Earl looks for a niche with its new invention

26 March 2010


Michael Schwartz
Inside Business
Portsmouth, VA, 26 March 2010

Portsmouth-based ship repair and technology firm Earl Industries has a new invention it hopes will help it corner a market as the Navy moves toward being more energy-conscious.

After Earl’s new variable speeddrive recently completed a battery of tests to prove that it could help cut down the energy consumption of electric motors on naval ships, the devices were cleared to be delivered to Northrop Grumman Newport News where they will eventually be part of Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier now under construction at the shipyard.

Electric motors of all kinds are typically designed to run at a constant speed.

That is unless some form of a variable speed drive is in place to allow that speed to be moderated as needed.

VSDs are common in commercial applications, according to Milo Hyde, Earl’s director of integrated power systems.

But the problem for the Navy has been that VSDs produced electric noise that can interfere with sensitive equipment. Until now, it has been difficult to produce a device that could help control the speed of the hundreds of electric motors that help naval ships tick without mucking up some other system on board.

So at the urging of a Northrop Grumman contract won by Earl a few years ago, the company set out to design a device that could help control the speed of those motors without interfering with other devices, all with the goal of helping the Navy meet its goals of energy conservation.

“It turns out there are hundreds and hundreds of electric motors in Navy ships driving all sorts of important systems,” Hyde said.

Those motors help power everything from heating and cooling systems to water pumps.

“Most of these motors are being run at a constant speed when they don’t need to be,” Hyde said.

Earl’s new VSD is predicted to provide energy savings of 30 to 50 percent of these motors’ consumption.

“The Navy has been attempting to squeeze energy use out of their ships, like everybody is trying to do,” Hyde said.

The VSD, developed with the help of New Jersey-based Princeton Power Systems, will be installed in the new carriers’ heating and ventilation system.

Earl, of course, is planning beyond the Gerald R. Ford.

“We’re thinking this drive has great applicability to many other Navy ships,” Hyde said.

The company hasn’t quantified its potential market for the VSD.

But Hyde estimates it will be lucrative, just taking the Navy into account.

“The Navy is going to have something on the order of 300 ships in the future,” he said. “All of them have numerous, in some cases, hundreds of electric motors. Each is being driven at one speed and every one has a potential for being retrofitted with one of these drives.”

That doesn’t include the potential for other military applications.

Earl’s development of the VSD occurred under a contract to create a specific device to be used on the Ford carrier.

Sixteen of them will be installed on the new ship, each one a 3-by-2-foot metal box weighing about 250 pounds.

Earl has also begun development of what Hyde called a more generalized family of VSD drives that could support motors of all kinds in ships of all sizes, particularly older ships that the Navy may choose to retrofit with energy-saving devices.

Northrop Grumman has expressed interest in those drives as well, Hyde said.

But Earl is developing the fleet of VSDs on its own with the hopes of attracting more parties in the shipbuilding and repair industry.


This article was originally printed in Inside Business, http://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/technology/earl-looks-for-a-niche-with-its-new-invention/article_788d1557-286d-5f1e-91d1-875f9a173c00.html