With increasing dependence on computers and automated processes, most modern facilities cannot afford downtime. In order to maximize the useful life of the electrical equipment and to mitigate the risk of unscheduled power outages, it is critical to properly maintain the switchgear and switchboards that distribute electricity throughout the power distribution system.
Electrical switchgear is composed of passive and active components. The passive components include the horizontal and vertical bus structures while the active components are the power circuit breakers and fusible switching devices. The main function of the active components is to protect the electrical assets downstream and to disconnect the circuit and protect personnel in case of an arc flash event. Both the passive and active components require regular maintenance to ensure equipment integrity, proper mechanical and electrical functionality, and to extend the equipment’s useful life.
Circuit Breaker Performance
Unless maintenance testing has been utilized to track the performance of circuit breakers, degradation of insulation and the moving parts will not be noticed. Industry groups such as IEEE have analyzed the factors that affect the condition and performance of circuit breakers and published average failure rates for this equipment. However, these average failure rates do not account for the varying degrees of maintenance between different installations.
Further, even the best maintained equipment is subject to two key phenomena:
- Equipment ultimately degrades and reaches the end of its useful life, no matter how much maintenance is performed.
- Advances in technology – both in material sciences and microprocessor based controls – facilitate the production of more modern circuit breakers with better performance, reduced maintenance requirements and on-board diagnostics, to name a few features. With the advancements in the design of the new circuit breakers, circuit breakers with older technology are no longer considered sustainable solutions.