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Building Reliability: The Life of a Destructive Engineer in Inverter Testing | PHILERGY German Solar


Building Reliability: The Life of a Destructive Engineer in Inverter Testing | PHILERGY German Solar

SMA Testing Center, Germany SMA Germany has been a prominent player in the solar industry for several decades and has accumulated extensive experience in inverter technology. They have a strong track record of innovation and have contributed significantly to the advancement of solar energy systems. SMA inverters are known for their high efficiency, robust construction, and long-term reliability - withstanding challenging environmental conditions and operating effectively for many years.


Wolfram Dege has a unique profession as an SMA Reliability Engineer, where his job involves both destroying and improving inverters. He conducts deliberate tests that push the devices to their limits and induces artificial aging by subjecting them to extreme conditions such as cold, heat, moisture, high currents, and voltages, often all at once. He gains valuable insights into their service life and identifies potential weaknesses by doing so. Wolfram's innate inclination to experiment and tinker with objects since his early years likely influenced his career choice.

 

Breaking Inverters

To break inverters, Wolfram employs various tools and setups, including climatic chambers, heating cabinets, power sources, and specialized test arrangements. These enable him to expose the inverters to the stresses they may encounter during customer use, such as temperature fluctuations, moisture, voltage variations, and current fluctuations. Wolfram's destructive testing is to gain insights into the devices' failure modes and anticipate their service life under normal usage conditions. It allows him to look into the future and determine when an inverter is expected to fail if used by customers in typical scenarios.


Testing Inverter Reliability

Determining reliability involves assessing the test predictions. If the predicted service life meets the acceptable criteria, the device is considered reliable. However, if the projected service life falls short, Wolfram collaborates with the product developer to enhance the device's durability. This may involve exploring alternative components or more robust materials. The improved version of the device then undergoes further testing until it meets the required service life expectations for customers.


Validating Inverter Service Life

Validating a 20-year service life for a product through conventional real-time testing is impractical for companies like SMA. To address this, accelerated life testing is conducted by Wolfram and his team. By intensifying the stresses applied to the materials, such as increased temperatures, the aging process is accelerated. This approach emulates the natural physical aging that occurs during regular customer use but at a faster pace. It allows failures to manifest earlier during testing, enabling SMA to validate the expected service life of their products within a shorter period.


Wolfram's role in SMA's reliability testing involves designing custom accelerated life tests, executing them, and interpreting the results to draw meaningful conclusions about the equipment destined for customer use. Translating the highly accelerated test results into real-world operating conditions poses a significant challenge. To overcome this, Wolfram develops physical aging models and utilizes mathematical tools, particularly statistics, to make accurate calculations.


Impact on Inverter Development

The test results directly impact the ongoing development of SMA equipment. Negative findings prompt discussions regarding corrective actions and necessary changes to improve the product. If the results yield general insights, these insights are incorporated into the design guidelines used by SMA's development engineers for new products. Consequently, SMA inverters continue to improve in terms of reliability over time.

Wolfram's favorite test is the SMA condensation test, where the devices undergo a combination of stresses simultaneously. This includes exposing them to cold, heat, temperature variations, and high humidity over an extended duration. The diverse failure modes observed in this test make it particularly intriguing. Capturing these failure modes on camera requires the right equipment and adds an element of enjoyment to the process. Overcoming these failure modes demands creativity and effective teamwork with colleagues in development. Each instance of the condensation test presents a fantastic and varied challenge for Wolfram.


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