25 Jul 2024


Sprint Electric expands into AC with regenerative drive

Sprint Electric directors Gary Keen (left) and Mark Gardiner with one of their new regenerative AC drives

The UK DC drives manufacturer Sprint Electric is expanding into the AC drives market with the launch of a range of regenerative AC drives at the SPS 2023 exhibition in Germany in November. The company describes its new Generis drive as the next generation of AC drive technology, delivering cost-effective and reliable AC motor control combined with energy regeneration and low input current harmonics.

The drive uses a “unique” patented switching technology without a DC link. It gives full four-quadrant control as standard, as well as unity power factor and minimal input current distortion. Four-quadrant control avoids the need for active front-end drives or braking resistors, simplifying the control of AC motors in complex applications.

Removing the DC link “massively” reduces harmonic distortion to the mains supply as well as improving drive efficiency. The drive will control all types of AC motor in open- or closed-loop configurations, maximising its range of potential applications.

Sprint has been developing the new drive over the past five years in partnership with Nottingham University as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership – the part grant-funded scheme that helps UK businesses to innovate using expertise from UK universities. The company has attracted £2.5m of funding, with £2m of this coming from trusts managed by the Foresight Group private equity business, and £500,000 from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), which is supported by the European Union via its European Regional Development Fund.

The Generis drives will be available from February 2024 in ratings up to 22kW. More sizes will be introduced over the coming three years, eventually spanning ratings up to 200kW. Sprint has yet to decide whether to build the drives in-house or to sub-contract their manufacture, but says that they will be built in the UK.

“This release has been a long time in the making, and the team has worked exceptionally hard to produce this leap in drive technology,” says Sprint’s managing director, Gary Keen. “Generis represents a new level for AC drive technology.”

The drive, he adds, “boasts simplified mechanics and does not use electrolytic capacitors, so it has no life-limiting components which degrade with time and temperature. This results in exceptionally high levels of reliability as well as minimising total cost of ownership.

“Constant-torque and variable-torque profiles are easily selected, so offering full energy efficiency with short payback periods,” Keen continues. “Generis also includes extended frequency output – a feature often sought in constant-power applications.”

The new drive has been designed to simplify control without compromising performance. It is aimed at industries such as converting, metals, print and packaging, and applications such as presses and test rigs. Four pushbuttons and a two-line, 40-character display simplify commissioning, reducing the need to refer to a manual. The simple setup means that Generis can be up-and-running within minutes with a full autotune capability to maximise motor performance and efficiency.

Sprint remains committed to the DC drives market but Keen points out that the AC regen market is about 40 times the size of the DC market that Sprint currently addresses. Sprint reckons that regen drives account for around 7.5% of the £16bn global AC drives market.

Sprint will be offering similar graphical programming software to that used for its DC drives. The new drives can be connected easily to multi-drive networks with advanced application functions that reduce the need for a PLC.

There will be a series of technical presentations on the new drive at its launch at the SPS show next month.

Founded in 1987, Sprint Electric designs and manufactures digital motor controls up to 1MW for single-phase, three-phase, regenerative and non-regenerative applications. It currently employs around 20 people and is expanding. It had sales worth £3m in 2022. More than 80% of its production is exported to more than 75 countries, including digital and analogue DC drives, digital AC slip-ring drives and small DC-DC drives.

Keen expects that most of the initial sales of the new regen drives will be in the UK, with systems integrators being a target sector. But he thinks that export sales will eventually come to dominate. In the longer term, Sprint’s AC and DC drives ranges will probably share technologies.