Circuit Breaker Main and Arcing Contacts with Copper Splatter
When discussing circuit breakers, we like to have good images to show the difference between the main contacts and the arcing contacts. When a circuit breaker opens, the main contacts should open partially first before the arcing contacts start to open. There should be no arcing damage to the main contacts because the arc interruption takes place between the arcing contacts. This protects the current carrying surfaces of the main contacts so there is minimum contact resistance at the main contacts. Good contact surface means no overheating. For the same reason, when the circuit breaker closes, the arcing contacts close first, suffering any arcing damage. After the arcing contacts are closed, the main contacts close. All this keeps the main contacts in good condition. The arcing contacts are enclosed in something called an arc chute that extends and separates the arc until it is extinguished when the circuit breaker opens. When the arc chutes are contaminated with dirt or high humidity or interrupt very high loads or fault currents, the arc chutes take a beating. Whether you’re talking about Square D circuit breakers, Cutler Hammer circuit breakers, Siemens, Westinghouse or GE General Electric circuit breakers, molded case circuit breakers, power circuit breakers, or medium voltage air circuit breakers, the function of the arc chutes is the same, take a beating to protect the main breakers. The attached image shows the damage to the stationary and movable arcing contacts and to the arc runner that extends into the arc chutes to extend and divide the arc until it is extinguished. The main contacts, the 16 curved segments across the middle of the image, are in good shape. No arcing damage what so ever. This image is from a medium voltage air circuit breaker.
Categories: Uncategorized arc chutes, Arcing Contacts, arcing damage, Circuit Breaker Main, circuit breakers, contact resistance, Cutler Hammer, general electric, Main Contacts, Medium Voltage Air Breakers, molded case circuit breakers, power circuit breakers, Siemens, square d, Westinghouse
Sometimes MIDWEST’s Engineering Technicians in our Switchgear Shop like to do what the Engineers call “Play.” The technicians call it serious research. Sometimes their adventures are quite worthwhile, even enlightening. Recently an Engineering Technician dropped a circuit breaker test form on an Engineer’s desk and said, “Would you take a look at that and tell me if you think it’s okay.” The test results were excellent. The contact resistance, insulation resistance, over current test results, reset tests, all the test results were excellent. So why in the world was the Engineering Technician dropping it on the Engineer’s desk when the test results were so good? The results looked like those for a new circuit breaker. What they had done was test an old Westinghouse circuit breaker that had been practically crushed. The case was broken and the arc chutes damaged. It looked like it had been dropped from 50 feet and hit on one corner. But, oddly enough, against all reason, it operated mechanically and the test results were all good. But, of course, it failed the visual inspection. When the Technician dragged the Engineer to the Switchgear Shop to evaluate the breaker, everyone had a good laugh. This was good fun and the technical evaluation was unanimous, POJ, Piece of Junk. One of our favorite highly technical terms. In this case it was very obvious. But frequently we find defects in used circuit breakers and in brand new circuit breakers, and other electrical equipment, that would never be revealed by testing alone. That’s why the experience, training and knowledge of the Technicians and Engineers are extremely important. There is no perfect test standard for every POJ.
A question asked by one of our customers:
You guys work on circuit breakers all the time. I have a used circuit breaker. I don’t know why it was laying around in the shop, but I checked it with a VOM and operated it. Checks okay and sounds okay. Is it okay, or is there more to it? My breaker is a 3 pole 100 amp plastic type circuit breaker.
Yes, there is more to it. MIDWEST’s tests are (1) Voltage Related, (2) Current Related, and (3) Mechanical Related. The most serious deficiencies may be current, ie heat, related. MIDWEST overcurrent tests used and new circuit breakers. In addition to testing the overcurrent functions and insulation quality, we also test the condition of the contacts, including contact resistance. Poor breaker contacts can cause overheating and lead to serious damage.