Electronics: Thank You, Energy Concepts, Inc!
Posted on 2010-05-14 @ 00:05:15 by r00t

A few weeks ago I purchased used (and in pretty rough condition) an Energy Concepts, Inc. (new window) model # 20500B Digital Solid-State Power Supply, from my favorite local electronics junkyard, Apache Reclamation and Electronics...

My purchase was not without trepidation; if you have ever been to Apache Reclamation and Electronics (known as "ARE", or as I like to call it; "Apache"), you know that the place is an "electronics graveyard" in the truest sense of the words. Most of the stuff I have purchased there over the years has been in working shape, but there have been more than one item that I brought home only to find it wasn't exactly fully functional.

I knew a little about the power supply; they had been sitting around at Apache for several years. I had kept passing them by because they looked in such rough shape. They were "student trainer" power supplies (ECI sells mainly hardware and supplies for industrial and electronics training), and most had everything from missing switches, bezels, binding posts, knobs - you name it. Some had burn holes on the plastics parts from a soldering iron; it really looked like whatever student got bored or angry and decided to burn a few holes in the supply! The front panels tended to be marked and scratched up, and none of them had outer casings. This latter point didn't surprise me, though, because I remember seeing a nearly complete "training bench" they had at Apache at one time. Installed in it was one of these power supplies, plus a multimeter and (IIRC) a signal generator. Because these went into such frames, the outer casing was left off.

Before I purchased the power supply, though, I gave it a quick test (smoke test!) by plugging it in; it seemed to work OK, though it tripped into overload state rather quickly with no load connected (which didn't make sense to me), but other than that, it seemed to be working. I figured "what the heck", and asked them to ring it up. I figured that in the worst case, I had a handful of electronics parts to scavenge. I was kinda surprised when they told me it would be $25.00; but I didn't argue. I needed a bench power supply, and that was pretty cheap - if it worked.

I took it home, and started to play with it. I attached a motor, dialed up the maximum amps (about 1.5), and 12 volts (you can go up to 25 VDC on the adjustable side), and the motor spun fine. I started to reduce the current, and when it dropped to a certain point, -BING-, overload. To clear the overload, you had to toggle the power switch, which in my case was permanently wired closed, so I had to pull the plug. A bit of experimentation with the settings, and gripping the shaft of the motor (to raise the current) showed that the overload detection was working properly. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with the supply!

I ended up replacing the red plastic overlay on the 3-digit LED display (it had the aforementioned holes) with a small piece of red acrylic I had, plus I installed a new power switch and new binding posts.

Now, I could have left things there - but that isn't my nature. In playing with the power supply (and after doing some online research), I noticed that it didn't seem to be adjustable to the ratings I could find on the internet; the adjustable side of things was supposed to deliver up to 25 VDC @ 1.2A - I could adjust the amperage that high (plus a bit higher), but the voltage wouldn't go that high. I figured that it was out of adjustment, but I didn't know what to do at that point; there were a few potentiometers on the power supply's PCBs, but I didn't know what controlled what, and I wasn't about to just start fiddling. So, I did what I normally do in these situations: Since the company still existed, I decided I would try to contact them and ask for the manual to the product.

Most of the time when you do this with a company, especially with a product that is clearly "obsolete" (which I was pretty sure this power supply was), a company will tell you either that it isn't supported any more, or that they don't have the documentation; in either case, you are "on your own". Some will try to upsell you to purchase one of their newer models. Some places will clam up tight (especially if you are doing reverse engineering of a product - but this wasn't that kind of case). I wasn't sure what was going to happen with Energy Concepts, but I thought I should at least try.

I sent them a couple of emails, but never heard anything back - so I grabbed my phone and gave them a quick call. This proved to be much quicker! I stated what I was looking for, and mentioned that I was willing to pay for such manuals (user and service manuals, specifically). I always mention that I would be willing to pay for documentation, copying costs, etc - because sometimes that will give them some incentive, and it also lets the representative know that you are serious about your inquiry. They ended up transferring me to an individual named "Ricardo"; I told him what I needed, and he told me that he would get copies out to me ASAP! We discussed things, he ended up telling me that originally the power supplies cost $595.00 new!

Talk about saving a ton of money!

He never asked me for any form of payment; I was kinda stunned - ECI was going to give me copies of the documentation free! Cool, I thought. So, I patiently waited for the mail to arrive.

Today (May 14th) it did! I got the manuals - and they weren't copies; they ended up being actual manuals! I am amazed, and so very thankful. I now have full schematics to the power supply, technical use documentation, the works! I'll now be able to adjust and use the power supplies like they were meant, instead of guessing.

So, once again - THANK YOU, Energy Concepts, Inc - your company has went above and beyond where most companies would stop! I will recommend you to others in the future!

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