Powering the Stadium and Fan Experience

Tom Wichert, Executive Vice President, TDK


There are many factors that play into the reliability of stadium electronics, but they start with the absolute basics: power, power supplies, and power converters

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­Stadiums and arenas are now some of the most technologically sophisticated environments on the planet. Once little more than big piles of concrete, steel beams and benches, arenas are now replete with digital signage, advanced wireless communications networks, and the latest security systems, with more technology on the way.

Event venues are not just more places to install electronic gear; they have become prominent showcases for new technologies. Stadium owners benefit by enhancing the user experience with the latest technological amenities, and technology vendors benefit from the highly visible placement. The strategy is risky for both, though, because stadiums and arenas are challenging environments for electronics.

That is certainly true of the gargantuan screens that display instant replays or live streams of whatever is happening onstage. Keeping these signboards in top condition is hard enough under ideal conditions, but stadiums rarely present ideal conditions. Many are open to the elements, subjecting these displays to temperature extremes, rain, salty ocean air, dust, and more. Equipment failures result in dead areas on the screen that are distracting and create an impression of poor quality.

Meanwhile, providing an electronic service for tens of thousands of simultaneous users in a constrained space can be a formidable scaling challenge – Wi-Fi and 5G are obvious examples. Stadium-goers who expect wireless service but can't get a connection are apt to be frustrated.

When showcased technology doesn't work, not only is the customer experience compromised, but the reputation of that technology is tarnished. Stadium owners and their vendors both need technology to be consistently reliable. The technology not only has to work, but it has to keep working well for years.

There are many factors that play into the reliability of stadium electronics, but they start with the absolute basics: power, power supplies, and power converters.

What's Your Sign?

Event venues are now filled with digital signage of all sizes and types. Smaller screens are used in shops to display menus and sale items. Larger screens are used in corridors to provide information and to display advertising. And of course, there are the enormous screens that supplement scoreboards or replace them entirely.

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They all need power products, but it's the giant screens that pose unique technological challenges, many of which can be addressed directly by selecting power supplies of appropriate quality and reliability.

The very largest LED displays can incorporate more than 10,000 power supplies. As noted, when there's a dead spot on one of these screens it is highly noticeable, and the likeliest cause will be the failure of a power supply. The case for choosing a high-quality, reliable power supply starts there.

An electronic system with one power supply, or just a few, can usually be cooled with fans. But even in climate-controlled arenas, it is difficult to configure a reliable system that jams together thousands of fan-cooled power supplies. For outdoor stadiums it is simply not possible. Using power supplies that rely on conduction or convection cooling is therefore either a wise choice to achieve greater reliability or a flat-out necessity. Either way, it is an engineering feat to build power supplies that can operate reliably in tight proximity with thousands of others, no matter how they're cooled.

LEDs operate on direct current, so illuminating vast LED screens requires a large complement of AC-DC converters. How the conversion is accomplished can matter quite a lot. Displays that combine RGB (red, green, and blue) LEDs to produce vibrant color images require conversions to voltages that are optimal for each individual color in order to display them accurately. When it comes to large signboards, converters need to be more than just reliable; they need to be engineered to be suitable for the task.

Another reason to choose high-quality, highly reliable power products for these giant video screens is that these displays, when carelessly configured, can be sources of an extraordinary amount of electromagnetic interference. The EMI they generate can disrupt cellular network and Wi-Fi reception, interfering with customer communications as well as with IoT infrastructure that supports the spectator experience and arena services. Good design mitigates EMI, and that mitigation is highly dependent on selecting power supplies that minimize emissions.

The Stadium of Tomorrow

Stadiums and arenas are now ever-evolving entertainment experiences, providing new services enabled by new technology. Giant screens and wireless connectivity are only the beginning.

The safety of sports fans, concert goers, and the attendees of other events is an ongoing concern for venue operators. Stadiums and arenas are installing increasingly sophisticated security systems that now include features enabled by artificial intelligence, such as facial recognition.

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In venues that host professional sports, the health and safety of the players is paramount. Teams have advanced medical equipment on the field to diagnose injuries and treat some of them.

As we look forward, vendors are exploring the creation of robots that can clean and sanitize stadium corridors, stands, and seating.

Some sports fans in cities with cold-weather climates are already bringing their own seat-heating technology; it's well within the realm of possibility for an electronics vendor to develop heated seating that the stadium operators could install themselves. 

Stadium restaurant equipment such as fryers, refrigerators, freezers, and ice machines are also due for technological upgrades. Fires associated with fryers tend to be devastating. Granted, they are uncommon, but not as infrequent as they could be if they were designed to include power supplies designed specifically to make fryers safer and more reliable – and they will be.

Reliability is a Choice

If an electronic system has to be safe and reliable, then safety and reliability must be designed in. Safe and reliable designs start with fundamental system elements such high-quality power supplies and power converters.

TDK-Lambda designs its power products to provide consistent performance and long term reliability for years to come. That includes using components such as high-quality e-caps, of course, but it also encompasses the entire engineering process,spanning conservative design de-rating of critical components, controlled AVL, internal quality disciplines, rigorous design verification testing (electrical performance; EMC; thermal cycling; highly accelerated life testing; and temperature, humidity, and bias testing), and supply chain planning to support life cycles of 20+ years.

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TDK-Lambda power products – power supplies and power converters – are relied on for applications in which reliability and safety are key concerns. That includes defense systems, medical electronics, communications equipment, high-profile displays, and a wide range of other products, including

●      security systems (video cameras, alarms, access control, etc.),

●      video equipment,

●      computer and backup systems,

●      drones,

●      robotics,

●      and more.

TDK-Lambda power products can include analog or digital control features, and redundancy options are available for any power product that will be designed into a critical system.

The company's PFE, PFH series and CUS series are ideal for outdoor signboards.