Circuit breakers are an integral part of the electrical systems and their application differs with respect to the scenario. They are also used for planned electrical isolation of a system or equipment.
By definition, “circuit breakers are protective construction electrical products that operate automatically”. Certain fault conditions can actuate a circuit breaker resulting in a discontinuation of power supply to the relevant device or circuit.
Keeping up with the maintenance of your electrical equipment can often be a challenge, particularly if you have limited resources. But the reliability and safety of your facility often tends to depend on it. For circuit breakers in commercial buildings or industrial plants, maintenance has traditionally followed a preventative approach, with regular testing and maintenance checks scheduled at fixed time periods. This is usually done every one or two years, whether each breaker needs it or not.
Conditions that Cause a Circuit Breaker to Age and Require Maintenance:
- Operational Conditions
Mechanical wear and tear occurs due to the number of times a breaker closes and opens, along with the amount of times its protection mechanism trips due to a short circuit or overload. But to truly find out the amount of wear and tear on a breaker’s contacts and service life – you need to consider the amount of current flowing during each of these actions. The higher the flow of current the more wear and tear.
- Environment Conditions
If your circuit breakers are located in harsh environments then this will accelerate the aging process. High load levels, high power harmonics and high ambient temperatures are all factors which contribute to higher and hotter operating temperatures overall. High humidity, salt gases and airborne oil particles are also elements which can corrode circuit breakers. Also, mechanical vibrations and dust can also contribute to increasing stress on circuit breakers.
Breaker that cannot perform as per their design can worsen the situation and cause:
- Injuries to people nearby
- Downtime and production losses
- Tripping of the entire electrical source
- Destruction of all the linked electrical equipment
- Electrical fires
Here are the pros and cons of each type of circuit breaker maintenance:
Implementing a reactive method allows circuit breakers to fail before being replaced. This can be a reasonable approach in situations whereby safety and productivity are not affected, as this can represent the lowest costs and maintenance times. But these savings can be eaten up due to the shortened lifespan of the equipment which will also need more frequent replacement, as well as the potential damage to secondary equipment.
This is the most common approach found in most facilities. Periodic checkups are done to reduce the chances of breakers failing and increasing their lifespan. Mostly, specific maintenance measures and intervals are recommended either by the manufacturer or electrical organizations near you. These recommendations are made with the consideration of the environmental conditions that your breakers will be working in as well as how they will be operated. This approach helps to minimize failures and, in turn, maintenance and other equipment costs. However, it’s more labor intensive than the reactive approach which can sometimes lead to unnecessary servicing.
Having vast knowledge and operational information about circuit breakers and along with environmental data from other facility systems makes it easier for service teams to calculate as and when each circuit breaker needs maintenance quite accurately. The benefits of this strategy are that maintenance is only done when required and prevent any unnecessary downtime as all imminent failures can be accurately anticipated. Your inventory costs are also reduced as you only have to order your spare parts as per demand.
Luckily the recent advances in the intelligence of circuit breakers, along with the new analytic capabilities at the software level have allowed the health of each breaker to now be predicted which will deliver greater facility uptime and savings.
Jeson Pitt works with the marketing department of D&F Liquidators and regularly writes to share his knowledge while enlightening people about electrical products and solving their electrical dilemmas. He’s got the industry insights that you can count on along with years of experience in the field. .