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Poor Connections Nearly Start Fires

September 14th, 2010

A recent customer called MIDWEST, saying that they had a dozen surge suppressor strips that almost caught on fire.  The strips had been powering computers for a large municipality.  Much to the consternation of the secretaries, the strips started smoking ominously right next to their feet under their desks.  These were high quality surge suppressors, each of which contained  circuit breakers, and three metal oxide varistors.     Very strangely, neither the circuit breakers inside the surge suppressors nor the panelboards’ circuit breakers tripped.  The computers that were plugged into the surge suppressors just continued to crank away, despite the smoke and incipient fires.

 

MIDWEST engineers dissected the burned surge suppressor strips, and found that the metal oxide varistors had catastrophically overheated due to a long term overvoltage condition, rather than a one-time voltage spike. This long term overheating baked the printed circuit boards. The boards had carbonized, thus supporting extraneous current flow and copious quantities of heat and smoke.  The current was below the trip level of all the circuit breakers, so they had not opened and not interrupted the current flow.

 

MIDWEST’s Engineering Department installed line voltage monitoring equipment at the main distribution panel’s circuit breakers.  After a couple of weeks, sufficient data was collected that indicated the probable cause was failures in the grounding and neutral connections relating to the 300 KVA distribution transformer.    

 

MIDWEST’s Engineering Department’s decades of experience and proven expertise in power electronics was essential in diagnosing the problem.   

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