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Circuit Breakers in Switchboard Buried in Sand

December 6th, 2010

Sometimes MIDWEST runs into switchgear and circuit breakers in such harsh environments that you would wonder how they don’t blow up, much less work properly.  An example is some switchgear and old circuit breakers found in foundry environments. The condition of electrical equipment in foundries is 100 times better than 25 years ago. But there is still one thing that has not changed for some foundries and that is sand in electrical switchgear. Some foundries still have their main panel boards and some switchgear in open foundry areas, rather than in clean positive pressure rooms.

 

We recently were called in to repair a 2000 amp circuit breaker used in an open foundry environment. It turned out the old circuit breaker was not a breaker at all, but rather was a 2000 amp bolted pressure switch. The electrical switchboard had over 6 inches of sand in the bottom and 3 or 4 inches on top. The main horizontal bus feeding the risers for the circuit breakers, was partially buried in foundry sand. The service technicians said they actually scooped the sand out before even trying to use vacuum equipment. Fortunately the sand didn’t carry anything with it that acted as a conductor. This isn’t always true. In this case, the sand was just more insulation.

 

Maintaining the bolt lock switch and the circuit breakers was a nasty job. The covers had to be removed from every breaker to clean the operating mechanism and to get the sand out of the contact and arc chute area. And all our efforts were only temporary since the environment was unchanged. More serious was the fact that foundry dust would be inside the over current trip devices of the circuit breakers. Therefore the operation of the trip devices was unreliable, even unsafe. It wouldn’t make any difference whether these old circuit breakers were Square D, Westinghouse, GE General Electric or Cutler Hammer. Foundry dust and sand doesn’t care who the manufacture is. Even a brand new circuit breaker would be a victim to the sand.

The illusion was the circuit breakers were okay because they didn’t trip. It was only when the owner tried and failed to operate the main switch did they realize that maybe the panel board and breakers needed some attention. This was not the first, nor will it be the last, switchgear, panel board, or circuit breakers that we find basically buried in sand.

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