When budgetary concerns push back maintenance schedules
By Jason Honick
Circuit Breakers, that little invention designed to protect your electrical circuits. The way they work is when fault levels reach specific set points they are designed to open the circuit, thereby protecting personnel and equipment on the circuit. Easy enough.
If fault points are reached and a breaker fails to trip, the viability of the circuit is put at increased risk. To breaker function, time is a thief. Trip units age, contacts pit and burn, operating mechanisms get stiff. The best hedge against these aging effects is good preventative maintenance as you might have guessed. And as you also might have guessed, here at MIDWEST we perform breaker testing and maintenance.
No one knows the value of good maintenance more than maintenance people. If you’ve ever had a circuit go out due to a defective breaker, you know it’s something to be avoided. The costs involved in terms of safety, equipment replacement, and down time can be staggering. In the best circumstance, good engineering weighs the risk-benefits associated with good maintenance. But as often the case, real world circumstance doesn’t always allow for such luxury. Budgets get squeezed, priorities get changed, production schedules jam up. So where does that leave the prudent minded maintenance professional. Out in the dark? Not so fast. There are things one can do to minimize the risk of putting-off breaker maintenance programs.
Exercising or operating the breaker (a minimum of five times), as simple as that may sound, is a proven technique to keep the mechanics of your breaker running smoothly and help stave off the bad effects of idleness. Breaker contacts are designed to “wipe” themselves while closing. As the breakers closes, a slight lateral action occurs between breaker stationary and movable contacts as they come into contact with each other. This action cleans contact surfaces. Exercising the breaker also keeps current carrying pivot points in good shape. On the extreme, we’ve seen breakers whose mechanisms have become so stiff from lack of exercise they failed to open when tripped.
Exercising a breaker does require the circuit to be opened if only temporarily which can often be scheduled in “slack times” or “window of opportunity times”.