If you want to see a good picture of a large circuit breaker that has been damaged by an arc blast, look at the pictures with this blog. The breaker was a Westinghouse PC32000 molded case circuit breaker. It was a 2000 amp circuit breaker that failed to interrupt a fault and blasted the inside of the breaker until it actually blew a hole through the side of the circuit breaker frame. If you look closely, you will see where a MIDWESTswitchgear service technician actually stuck a screwdriver through the hole. The close up picture shows the hole and shows the extensive arcing damage to the moveable arcing and main contacts. The phase barriers, arc chutes, pretty much the whole Westinghouse PC32000 circuit breaker, was arc blasted beyond repair. One picture shows the destroyed circuit breaker next to a MIDWEST inventory stock PC32000 circuit breaker. This is a tough Westinghouse molded case circuit breaker. It wouldn’t make any difference whether the breaker was Square D or GE General Electric. If the breaker contacts begin to open, but fail to interrupt the current, arc damage will quickly occur. If the breaker is trying to interrupt fault current, extensive arc damage occurs very fast and will quickly expand into a phase to phase fault with catastrophic destruction. The arcing fault may explode outside the case of the circuit breaker. This is one of the reasons for wearing protective clothing and following safe work practices when operation circuit breakers. Bad things can happen very fast. Too fast for you to get out of the way. We suggest being paranoid about safety when working around electrical power equipment.
MIDWEST lost a battle with the maintenance dollar. A manufacturing plant had a 2000 amp Square D circuit breaker that was loaded to over 1800 amps, sometimes hitting 1900. We detected the heavily loaded breaker during an Infrared Scan of the facility. This was an old Square D circuit breaker mounted in a tap box feeding a 2000 amp bus duct. The local contractor recommended they just replace the breaker with a 100% rated breaker. He said they could use Square D, Cutler Hammer, or General Electric, whoever was cheapest and would fit. Because of the bus configuration, it only made sense to use the same Square D circuit breaker. The customer bit on the idea that just replacing the old circuit breaker would solve their problem and save them a lot of money. We strongly disagreed. Replacing the circuit breaker would make zero difference, in this case. The old Square D molded case circuit breaker was an 80% rated breaker. More recent replacement Square D circuit breakers, same frame, model number, current rating, were 100% rated, ie 2000 amps. The 100% rated replacement circuit breaker was specified 100% if it was in an enclosure with a much larger volume than the old breaker. In other words, to achieve the 100% rating, the breaker must be in a much larger enclosure so as to properly dissipate the heat generated from 2000 amps. This all makes sense. But to just replace one breaker, whether GE General Electric, Cutler Hammer, Siemens, or Square D, with a 100% rated breaker and not address the installation requirements to achieve the higher rating can be a waste of dollars. A quick check of the old and new circuit breaker specifications, will tell what the installation requirements are. This is the technical added value that is often ignored, or just not known, in too many facilities, as experienced personnel disappear.
This facility decided to replace the circuit breaker, but later transferred load off the bus duct.
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.