Posts Tagged ‘GE’

Seeing Is Not Believing – Barrels of Junk Circuit Breakers

March 12th, 2012 No comments
Barrel of Scrap Circuit Breakers

Barrel of Scrap Circuit Breakers

This is another blog on MIDWEST’s barrels of junk circuit breakers. More specifically it is about the difficulty of not believing something you can’t see. This human factor can frequently be a challenge in our world when a customer has a perfectly good looking circuit breaker and we tell them it is no good and they need a replacement circuit breaker that will cost $3500.00. They understand the words, but their emotional pocket book says “But it looks okay.” Even after being presented with the test results or pictures of the inside of the breaker that reveal the deficiency or damage, they find it hard to believe what their brain is telling them isn’t true, “Because it looks okay.” In our world of reconditioning circuit breakers and remanufacturing circuit breakers, we frequently scrap out equipment that looks in perfectly good condition. Usually the reason for tossing out, say a Square D NA361200circuit breaker, involves deficiencies that can not

Square D NA361200 Circuit Breaker

Square D NA361200 Circuit Breaker

be seen physically, unless you remove the cover or thoroughly test the circuit breaker. Whether a reconditioned GE General Electric, Square D, Cutler Hammer or Siemens circuit breaker, if the inspection or test results say junk, out it goes. And keep in mind, some circuit breakers are not built to be happy if you remove the cover. You need to know what you’re doing. Recently we had an electrical contractor stop to pick up several reconditioned Cutler Hammer circuit breakers. He walked by the barrels labeled “Scrap Breakers” and he looked like he saw a little gold mine. He really didn’t like the idea that all those breakers were actually junk and were being scrapped. The contractor in him told him these breakers were worth a fortune. Even after showing him some of the new looking circuit breakers that had the covers off revealing visible deficiencies, all he could say was a skeptical “Hmmm.”  Even we sometimes grunt a little “Hmmm” when we toss out a $3000.00 piece of junk.

Circuit Breaker Reset Tests

January 11th, 2012 No comments
1600 Amp General Electric Air Circuit Breaker - Catalog No. AK-2A-50-1

1600 Amp General Electric Air Circuit Breaker – Catalog No. AK-2A-50-1 Available at

A customer called MIDWEST to ask why we did something called a “Reset Test” on his circuit breaker. He said he has had circuit breakers tested by switchgear service companies for nearly 30 years and never ever saw something called a circuit breaker “Reset Test.” He has Square D circuit breakers, Westinghouse circuit breakers, General Electrical circuit breakers and newer Cutler Hammer circuit breakers. He checked some of his old test reports and found no “reset tests.”  He had never used MIDWEST before, so he was pretty interested when we explained the reason and procedure for the reset test. The reason was a very pleasant surprise because it gave him greater confidence in the proper performance of his circuit breakers.  MIDWEST started using the circuit breaker “reset test” many years ago. It’s not a standard test procedure. You won’t find it in the text books or instruction manuals. You will find it in MIDWEST’s Training Manual under ‘Scars,’ meaning experience. It’s a carry over procedure from testing old dashpot type air circuit breakers and insulated case circuit breakers and molded case circuit breakers. The reason for the test is that occasionally, seldom but occasionally, a circuit breaker will nuisance trip when put back into service after it has been high current tested. For example, a 1600 amp air circuit breaker, after high current testing, might nuisance trip instantly at 500 amps.  Basically the over current device failed during the high current testing. This was far more common with older “non electronic” over current devices. New electronic over current devices are more reliable, but not perfect. Strange things happen. We are not talking about the service technician forgetting to put the settings back to the correct positions. We are talking about an actual defective device. The test only takes moments. In the interest of quality control, the reset test addresses the “consequences of failure” as opposed to the “probability of failure.”

Yes, we are paranoid about safety and quality.

How Do You Test a Circuit Breaker with Ground Fault Protection

June 2nd, 2011 2 comments

Over the years MIDWEST has been asked many times how we test circuit breakers that have ground fault protection. High current test sets inject single phase current through one pole, ie phase, of the circuit breaker and the test is timed to see if the breaker trips open within the manufacturer’s specified time, based on the TCC, time current curve.  Whether a GE General Electric circuit breaker, or Cutler Hammer or Square D circuit breaker, molded case circuit breaker or air circuit breaker, the same theory applies to the test procedure. Some electronic overcurrent devices on circuit breakers have a feature allowing you to turn off or defect the ground fault protective function. The manufacturer’s specification sheets should explain this. But, if there is no way to turn off the ground fault protective function on a Westinghouse circuit breaker, for example, a specific test procedure must be followed or the circuit breaker will trip open on ground fault function long before you can put enough current through the breaker to properly test the long time or short time function. Maybe the ground fault pickup range is 100 to 1200 amps and the time delay range is 0.1 to 1.0 seconds.  But your 1600 amp Siemens breaker should be long time tested at 300% or 4800 amps and it will take the breaker 22 seconds to trip at that current level. The procedure is to inject current through one phase, current transformer, and then connect the test set up such that the current returns through a second phase, current transformer, in the opposite direction. The currents will cancel out such that the ground fault pickup sees zero current.  Be sure to test in all three possible combinations. Then each phase is tested for ground fault pickup and delay by just injecting current through that phase. These tests are more time consuming for many molded case circuit breakers.  Always check the manufacturer’s literature if you are not sure how to test a specific circuit breaker. The test requirements may differ between a Federal Pacific circuit breaker and a Westinghouse circuit breaker, for example. But they may also differ between types of circuit breakers by the same manufacturer.  And, of course, always be safe.

Circuit Breaker Broken Handle, Blasted Contacts

February 23rd, 2011 No comments


KD3400 Cutler Hammer Circuit Breaker For Sale

KD3400 Cutler Hammer Circuit Breaker For Sale

We grabbed another circuit breaker out of one of the junk breaker barrels. This one was a Cutler Hammer KD3400.  Again, at first the breaker looked clean and happy. But it only took a second to realize the operating handle was broken off. It takes a pretty hard blow to break the handle off a Cutler Hammer circuit breaker. Handles can be easily replaced. But further inspection revealed serious carbon residue in the area of the line side terminals. You could wipe it off but if there is enough to be visible on the outside, there is something seriously wrong inside. Most of the screws were still missing from the cover, so a technician had removed the cover for inspection of the interior of the circuit breaker and put the cover back on with only a couple screws. A quick conversation with the technician reveal that the arcing contacts were destroyed on two poles and two main contacts were seriously damaged. There was heat damage to pole pieces and arcing damage to the interior insulating, dielectric, material. This Cutler Hammer KD3400 circuit breaker was trash. The breaker did not need to be tested. It was rejected based solely on the visible damage to the operating mechanism, main contacts, and arcing contacts. Square D, Cutler Hammer, GE General Electric or Siemens circuit breakers, it doesn’t make a difference. When this happens, they all fit into the same junk barrels.



Removing Cover from an Energized Breaker

November 19th, 2010 No comments


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!

Circuit Breaker Infrared Scanning Disagreement – Lugs

October 27th, 2010 No comments

Infrared Scan of a Circuit BreakerWe read about a disagreement between two bloggers over whether or not infrared scanning, or thermography, was needed if you torque tightened the wire connections to power circuit breaker terminals during routine maintenance.  What occurred to MIDWEST were all the possible deficiencies we find in old, new, and replacement circuit breakers, using infrared scanning, that have nothing to do with whether or not the load terminals were tight.  One of the nasty deficiencies is when the cable lug in an old circuit breaker is very tight, but the lug is overheating because the screw, holding the lug to the breaker output tab, is loose. We’ve seen brand new circuit breakers and replacement circuit breakers fry the load side tab of the breaker so bad that the breaker had to be replaced. This is true for new or old Square D, GE General Electric, Westinghouse, Siemens, Cutler Hammer, ABB, any manufacturer. It has nothing to do with a specific circuit breaker manufacturer.


Sometimes the lug is welded to the tab from the arcing between the lug and tab. There is a very sophisticated test one can perform during a maintenance outage to check for this defect. First, check for voltage at the load and line side of the de-energized circuit breakers. Don’t care that the main breaker is off and all the feeder breakers are open.  Check voltage anyway.  You are checking for something that shouldn’t be, not for something you know should be.  We, rather I, have personal experience with getting my hand blasted because a breaker was back fed. Very bizarre set up, unbelievable, just waiting to injure someone.


After checking for voltage, carefully and gently try to move the conductor coming out of each phase of each circuit breaker.  You are trying to see if the cable is loose in the lug and you are trying to see if the lug is loose, moves or turns, in the circuit breaker. You are not trying to force it to move. Just use enough force to see if it is loose in the circuit breaker. If the lug itself is loose, the cable or cables will need to be removed from the lug; The mounting screw for the lug properly tightened; The cables properly reinstalled; And the cables tightened in the lug. Again, don’t be too forceful. On small breakers, you can always make the lug move. Repeating, you just want to use enough force to see if the lugs for that old obsolete circuit breaker are loose.


If the conductive interface, between the lug and the circuit breaker, is damaged from severe overheating or arcing, the defective circuit breaker may need to be replaced. Sometimes the damaged area can be repaired.  MIDWEST does not recommend replacing power circuit breakers while the switchboard is energized. Be safe. Turn things off. Check for voltage everywhere.

Old or New Circuit Breaker Hearing Test

October 13th, 2010 No comments


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.