Which Is Right For Your Facility? Analog vs. Digital Controls

Oct 22, 2015

Just about any complex machine must have a user interface in order to enable an operator to monitor its actions, ensure it is functioning both correctly and efficiently, and step in when something goes awry. Despite efforts to perfect a machine’s performance, machines still slow down or speed up, overheat, malfunction, etc. based on a myriad of potential factors, let alone the regular wear and tear of its parts that takes place over time.

These days, many machines are completely digitally self-managed, while other machines are less automated and controlled by an analog system. Although it’s easier for most people to assume that anything digital will outperform those machines labeled as analog, you might be surprised to find that when it comes to controlling generator power systems, analog control systems may have some unexpected advantages. Here’s why:

Advantages of an Analog Control System

Traditionally, analog control systems work better for diesel engines that provide power to smaller appliances, including power generators used as backup power sources for small buildings or facilities. These analog controls are typically integrated into the engines for monitoring their function. The following characteristics outline the advantages of using an analog control system:

  • EASE OF USE – Compared to digital control, operating with an analog system is relatively straightforward. Technicians do not need a very high-level technical background to know how to operate these systems. In the case of generators, analog control systems allow for them to be quickly and easily controlled.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL TOLERANCE – Unlike their digital counterparts, analog control systems are not known for being temperamental. They can adapt to hostile work environments (for example, high humidity or large concentrations of dust and debris). Conversely, you need a reliably clean generator room environment for a digitally controlled generator system to run without frequently encountering problems.
  • LOWER SERVICE & REPAIR COSTS – When it comes to service and repair, individual meters can be replaced relatively easily, thus rendering analog control systems less expensive. In the case of digital, the entire panel must be replaced if an error or issue is detected, requiring a large amount of computer programming to re-install and complete the repair – not to mention a hefty fee to pay for the job. Similarly, maintenance costs tend to be higher for digital control systems.

Advantages of a Digital Control System

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Digital control systems are particularly useful for mission-critical facilities, which require more complex and uninterrupted back up power and distribution sources. These types of facilities are also characterized by a mix of linear and non-linear load requirements, which make manual adjustments and control options less desirable. Here are a few reasons why digital control systems are beneficial to generator power systems:

  • HIGHLY ACCURATE REAL-TIME REPORTING – Digital control tools are decidedly integrated, reporting the real-time status of all attributes of the diesel engine concerned with superior accuracy – fuel levels, battery status, engine temperatures, etc. A single screen captures a clear picture of the entire system, so the operator monitoring the engine is able to speedily pinpoint and resolve any given issue. In contrast, analog control systems require making physical modifications or substitutions to various resistors and modules when a problem arises. Moreover, engines controlled by analog sets report a failure through general indicator lights or alarms that unfortunately do not point out a specific issue.
  • REMOTE ACCESS – A digital control system can be connected to a remote computer that monitors the machine’s status and progress from a potentially distant location. In addition, one digital master control system integrates all functions of the generator, as opposed to analog controls that have independent control modules for each specific function. As a result of these two qualities, digital control systems save a significant amount of space.
  • GREATER RELIABILITY & EFFICIENCY – Because digital control systems have built-in redundancy, they allow for continual system function if a part or component of a circuit fails. And since they automatically adjust fuel input rates and injection timing when necessary (depending on the load conditions), digital controls also increase engine efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions. Diesel engines with analog controls that monitor engine speeds actually have a tendency to over-fuel an engine during start up, creating the dark exhaust sometimes associated with diesel engines.

Ultimately, both analog and digital controls have pros and cons. When considering an investment in generator power systems with either one of these control systems, your decision criteria should be influenced by the purpose your generator set will be serving.

For more tips on this topic or to schedule a consultation, feel free to contact us with your inquiry.

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