Early Results: Our 2020 Medium Voltage Drive Survey

Medium Voltage Drive Survey

In July, we began inviting specifiers, buyers, and operators of variable speed, Medium Voltage Drives to participate in our 2020 Medium Voltage Drive usage survey.

Our intent, then and now, is to gain insight into the selection criteria, functionality, expectations, and performance needs surrounding Medium Voltage Drives. Ultimately, the goal is to capture information that can help equipment manufacturers better address customers’ needs and expectations.

If you haven’t done so already, please take the five-minute online survey now.

Who we’re talking to

The industries served by variable speed, Medium Voltage Drives are diverse—spanning agriculture, food processing, water and wastewater, pulp and paper, oil and gas, cement, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biotech—but most fall within the power utility sector.

Specifically, oil and gas customers are most prevalent, even considering recent downturns in the marketplace. Budgets within this segment are under renewed fiscal pressure and greater scrutiny. Usage within the pulp and paper and chemicals industries continues to rise, but with comparatively lower budgets and vigilantly protected profit margins.

Common applications

The leading application for Medium Voltage Drives is pumps, named by ~37% of respondents, followed by centrifugal compressors, with 31%. Other top responses list fans, retrofit motors, and conveyors.

Nearly 70% of respondents say they need soft starting capabilities.

Survey participants come from professions ranging from specifying engineers to operators, and from OEM/integrators to maintenance workers.

Our approach

The survey information we have gathered has been reinforced by our one-on-one interviews. Those participants, representing approximately 10% of our total survey pool, have shared openly, spoken freely, and in some cases, critically.

An investigation of this kind allows us to gain a greater understanding of what matters to customers. It also grants us the opportunity to explore the drivers of decision making across critical audiences.

After the first three months of our survey, we are already spotting some trends in usage and collective user experiences.

Preliminary findings

Many find safety in numbers

Most respondents gravitate toward the largest manufactures. These so-called “top-tier” providers are often preferred simply because of their market share. Professionals in this space trust them because of their popularity among their peers.

Specifically, our survey is finding that more than 50% of respondents are currently using Siemens or ABB—two industrial titans, not specialized Medium Voltage Drive manufacturers.

When pressed on why this might be such a prevalent choice, one EPC responded:

“I think there are a lot of smart people out there, and if a lot of smart people are using one of three or four manufacturers...I'd say I think demonstrative market share carries a lot of weight, as long as you look behind it and understand why it's there.”

The bigger, the better

While many simply believe bigger is better, there’s another contributor to the prominent position of top-tier manufacturers: they possess service and support resources considered essential by customers. Together, these elements help industry leaders attain gravitas that smaller companies simply cannot match.

The downside for these behemoths is the perception that large companies lack the focus on the needs and interests of variable speed drive customers.

Do the big boys care about Medium Voltage Drives?

So: are the largest manufactures truly committed to the Medium Voltage Drive segment of the market?

Consumers certainly want to know. Many believe that the largest suppliers will only focus on Medium Voltage Drives if other obligations fall by the wayside.

Some additional criticisms of the top tier manufacturers include their “too big to fail” attitude, relatively high cost, and lack of flexibility. On the positive side, there is general agreement that the largest suppliers reliably ensure that service and support is available and accessible.

But more than anything, our survey is revealing that top-tier manufacturers willing to demonstrate commitment to this segment of the market will be rewarded with specifications and orders.

Testing is essential

During specifying, commissioning, and operations, interoperability is the most daunting challenge customers face, irrespective of industry or scale of operations.

A common complaint among those interviewed is that manufacturers do not test their variable speed, Medium Voltage Drives with the motors to which they are to be attached. This makes interoperability is unreliable. And elicits frustration for OEM/integrators, EPCs, and end users alike.

Customers demand that Medium Voltage Drives and their corresponding motors be tested together. And if these products are purchased at the same time, customers insist that they be priced together as well.

One OEM/Integrator had this to say:

“We can't be the first customer to request a drive and a motor be tested...These are $7 million scopes...They want it to freaking work. So, if there's anything that manufacturers need to understand, it's that we need [testing and pricing] together.”

The message is clear: Be the first to offer this, and customers will show their appreciation with orders.

What customers want from Medium Voltage Drives

Overall, participants list the following attributes as desirable and expected elements of Medium Voltage Drive solutions:

  • Interoperability (primarily the compatibility of drives with their corresponding motors)
  • Affordability
  • Size or fit
    • In fact, 48% of respondents named this as their #1 decision criteria
    • And it is a critical factor in retrofit scenarios
  • Access and speed of delivery
  • Technical support
  • Factory-based validation testing, reporting, and documentation
  • Reputation of not only the manufacturer, but that of the individual people who represent that company
  • Durability, with the expected operational availability and reliability ranging from a minimum of 10 years up to 25 years or more depending on the application
    • 53% of respondents report having Medium Voltage Drives in use for 9 or more years

What’s next?

This is only a glimpse of the information that is flowing in from our survey and the follow-up interviews we are conducting to extract greater detail. The volume of information is mounting, and further trends are forming.

Interested in seeing the final report? If you haven’t already, take our 5-minute survey and submit your email address to ensure delivery directly to your inbox.

Take the survey today

This survey is being conducted by the research team at Sudden Impact Marketing. Reponses will be compiled into a broader market analysis so that we can better understand the selection criteria, functionality, expectations, and performance needs around Medium Voltage Drives.

Start the survey