Posts Tagged ‘arc flash’

Removing Cover from an Energized Breaker

November 19th, 2010 Comments off


MIDWEST had a customer call and ask if it was okay to remove the cover from an old 400 amp circuit breaker, live. Our Infrared Scan indicated the load side connection was overheating. They wanted to repair it, but didn’t want to turn the power off to the whole panel board. They needed to remove the cover of the circuit breaker to make the repair and thought they could just remove the four screws holding the cover on and carefully remove the cover. We explained politely that they were crazy to try such a thing. This was an old molded case circuit breaker and the arc chutes for this breaker were not fastened in place as they are in some breakers. In addition, the arc dividers were metal and they were held together with an insulated band. On some of these breakers we have to tape the band to hold the arc dividers together or they just fall apart. So the danger would be that you remove the cover with the line side still hot and one of the arc chutes falls out and the metal arc dividers fall apart. It would be almost certain that one of the metal arc dividers would short a stationary contact to a moveable contact and cause a horrific arcing blast, arcing fault.  Depending on the instantaneous, ie fault, setting of the main breaker, the fault might last for seconds and result in tremendous damage to the equipment and expose anyone nearby to serious injury or death from an arc blast. Because the fault is on the line side of the breaker, it wouldn’t take much to create a panel board bus fault. This is a good way to get someone seriously injured or killed and a good way to destroy a whole panel board. To remove the cover off any circuit breaker with the line side hot is a very bad idea. But to remove the cover of some of the older circuit breakers, with the line side hot, is just crazy because of the construction of the breaker. Inside molded case circuit breakers there are other devices that may fall out when you remove the cover. Besides all this, there may be something defective inside the breaker, just waiting there, for the first unfortunate person to take the cover off, and then it falls apart or breaks completely. You could get very unlucky. We call these things incipient failures and they can be some of the most nasty and dangerous defects in electrical equipment, because you are not expecting them. This is true whether it’s a Square D, Cutler Hammer, Westinghouse, GE General Electric, or Siemens circuit breaker or any other breaker manufacturer. Turn the main power off!

When is a Circuit Breaker not a Circuit Breaker?

August 16th, 2010 1 comment

Question:  When is a circuit breaker not a circuit breaker?


Answer:   When it doesn’t trip and break the circuit.


This is not just a silly riddle.  It unfortunately is a fact of life.  Circuit breakers, either like the small ones in your home, or large industrial ones as supplied by MIDWEST, usually only trip when presented with an extra heavy load, or a short circuit.  This is great news.


But there is bad news also.  In the case of a poor connection somewhere in the circuit path, or a not-so-short short circuit, a circuit breaker will not trip.  To be specific, the electrical engineers at MIDWEST would say that the first case is a high impedance series circuit, and the second is a low impedance parallel circuit.  Either way, very significant heat can be generated in places where heat can cause a fire.  And because the current flowing can be below the trip value, the circuit breaker will not trip to break the circuit. 


Examples of a high impedance series circuit might be a loose screw on a lug, or poor wire nut connection, or a bad solder joint.  These essentially become an additional series resistive component in the circuit.   


Examples of a low impedance parallel circuit are carbonized arc paths on a printed circuit board, a bare wire brushing up against something it shouldn’t, or the failure of a normal load.  These essentially become an additional parallel resistive component in the circuit.   


All of these conditions can easily result in an electrical fire, or even a catastrophic arc flash.  In an industrial setting, one of the products that MIDWEST offers is arc flash and fire resistant Arc Flash Personal Protective Equipment.  MIDWEST also offers Infrared Scanning and Ultrasonic Scanning Services, which is a great way to locate the troublesome series or parallel faults causing dangerous high temperatures.


It is probably safe to say that most electrical fires can be attributed to a circuit fault with just the right impedance resulting in circuit current that does not trip the circuit breaker or blow a fuse.  Often these faults occur in out of way places such as walls or electrical sockets.   


So, when is a circuit breaker not a circuit breaker?   


Answer:  When the impedance of the circuit is such that the current is less than trip current, and the circuit breaker does not trip to break the circuit.