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Technical Glossary
Technical Glossary

Technical Glossary



In electrical engineering, the term actuator refers to a mechanism that causes a device to be turned on, off, adjusted, or moved, usually in response to an electrical signal. In some literature the terms actor or effector are also used. The term “effector” is preferred by programmers, whereas engineers tend to favor “actuator.” An example of an actuator is a motor that closes blinds in response to a signal from a sunlight detector. Actuators enable computers to control complex manufacturing processes without human intervention or supervision
Advanced process control (APC)
In general, terms, advanced process control refers to large-scale computer systems that are used to monitor and control processing plants such as cement factories or oil refineries. The systems extend traditional process control, which is used to monitor and control individual processes, by evaluating and controlling multiple processes across the plant. By monitoring multiple processes, APC systems can optimize operations for multiple parameters, evaluating the impact each adjustment will have on neighboring operations by referencing current and historical data. With a broad yet detailed view of an entire plant’s operations, APC applications allow processes to operate closer to their maximum capacity, while maintaining the necessary standards of reliability and safety
A set of (mathematical) instructions or procedures for carrying out a specific task such as defining the steps taken by an automation system.
Alternating current (AC):
Alternating current is a form of electricity in which the current alternates in direction (and the voltage alternates in polarity) at a frequency defined by the generator (usually between 50 and 60 times per second, ie, 50 - 60 hertz). AC was adopted for power transmission in the early days of electricity supply because it had two major advantages over direct current (DC): its voltage could be stepped up or down according to need using transformers and it could be interrupted more easily than DC. Neither advantage is as relevant today as it once was because power electronics can solve both issues for DC
The standard unit of electrical current
Arc flash:
An arc flash is caused by current flowing between two conducting surfaces and most commonly occurs in switchgear as a result of faulty equipment or poor work practices. Left unchecked, arc flashes release a tremendous amount of energy in a high-pressure blast of heat and debris, which can result in serious injuries to workers and damage to equipment
Arc welding
A group of welding procedures that fuse metal pieces by melting them together, using heat from an electric arc between an electrode and the work piece. The arc is caused by electrical current flowing though plasma consisting of ionized air molecules and metal ions. Material from the electrode is transferred to the work piece, and the electrode is consumed over time. Arc-welding processes are attractive because of their low capital and running costs
Arc-welding cell
The area of a factory set up to weld metals using electric arcs. ABB provides modular robotic arc-welding cells that are ready to install in a customer’s plant.
Asset management
Also referred to as industrial and plant asset management. Asset management systems collect and manage data on the condition and availability of major plant equipment in discrete and process manufacturing plants. This enables plant operators to plan maintenance schedules more effectively (condition-basedy maintenance), avoiding both unnecessary equipment inspections and unexpected breakdowns, which can cause expensive interruptions in production time. Computerized asset management systems gather data in real-time to ensure maximum production uptime and throughput, with a minimum of human interaction
The registered trademark of a family of modular electric propulsion systems for ships, the first of which was co-developed by ABB in the 1980s. The Azipod unit is fitted to the ship’s hull externally in a pod, or casing, and combines the functions of a propulsion motor, main propeller, rudder and stern thruster. Since these functions are no longer installed as separate units inside the ship, space onboard can be used for other purposes. Azipod units also contribute to improved hydrodynamics, which result in fuel savings of around 15 percent compared to conventional propulsion systems
Back-to-back connection:
In HVDC terms, links used to connect neighboring grids are often referred to as “backto-back” connections, indicating that the distance between the two grids is minimal. Such connections are able to link independent power grids, including those operating at different frequencies, and enable power to flow from one grid to another. This means that generators on either grid can be used to secure the supply of electricity across the extended network. The connections can also improve voltage and frequency stability in the linked grids. Note: The term “back-to-back connection” is also used to describe a test set-up for electrical devices where a motor and a generator are connected to the same shaft line.
1. In computing, bandwidth is often a synonym for the rate of information transmitted by a network connection or interface. For example, a modem’s bandwidth might be described as 56K, which means it is capable of transmitting 56,000 “bits” of information per second. A bit is the smallest unit of computerized data, comprising a single binary digit (ie, 1 or 0). 2. Bandwidth in electronic communication is the difference between the highest- and the lowest-frequency signal in a given transmission medium. It is measured in hertz (Hz).
In the oil and gas industry, a barge is an unpowered multipurpose marine vessel. Barges are used as cargo tankers, equipment and supply carriers, crane platforms and support and accommodation bases in offshore drilling, and as submarine pipe-laying vessels.
Base-load power plant
To maintain power supplies as efficiently as possible, some power stations run near to full capacity all the time, while others are brought online or increase production temporarily to meet transient peaks in demand for electricity. The plants that maintain constant levels of production tend to be those that rely on lower-cost fuels and are known as “base-load” power plants.
Fuel derived from biomass, ie, (recently) living organisms. This does not include fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which are derived from ancient organisms. Bioethanol, a fuel derived from sugar cane, corn and similar materials is an example of a biofuel.
A complete loss of power resulting from damage or equipment failure in a power station, power lines or other parts of the power system. A blackout may also be referred to as a power outage or power failure.
Black-start capability
The ability of a power system (a generator or grid subsection) to restart after a blackout, independently of the larger grid, by using local generators. For example, HVDC Light transmission systems can be fitted with small diesel generators to provide auxiliary power that can be operational almost immediately in the event of a blackout. This power enables voltage control to be established and normal operations to be resumed quickly.
A dip in the voltage level of a power system, which can damage electrical equipment or cause it to under perform, eg, lights dim.
An electrical conductor that makes a common connection between several circuits. Sometimes, electrical wire cannot accommodate high-current applications, and electricity must be conducted using a more substantial busbar — a thick bar of solid metal (usually copper or aluminum). Busbars are uninsulated, but are physically supported by insulators. They are used in electrical substations to connect incoming and outgoing transmission lines and transformers; in a power plant to connect the generator and the main transformers; in industry, to feed large amounts of electricity to equipment used in the aluminum smelting process, for example, or to distribute electricity in large buildings
A bushing is a cyclindrical insulating component, usually made of ceramic that houses a conductor. It enables a conductor to pass through a grounded enclosure, such as a transformer tank (the physical shell of a transformer), a wall or other physical barrier, to connect electrical installations. In the case of a transformer, bushings protect the conductors that connect a transformer’s core to the power system it serves through channels in the transformer’s housing.
The ability of a device to store an electrical charge (electrical charge is what flows in electric current). Capacitance is used in many different applications. The unit of capacitance is the Farad, though it can also be referred to in Coulombs per volt (Coulomb being the standard unit of electrical charge). The Farad is a very large unit and capacitances are usually on the
order of microfarads, µF (1 µF = 10-6 F) and picofarads,
pF (1 pF = 10-12 F).
Capacitor (also referred to as a condenser)
A multipurpose device that can store electrical charge in the form of an electric field. It is used, for example, for power factor correction in (inductive) AC circuits. Capacitors are used to buffer electricity (smooth out peaks) and to guard against momentary voltage losses in circuits (when changing batteries, for example).
Capacitor bank:
A number of capacitors connected in parallel
Carbon cycle
The circulation of carbon through its various forms in the environment. Briefly, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fixed (ie, converted into solid matter) by the process of photosynthesis in plants and green algae. These then die and rot under the influence of bacteria and fungi or are consumed by higher organisms in the form of food or fuel (burning plant matter or fossil fuels). Either way, carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and is available again for fixation (ie, incorporation into biomass).
Cascading power failure
A cascade happens when a part of the power grid fails, and shifts its power load to other elements in the grid. Overloaded, these elements also begin to shut down and shift their power load onto other elements, and so on. The resulting surge current can induce ongoing failures and take down an entire power system in a very short time, “cascading” through parts and systems like a ripple on a pond until the grid collapses.
Charging station:
An installation at which an electric vehicle can be plugged into the grid to charge its battery. There are several types of charging station, including low-voltage, lower current installations that charge a battery over a period of several hours (for use in homes, for example), and higher-voltage, higher current fast charging stations for a more rapid service in public places
(car parks, public buildings, etc.)
Combined heat and power, an acronym for the co-generation of heat and power
Circuit breaker
Devices that interrupt high currents to protect electrical equipment from damage caused by current surges, eg, from a short circuit or a lightning strike. (On a much smaller scale, they are used as an alternative to fuses in the home.) Circuit breakers are typically classified according to the medium they use to inhibit arc formation between the open contacts of the breaker. Media used include air, sulfur hexafluoride gas, oil and a vacuum
Closed Control System (CCS):
This is a system used to regulate a process using feedback control (as opposed to an open control system, which relies on feed forward control). A closed system responds to actual system conditions with a range of responses. It is slower to react to changes in process conditions than an open system, but it is more specific in its responses and is able to deal with a broader range of conditions. An example of closed loop control is a driver steering a car. If the car veers to the left, the driver steers right to compensate
A particularly efficient method of electricity generation that diverts heat produced as a byproduct of the power generation process, to domestic and industrial heating systems. The heat is produced by combustion of fuel in the power station to create the steam that drives the generating turbines. It would otherwise be released to the atmosphere
Collaborative production management (CPM)
A method of unifying disparate yet interdependent production systems in order to optimize productivity. Computerized CPM solutions are software applications that enable process manufacturers to plan, track, analyze and direct their operations
Combined-cycle power plant
Conventional thermal power stations produce steam to drive turbines that generate electricity. In a combined cycle plant, two turbines are used. The first is driven by oil or gas, and waste heat from that process contributes to the production of steam to drive the second turbine
Compression train
In the oil and gas industry, the compression train is the entire line of equipment that contributes to process of compressing gas: It includes valves, scrubbers, coolers and recycling loops
An electrical conductor is any substance through which electrical current can flow. Since electrical current is a process involving the flow of electrons, how well a material conducts electricity depends on its atomic structure and chemical consistency. Conductivity also depends on how strong the bond is between electrons and the metallic ions with which they are associated. The weaker the bond, the better the conductor. All metals are conductors (copper is a particularly good one). Plastics are not good conductors, but make good insulators. Semi-conductors are materials whose ability to conduct electricity can be controlled. Super-conductors, under special conditions, offer no electrical resistance, so electricity can flow indefinitely. More generally, a conductor refers to a material that can transmit electricity, heat or sound
An electrical device, comprising a rectifier and inverter, used to alter the voltage and frequency of incoming alternating current in an electrical system. The term may also refer to inverters, rectifiers or frequency converters. (See also Converter station, Inverter, Rectifier, Frequency converter)
Converter station
Special equipment is needed to convert electricity from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), or vice versa. High-voltage DC (HVDC) converter stations use power electronic devices called thyristors to make these conversions. (See also HVDC and HVDC Light.
Coupling transformer
A coupling transformer is a device that permits two (usually) separate circuits to influence one another. Such a setup can be desirable for control purposes. It can also be used, for example, to inject high frequency signals into power lines for communications purposes
The rate at which electrons flow through a circuit is defined as the current. If an electric circuit is likened to water flowing through a system of pipes, the current is analogous to the rate at which the water is flowing. Electric current is measured in amps.
DC grid:
Today’s electrical transmission systems are almost exclusively based on alternating current (AC), but the development of high-voltage, direct current (DC) technology has made it possible to build a DC grid (DC transmission network) that can handle bulk power flows over long distances. Power from such DC grids can be fed into the AC networks as needed. Overlay DC grids would handle fluctuations and instability in the network better than AC systems and are a part of the “smart grid” concept
The term demand-response refers to a variety of technologies required to make demand for electricity more responsive to the supply available. As utilities generate more electricity from intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar, demand-response technologies are needed to help consumers use power when it is plentiful and reduce their consumption when there is less available
Direct current (DC):
This electrical current does not alternate the electrons flow through the circuit in one direction. As a result, DC does not generate reactive power This means that, in a DC system, only real (or active) power is transmitted, making better use of the system’s capacity
Direct torque control
A drive system that controls the speed of an electric motor, and hence the torque it can produce on a rotating shaft. The drive works by regulating the amount of power the motor draws from the grid. Torque is an angular force that causes rotation, as seen for example in a car’s engine, which turns the vehicle’s drive shaft
Distributed control system (DCS):
A control system that regulates a process (manufacturing, chemical or other) from a series of strategic positions in the processing plant, as opposed to from a single, centralized control unit. Microprocessor-based distributed control systems (DCS) originated in continuous process industries (eg, refineries). and integrate distributed automation controllers, networks, application servers, workstations and other modules necessary to build a complete automation system
Distributed generation
This term refers to electricity generating installations that are scattered across the grid, rather than placed at a central location. They tend to be small-scale generating plants – often operating using renewable fuels. They also include domestic power generators such as roof-top wind turbines and solar panels, and microhydro installations. As more smart
technologies are incorporated into the grid, enabling local
distribution grids to receive as well as deliver electricity,
distributed generation will become an increasingly common
feature of our power systems
Distribution substation:
A distribution substation comprises medium-voltage switchgear, transformers and low-voltage distribution equipment. It is used to transfer power from a medium-voltage electricity distribution system to a low-voltage distribution system that serves groups of domestic or industrial consumers
Distribution transformers:
Distribution transformers are used to regulate the supply of power to residential premises, factories and elsewhere.
District heating:
a district heating system is one that makes use of heat generated at a central location, often in a thermal power plant, to heat water that is then fed through a communal system, delivering heat to homes in the surrounding area.
The oil industry term “downstream” refers to all petroleum activities from the processing of refining crude oil into petroleum products to the distribution, marketing, and shipping of those products. See also Upstream
A drive is an electronic device used to regulate the performance of an electric motor. It works by controlling the power, frequency and current the motor draws from the grid. Drives (also referred to as a variable-speed motor drive) can lead to considerable energy savings as most motors are fixed-speed devices that run at full speed, even when a lower speed would suffice. Many motors are controlled by “throttling down,” which is equivalent to slowing a car by using the brake, rather than taking your foot off the accelerator, and does not save energy. Reducing a motor’s speed by half using a drive can reduce the energy it consumes to one-eighth of its consumption at full speed.
Dynamic shunt compensation:
A technology used to stabilize voltage by introducing or absorbing reactive power at specific points of a power transmission grid. The system helps to improve power transmission capacity as well as the overall stability of the grid. Dynamic shunt compensation is one of the three main FACTS (Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems) technologies, the others being series compensation and dynamic energy storage.

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