to have been damaged by power surges. The main board is the brain of your printer or cutter. An electrical surge to the brain is not any better for your equipment than it would be for you. This year’s weather patterns have caused a strain on the supply chain for replacement main boards as the failure rates for these components have um…spiked.

The Surge Protector Solution

The simple answer to preventing this kind of damage is to prevent power surges. The tool for this is a good surge protector. For the average consumer, it’s easy to confuse simple power strips and surge protectors. The terms indicate different levels of protection.  Surge protectors are a kind of power strip, but not every power strip is a surge protector. In the event of an outage, one of the biggest risks comes not from the loss of current, but from restoration. When power is restored, a good surge protector prevents spikes from cascading into your connected devices and frying components.

The ideal class of surge protector is one that not only protects your equipment from spikes, but also prevent outages by storing electricity. These are the best option and are generally referred to as uninterruptible power Supplies. An uninterruptible power supply has a built-in battery. Think of it as a miniature short-term generator. It stores power during normal use and begins to draw on and supply this stored power whenever service is interrupted.  This helps when there is a blackout, because it keeps your equipment from failing.

Think about what happens if your computer and large-format printer shut down in the middle of the job. Unsaved data is lost, material is wasted, and you must wait for the power to come back on and see if there is any damage to the equipment. An uninterruptible power supply can give you more than enough time to save your work, finish a job, and power your equipment down properly.

Some higher-end models include a connected equipment guarantee. A 600VA power supply with a $75,000 connected equipment guarantee can be found on online for less than $65.00. If a $65 surge protector sounds like an expensive option, consider the cost of a new main board. Main boards for vinyl cutters cost over $600. A replacement main board for a large format printer can cost well over $1,000. A good surge protector or power supply is cheap insurance.

Power Strip Tips

• Don’t overload your Circuits. Large format printers, vinyl cutters, and heat presses have specific power requirements. These are usually listed near the bottom of the specifications chart. They’re listed so that you can manage your home, office or businesses electrical circuits. Connecting too many devices to one circuit will degrade the power supply to your equipment as circuit breakers kick in to prevent fire hazards. Large heat presses typically draw a lot of power. Some 16 x 20 inch heat presses require a dedicated 20-amp circuit. If you’re not sure you have the right setup for the equipment in your shop, please consult an electrician.

• Don’t ‘daisy-chain’ power strips. Speaking of overloaded circuits, don’t overload your surge protector either. Don’t ‘daisy chain’ your surge protector by using an open outlet in one power strip to connect a second strip loaded with power cables. This reduces the amount of power to each device, which risks degrading the performance of your equipment. More importantly, it can overload the circuit and pose a serious fire hazard.

• Buy the Right Surge Protector. To get the protection you need, check the specs before buying a surge protector.  Look for the term “automatic shutdown protection” or “internal circuitry limiting. This is the circuit-breaker function that prevents power spikes from reaching your equipment. The ideal of course is for the surge protector to manage spikes without shutting down and interrupting your work. A surge protector’s ability to manage spikes is measure in joules. The higher the better. A rating of about 800 joules should be sufficient.

• Power Cables Matter too. Insufficient voltage can also cause performance problems. Generic power cables often supply insufficient voltage for some printers.  Use of low-grade power cables with 24-inch MUTOH printers can cause random errors that are hard to diagnose. That’s why we include a specific power cable in our PrismJET VJ24 ValuPrint starter bundles.

You depend on your printers and cutters to run your business. They depend on a steady supply of electric current. Dips can cause random problems, and spikes can cause expensive component failures. The bad news is, severe weather patterns are making these dangerous spikes more common. The good news is, there’s a simple and affordable solution. A good surge protector will keep your sign business running, no matter what’s in the forecast.