Posts Tagged ‘circuit breakers’

Overheating 1200 Amp Square D Circuit Breaker – Bus Bolts Bottomed Out

March 31st, 2011 Comments off

Square D 1200 Amp Circuit Breaker - Cat. No. MAL361200 For Sale by MIDWEST

MIDWEST found a seriously overheating 1200 amp Square D circuit breaker during the annual Infrared Scan of a Foundry.  The upper left corner of the newly installed circuit breaker lit up like a light bulb when viewed with Infrared. The foundry third shift electricians tightened all the bus connections to the back of the circuit breaker. They said a couple bolts turned a quarter turn and they exercised the breaker. Rescanning showed no change. They didn’t want us working on the circuit breaker in place, so MIDWEST provided a temporary rental circuit breaker so they could remove the defective Square D circuit breaker for us to repair, if possible. Before testing the circuit breaker in our shop, we inspected it. The technician immediately noticed there were different bolts holding the line and load side breaker bus details. In our famous words, “We’ve seen this before.” Got to love experience. As soon as he removed the bolts he determined the bolts, holding the bus detail in the overheating area of the breaker, were bottoming out before the bus detail was tight. This was a quick fix because no overheating damage had occurred. This was an old Square D molded case circuit breaker. But we have seen the same problem on Westinghouse 2000 amp circuit breakers and less frequently on GE circuit breakers. We have never seen it when the circuit breakers have been installed by the manufacturer. It happens when a breaker has been replaced for some reason. 

Cutler Hammer HND312T33W Circuit Breaker Interrupts 65,000 Amps

February 18th, 2011 1 comment

MIDWEST had a call from a purchasing agent for a manufacturing plant. He was suppose to purchase a 1200 amp Cutler Hammer circuit breaker that he was told could handle 65,000 amps. All he knew was, he had a

Cutler Hammer HND312T33W Circuit Breakers For Sale

Cutler Hammer HND312T33W Circuit Breakers For Sale

bunch of numbers and when he asked about one of them he was told it meant the breaker could carry 65,000 amps. He was confused and really stressed because he had no idea what to order, but he knew he was getting some bad information. He wanted to order a Cutler Hammer HND312T33W circuit breaker. He wanted to be sure he was getting the right thing and then just move on. He was very busy and this request was just overwhelming. We explained in basic terms the circuit breaker was rated to handle 1200 amps. Anything more and it would eventually trip. The 65,000 amp rating just meant, if there was a terrible sudden short circuit where 1000s of amps flowed through the breaker for a fraction of a second, the breaker would safely trip and interrupt the current, as long as it was 65,000 amps or less. If it was more than 65,000 amps, the breaker might not interrupt the flow of current. The breaker might fail, with a loud blast. Or worse yet, someone could get seriously injured. It is a little scary how often some folks are given the huge responsibility to located electrical equipment when they have such limited information. Fortunately, MIDWEST specializes in taking care of just such calls.  Our switchgear personnel have decades of hands on experience with Cutler Hammer circuit breakers, Square D circuit breakers and many others. They know more than just the numbers. This is so critical when a customer calls and has poor or even wrong information. We want everyone to be safe. 

Circuit Breakers in Switchboard Buried in Sand

December 6th, 2010 Comments off

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.

Old or New Circuit Breaker Hearing Test

October 13th, 2010 Comments off


PAL36200 Square D Molded Case Circuit Breaker

PAL36200 Square D Molded Case Circuit Breaker

How would you feel if you were an Engineering Technician and you had just spent over an hour maintaining and testing a Square D PAL362000 circuit breaker and the Engineer walked up, operated the PAL362000 one time and said “It’s junk, throw it out?”  You might think the Engineer should be thrown out. But actually, the Engineer was just confirming what the technician already knew. In this case the circuit breaker had been inspected for any deficiency. The cover had been removed, yes, carefully, and the contacts, arc chutes, operating mechanism were all checked and maintained. The line and load side terminals of the old Square D PAL362000 were clean and in good condition. There was no sign of rust, worn main contacts or arc damaged arcing contacts. The operating mechanism visually looked in good condition. There was discoloration to the movable contact fingers of each pole piece. 


Tests were performed on the PAL362000 over current devices.  The test results were all good.


The contact resistance test results and the insulation resistance test results were all good.  The reset tests were all good.  So what was wrong with this expensive PAL362000 Square D circuit breaker?  There were two things wrong with the breaker. One deficiency was suspected based on the inspection and test procedure. The other was determined based upon our experience servicing Square D PAL362000 and PAF362000 circuit breakersFirst of all the movable contact fingers, ie pole pieces, were discolored.  We have seen this before and it usually means the circuit was heavily loaded.  In this case the circuit breaker was on a feeder that routinely hit 1800 amps and occasionally the breaker had tripped due to the load.  The other thing that told us the breaker was defective was also based on experience.  The experience of operating Square D PAL361000, PAL361200, PAL361600, PAL362000, PAF361000, PAF361200, PAF361600 and PAF362000 circuit breakers has taught us to listen carefully to the closing and opening of the three pole pieces, the moveable contact assemblies. Circuit Breakers that have been in very harsh conditions or operated under continuous heavy load, have a tendency to not open and close all three pole pieces simultaneously. When the breaker is defective, you can hear two or more poles close or open at different times. You will hear two separate distinct contact closings or openings. We know, if the difference is very obvious, repair attempts tend to be very temporary. With proper cleaning, lubrication, and exercising, the breaker may seem to operate properly. But we know from experience, the following year, or even in a few months, the breaker will again not close or open properly.  In these days of real concern for arc flash hazard protection, this defect can not be ignored.


In the example discussed here, the Engineer just confirmed what the technician already knew. The Square D circuit breaker failed the hearing test. In this case experience rules. And it applies to Westinghouse, Cutler Hammer, GE General Electric circuit breakers also.

Fire Hazards of Surge Suppressor Strips with Integral Circuit Breakers

September 27th, 2010 2 comments

MIDWEST’S Engineering Department has had several customer’s ask to investigate some fires that have occurred in their offices.  These fires were caused by commercial surge suppressor strips.  Each strip had integral circuit breakers.  In each case, neither the integral circuit breakers nor the distribution panel’s circuit breakers tripped.  


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has researched and documented innumerable cases where the surge suppressors have caught fire.  In many cases, large fires have resulted; thus the NFPA’s concern.  The surge suppressor strips typically contain a circuit breaker and three or more metal oxide varistors.  Metal oxide varistors are non-linear circuit components that conduct large currents when the applied voltage exceeds a certain value, usually 130 Volts AC RMS.  


In the intended application, the varistors conduct in the presence of large voltage transients, such as from a lightening strike.  But a large transient of Kilovolts is not the only situation that can cause the varistor to conduct.  A small overvoltage can also cause conduction.  Of course, small is relative.  In this context, small might be a voltage increase such that the applied voltage is double or triple the normal 120 Volts, and can exist for hours.  Such events can result from wiring failures in the power distribution system.  In this case, the varistors will conduct small currents, perhaps just a few amperes.  However, the double or triple voltage will still be dropped across the varistor.   So, since power P = E * I, it is obvious that hundreds of watts will be dissipated as long as the overvoltage exists.  Since varistors are typically only rated for about 1 watt continuous, severe overheating will occur.  Such severe heat generation will result in destruction of the varistor and cooking of circuit boards.  These elements are often reduced to just carbon, which continues to conduct, and continues the generation of heat inside the surge suppressor.  The result can be a fire.  Undiscovered, the building can burn down.


It is salient to note that if just a few amperes flow, then neither the internal circuit breaker nor external circuit breakers will trip, as these are probably rated at 15 or 20 amps.


Underwriter’s Laboratories has tried to address this issue in the following revisions of UL 1449:

  • 2nd revision of UL 1449, titled ““UL Standard for Safety for Transient Voltage Surge Suppressors”.  Compliance with this revision is mandated as of February 2007.
  • 3rd revision of UL 1449, titled “UL Standard for Safety for Surge Protective Devices”.  Compliance with this revision is mandated as of September 2009.   This revision has also become an ANSII standard.

Surge Suppressors, Circuit Breakers, and Red Herrings

September 20th, 2010 Comments off

A large municipality had a very frightening situation recently.  It seems that a dozen surge suppressor strips (with internal circuit breakers) underneath office workers’ desks had overheated to the point of starting small fires internal to the strips.


MIDWEST was contracted to solve the problem.  MIDWEST’s Engineering Department installed Dranetz line monitoring equipment (Dranetz is the gold standard of line monitors). 


The results revealed a very, very interesting situation.  The line monitoring equipment discovered two anomalies. 


First, the 120 volt line was continuously about 8% too high;utilities guarantee a high line tolerance of 5%.  Thus the customer’s line voltage was 3% higher than the utility allows.


Secondly, some large short term voltages were measured on the customer’s neutral to ground by the Dranetz.   


In addition, forensic analysis was performed on the surge suppressors.  It was found that in all instances, the internal voltage spike protecting component, the metal oxide varistors (MOV) had burned themselves up, due to long term overheating.  In doing so, much of the underlying printed circuit board was also burned up and carbonized.  This carbonized material continued to support a small current and generate heating in the strips.  However, the internal circuit breakers never tripped.  The fact that the circuit breakers never opened is a very critical clue.


At first glance, the “obvious” conclusion one could draw is that the 8% high line condition caused the varistors to conduct, causing the overheating.   


But, the obvious conclusion would be wrong.  The 8% high line condition is just a red herring in this investigation.  Referring to the V-I characteristic curves of the varistors, an 8% overvoltage would cause negligible current flow.  In order for the 1 watt rating of the varistor to be exceeded, double or triple the nominal voltage would have to be applied for at least several minutes; the varistors would conduct around an ampere or less.   This is far less than the 15 ampere rated current of the circuit breaker.   


The surge suppressor strips’ melted plastic housings, and the extensive baking of the printed circuit boards to carbonization indicated heating on the order of minutes.  


On the other hand, a typical large voltage spike of several thousand volts tens lasting tens of microseconds tend to explode varistors, creating a plasma ball, and spraying superheated varistor material and copper everywhere around the sacrificial varistor.   The plasma ball would act like a dead short circuit, causing an internal arc flash of hundreds of amperes.  This would have tripped the circuit breakers.  A typical varistor explosion usually sounds like a gunshot; however, no such noises were heard by personnel.  The author has personally witnessed these explosions during destructive testing of varistors under controlled conditions.  The surge suppressor post-mortems’ also revealed no deposited spray of bulk varistor material or of copper.


The only conclusion that could be drawn is that double or triple the nominal line voltage actually was existent for several minutes, rather than a one-time voltage spike.  This conclusion is supported by the anomalous Dranetz neutral to ground measurements.

Poor Connections Nearly Start Fires

September 14th, 2010 Comments off

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.