Develop ERLPhase 2nd Generation DC Analog Isolation Module

The original DC isolation module, developed under my direction around 1999, used an unconventional custom off-line power supply and four Analog Devices AD204 isolation amplifiers, to provide isolated voltage and current input from DC to about 1 kHz.  This opened up a new market for recording sensors and telemetry signals on the TESLA, as well as some unique DC-level-sensitive AC applications, such as internal levels in static VAR compensators (SVCs) and DC converters.

Modern applications are much more stringent, however, needing better performance than the AD204 can provide (accuracy, noise level, and isolation), and the power supply couldn’t meet today’s restrictive EMC requirements.
So, I was asked to develop a newer high-performance DC Isolation Module. The basic concepts had been established by Steve Peddle, but he was quite busy on other projects.

The original concept was to perform “intelligent” ADC conversion on isolated “islands”, encoding the data in a protocol, and transferring the multiple streams of this protocol using digital isolation devices back to a central location, where it would be converted back by multiple DAC conversion on a circuit not isolated from the TESLA recoreder (as is required by the TESLA analog front-end).

I came across a potential alternative in the form of isolated sigma-delta modulator converters like the Analog Devices AD7401, which could give a highly accurate, flexible solution. Using an evaluation board, I captured data and performed extensive data analysis in Python.  I implemented the sinc3 filter in Python, demonstrated the trade-offs, and explored the possibilities of various configurations.

I evaluated the technologies against each other and wrote a report. After discussions with Steve and ERLPhase management, we decided to proceed with the sigma-delta modulator approach.

We obtained the evaluation kit for the Silicon Labs Universal Bee MCU EFM8UB20, and wrote the initial code as proof-of-concept and to bring up the system, handing it over to the firmware development team to implement the core functions.

I developed and documented the isolation plan, which included double 300V isolation gaps. After a design review, I created the schematic, and had two interconnected PCBs developed. I wrote a verification & validation document with guideline for the firmware implementation.

Work with GE-Reason Brazil on Next Generation COSI-CT Architecture

The original design of what’s now the COSI-CT was developed at NxtPhase in about 1999.  When I was with NxtPhase Winnipeg from 2001-2003, I was involved in an informal internal evaluation of the system, and recommended significant changes.  It wasn’t that the design was bad, but that it could be improved to make it better suited for the power utility market.

A NxtPhase CT redesign was undertaken around 2003.  When I joined Alstom Grid in 2013 to work on the COSI-CT, it was practically identical to the 2003 redesign, but had a few extra components grafted on – an optional internal power supply, and a digital card.  The design was tired and had developed serious flaws, which we were trying to fix.

Everyone agreed that a new approach, the next generation of COSI-CT (called “Gen4”), was needed.  As part of GE-Alstom after the merger, we undertook the exciting new development of Gen4.

I travelled to Florianopolis, Brazil, and met with the team at GE-Reason.  They had developed an amazing array of networking, merging unit, and recording equipment before their acquisition by Alstom in 2015.  Together, the engineers at Reason and I, set about to architect COSI-CT Gen4.

After my return to Phoenix, we collaborated constantly, often in communication daily.  We worked in Atlassian Confluence, developing the architecture.  We consulted with other GE experts in Merging Unit design, and our own marketing team.

Unfortunately, just as the initial architecture was completed in late 2017, GE faced a cash crunch and had to lay off many staff, including me.  This was a big disappointment, as we were really excited about the potential for the next generation.

Oh well, hopefully Gen4 of the COSI-CT, whenever it emerges, and in whatever form, is wildly successful.

Develop Wireless Remote Access to GE-Alstom Equipment inside SRP Perkins Substation

Salt River Project Power (SRP) had a mystery in its transmission network – some disturbances were unexplained.  By installing a COSI-CT and my newly-developed VT, and a GE-Reason recorder at the Perkins Substation, GE would get some valuable operational data from a local substation, and SRP would find out the cause of the problem.

It would be great to have ongoing telemetry from our equipment in the substation, but of course SRP cannot allow another company like GE to have access to its computer network.  I was asked to find a wireless way to communicate with the system.

I asked if SRP would allow us to put up an extra antenna – they were already installing a GPS antenna for us – and they agreed.  So I undertook to do a quick survey of potential means of communications, and ended up with a cellular phone router – one of the Multi-Tech MTR-H5 family devices.

I was going to get a SIM through GE Corporate, but the required effort & justification was huge.  My manager needed this done quickly.  So, I went down to my local T-Mobile store and got a “data & SMS only” SIM (intended for tablets etc.).  It was only US$10 a month – which, because I was travelling so much,  just put on my expense account thereafter.

Then I tried to contact the router – but couldn’t.  Apparently incoming connections to T-Mobile’s wireless devices isn’t generally allowed.  This is probably a good thing!

We were also installing a GE DAPserver, which would serve as a data concentrator.   I dug around a bit and got root access to the DAPserver (no, it wasn’t easy because we were GE – they don’t give that information out!).  I then created a Digital Ocean droplet and coded a continuous SSH connection from the DAPserver to the droplet.  There were actually two connections – one by IP address, and one by dynamic DNS hostname – just in case one failed.  Each one had reverse traffic tunnels brought up, that would link to the various local devices, like each COSI-CT and the recorder.

Well, it turned out that the COSI-CT only provides a serial interface to its administration functions.  The process data comes out on an Ethernet link (generally fibre, but could be twisted pair), but the Management Processor interface is RS-232, ugh.  So, I had to buy a Lantronix Xpress-DR+ 2-port serial-to-Ethernet gateway… which was fine.

In any case, it all worked well, in the end.  I was actually able to log into the recorder and display phasors – although the link was relatively slow, and performance was poor.  For text-based communications, like talking to the COSI-CT, it mostly worked fine.  The COSI-CT Control Panel didn’t like the link, because turn-around latency was too slow.  Well, Control Panel wasn’t designed for Ethernet either, but Scott Picker added this feature for me, but there was some complication in the negotiation of the link (possibly the original serial auto-line-rate detection) that caused it to drop every time.  No matter, my little LINUX Test Tool worked just fine, and enabled me to read and write configuration values as needed.

Although it was clunky and slow, it did work – so I considered it a success!

Update Alstom DIT COSI-CT Management Processor

I was only at Alstom Grid DIT in Phoenix a couple of months, when an question came from management, “Does anyone here know PIC assembly language?”

Well, I do!  So I took on the modification of the COSI-CT Management Processor firmware.  The code was written circa 2003, and was based on earlier efforts.  Good designers re-use working code!  Anyway, it had been maintained up until about 2010 by Dylan Stewart, but Dylan now had his hands full as Product Manager.  So, I took it on.

It started largely as a minor rework.  The processor has explicit support for each stored configuration value inside, knowing which one(s) are bytes, which words, which double words, and which are strings.  Things had changed in the configuration, but support for these changes was incomplete.  So, I addressed that.

A larger issue was that of supported development environment.  The old MPLab 8.x was obsolete, with MPLab X taking its place, but MPLab X would not automatically import MPLab 8.x files, especially complex ones.  I installed both development systems, and ensured that the outputs were byte-for-byte equivalent – which you can do with assembly language code!  It took a lot of tinkering to get the code to assemble properly under MPLab X, even more difficult to get it to assemble under both, but I managed it.

There was some discussion about the apparent corruption of data values on the backplane bus to and from the other internal cards.  There was no error checking on this bus.  I wrote a proposal to use CRC on the backplane comms.  It was carefully tweaked to fit within the protocol, and minimize overhead.  I implemented it on the Management Processor, but due to an error in the implementation on the CT card’s FPGA, there was an amiguity in the link, causing protocol failure.  I tried to get this error corrected, but it never was, so the effort was abandoned in place.  The code is still there, but it is never used.

Counsel Easun Reyrolle Relay Development Team

ERLPhase Winnipeg had the challenge of bringing a relay development team up to speed at their parent company, Easun Reyrolle of Bangalore, India.  ERLPhase had the experience but could not spare the resources.  So, I took a term contract to assist in helping to get the Bangalore team started.

Culture was a big challenge, especially over Skype, not having ever met any of the staff in person.  I recommended that they get the Indian staff to visit Winnipeg, or (shudder) I would have to visit Bangalore.  Well, the Indian team had difficulty in getting to Winnipeg, so I went to Bangalore… and loved it!  This was quite the adventure, culture shock, all of the cliches, but overall, a very good experience.

After my return, it was much easier to work with the Bangalore team, now that I knew them well.  A great group of people, some of whom I am still in touch with.