• Atom Power

Who is the Italian engineer behind the fastest switch in the world?

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

Credit: Business Insider Italia. Translated from source.

  • A Bergamo engineer is on the team at Atom Power, a US company that has built the fastest industrial breaker in the world.

  • "A thousand times faster than to mechanical technology. We are also considering a residential version".

If it's true in certain areas that seconds make the difference, then in the case of industrial breakers, it is microseconds, a millionth of a second. Less than a moment.

Davide Leoni, a Bergamo electrical engineer - originally from San Paolo d'Argon, a small town of less than 6,000 inhabitants - knows this well, and has contributed to the construction of the first UL-approved solid-state industrial breaker in the States, the fastest in the world.

Class of '81, graduate of Polytechnic of Milan in electronic engineering, the story of Davide Leoni is not exactly the classic "cervello in fuga" (brain on the run) since he already had a workplace in Bergamo, specifically at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB).

But then, "there is a train that passes by only once - tells Davide - and I couldn't possibly risk missing it in this moment of my life".

The train in question was the stars and stripes of Atom Power, a small American company in Charlotte, North Carolina, specializing in industrial breakers, where the Bergamo engineer is now Hardware Architect, and deals with design and testing. It is precisely here that Leoni contributes to the realization of the fastest switch in the world.

The electronic circuit breaker is a highly innovative product that, in addition to being infinitely faster, offers several benefits compared to traditional solutions, the "old" mechanical switches.

"Mechanical switches have a lever , connected to a mechanism, which opens and closes the contacts through a spring system - explains Leoni -. If there are faults or short circuits these switches generate sparks or even small explosions. This does not happen with an electronic switch, which is therefore perfect for hazardous environments (mines, refineries, etc.), where a spark could cause serious problems. However, above all, the speed has changed: whereas mechanical switches take about a few tens of milliseconds to operate, electronic switches are about a thousand times faster".

Also interesting is the application for data centers, the infrastructure of which is very sensitive to failures, where the loss of power, even for a moment could jeopardize millions of pieces of data.

"These switches would be the ideal solution - underlines Leoni - because they are so fast that they can, for example, switch to battery backup without causing even a minor voltage spike, allowing the system to continue to function properly. We are talking about tens of microseconds".

Atom Power electronic switches can also be controlled remotely:

"With any web browser, anywhere in the world, you can manage the switch remotely and have access to all parameters, such as metering data, faults and much more - points out Leoni -. A very useful service for companies that have utilities in remote locations".

This technology has been tested several times all over the world, including Italy, where Davide Leoni himself was working at ABB at the time.

"In my last 2 years at ABB, I was part of a small team working on a product similar to the Atom Switch. I then went to the USA for a temporary job rotation, and it was on that occasion that I decided that I wanted to continue my career in that country.".

The fastest switch in the world will be available on the market by the end of the year, and there are already some interested customers (giants operating in the social media and banking sectors) who have commissioned Atom Power to create devices that will work alongside traditional switches.

"These are pilot customers, who will act as testers," explains Leoni.

And will this technology ever arrive in homes?

"There is a possibility that in the future we will achieve something smaller and more scalable, in this case, more than speed, connectivity will matter. Civil society is an area that we are evaluating at Atom Power".



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