11 Jun 2020

The Quick Guide to Testing 50 Hz Equipment for Export

Inside of a manufacturing plant

Are you on the same wavelength as your customers? If you’re a manufacturer based in the U.S. and you have customers in Europe or Asia, the answer is likely to be “no”. Unlike most countries in the world, electronic equipment in the U.S uses a 60 Hz AC frequency. In all countries in the European Union, as well as most Asian nations, the standard frequency is 50 Hz. 

Of course, you can build electronic equipment on whatever frequency you like. There’s nothing stopping you from creating products that work at 50 Hz in an American factory. The trouble is, when it comes to actually testing products that are set to 60 Hz prior to their use or sale, you may face a challenge. How do you run these tests when your electrical supply or in-house generators work at 50 Hz?

Why would you need to test?

Testing that your equipment functions as it should is important both from a safety and a quality assurance standpoint. It is highly likely that your customers or buyers in the E.U. or in places like Eastern Japan, where 50 Hz is also used, will state pre-shipment testing as a basic prerequisite. 

The same issue applies in the other direction. Manufacturers in the U.S that use electrical parts sourced from Europe typically need to find a pre-shipment testing solution that will convert factory voltage and 50 Hz frequency to the voltage-matching
power requirement in the U.S. In this case, that would be 480V/3-phase/60 Hz. 

What kinds of products need to be tested?

Any electrical equipment that is manufactured in America needs to be tested at 50 Hz before it goes overseas, including motors, JCI chillers, compressors, pumps, oilfield equipment, scientific and diagnostic units. 
You may even need to go a step further by trying out a brand new test package for export in real-world conditions, for example checking the motor speed while on a 50 Hz power source.

In fact, motor speed is a good example of why testing at different frequencies is so important because it’s directly proportional to operating frequency. If you change the frequency of a fan, pump, or other components, it pushes up the operating speed and with it, the motor load. As a result, if you have a 50 Hz motor but try to operate it on 60 Hz, it will try to rotate 20% faster, causing potential performance issues and breakdowns.  

This is the kind of issue that could easily pass undetected beneath the radar without careful testing at the correct frequency. Unless you make the necessary adjustments, you’ll see a serious impact on efficiency. 

How do you test equipment for the correct frequency?

Take the motor example above. It’s probably not going to be feasible for you to redesign a motor for this much of an increase in horsepower. It’s also pretty complicated to adjust the driven equipment in order to decrease the load. The only real solution is to run the motor at the speed it’s been designed for - and for that, you need to hook it up to the correct frequency. What’s more, there are long lead times associated with buying your own motor generator set. 

Put simply, you need access to a generator that can provide 50Hz AC frequency as well as a wide range of voltages. Or, alternatively, to install a variable frequency drive that will convert the 60 Hz line power to 50 Hz at the motor terminals.

Getting access to a generator

Obviously, you could purchase your own generator if required, but this is potentially very expensive and cuts into your profits. 

To avoid the capital outlay, you could instead send off your equipment to another country that has the right voltage and frequency, and arrange for it to be tested there. Again, this is an expensive option. Even if you find a company with the capability to manage this for you, the transportation costs and logistical headaches will make this an unlikely solution - especially if testing reveals that the equipment needs to be returned to the factory for tweaks or repairs. 
By far, the best option is to rent a temporary generator that can be configured to run at 50 Hz and also allows you to test your equipment in your own factory, where it can be adjusted and repaired if necessary - but without the huge capital outlay. 

This means you keep your costs in check and can hand back the generator when you’re done with it, but can also track your testing and equipment performance over a long timeframe. It’s ideal for peace of mind, as well as giving you the flexibility to change the specs depending on who you sell to overseas.

Final thoughts: shop around for the right vendor

Find a rental utilities provider that offers portable generators at 50 Hz for extended testing periods, and that will allow you to dictate exactly the technical specs you need. The best rental companies will be able to design you a unique solution and offer generators and transformers right up to 3000kW, or parallel use up to 1500kW. You’ll be able to test any combination you need, without the hassle of sending products away, safe in the knowledge you’ll meet all buyer requirements at the other end.