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.
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.
MIDWEST asked our Switchgear Engineering Technicians for an example of a molded case circuit breaker that had a hidden defect that could only be found by experienced testing. We find many used circuit breakers that have defects that can be found by a close visual inspection. Sometimes the defect may not be obvious but an experienced Engineering Technician knows where to look and would find the problem. In the business of repairing and reconditioning circuit breakers, we find about every possible problem that can occur. Whether we are reconditioning a replacement Westinghouse, General Electric or Siemens circuit breaker, many of the problems are the same. But we also frequently find hidden defects that could only be detected using proper testing.
For this example, let’s just use a replacement Square D PAL362000 circuit breaker. The breaker was reconditioned, which involved removing the cover to thoroughly inspect and maintain the interior of the Square D circuit breaker. The technician was immediately suspicious because he detected the slight smell of an overheated circuit breaker. Once you get that smell in your nose, you never forget it in the future. Even a small whiff tells you there may be a problem. In this case everything visible was in very good condition. There were no signs of overheating at the contacts or the line or load side breaker terminals. But the contact resistance test results indicated very high resistance on the center pole. A DLRO, digital low resistance ohmmeter, was used to locate the problem. The usual location is either the contacts, the bolted connections to the trip device, or the line or load side terminals or lugs. In this case the defect was inside the trip device. And a close sniff of the trip element confirmed it. MIDWEST performed an additional test, a high current test, to determine the voltage drop and therefore the resistance in the trip device on the center pole. Even though this replacement Square D circuit breaker looked just great, the trip device was defect and had to be replaced.
MIDWEST had a customer call because they had an old Square D MAL361000 and it took forever to trip when they had a serious overload problem. He bet it took 3 minutes. This brought up a common misconception concerning how circuit breakers provide protection. When we provide Hands-On Safety Training, this is one of the items we are sure to cover. First of all, whether Square D circuit breakers, Cutler Hammer circuit breakers, GE General Electric circuit breakers, or Siemens circuit breakers, they are not designed to protect people directly. They are designed to protect connected equipment, yet not nuisance trip due to a non harmful transient event. By protecting equipment, circuit breakers consequentially protect people. His old Square D circuit breaker may have taken over 3 minutes to trip and it may have performed the way it was designed. Breakers have a performance specification called a “Time Current Curve,” TCC. In basic terms, whether Westinghouse circuit breakers or ABB circuit breakers, they do not trip immediately at the trip setting. A 1000 amp circuit breaker does not trip right away at 1000 amps or even 1500 or 2000 amps. As a matter of fact, an old 1000 amp Square D MA circuit breaker may have a trip range of 45 seconds to 340 seconds when overloaded with 3000 amps, 300%. In basic terms, it should not trip in less the 45 seconds and may take as long as 340 seconds to trip. This may seem crazy but, again, it is designed to protect the equipment connected to it while not nuisance tripping. The same breaker would have an instantaneous setting which would determine at what current value the circuit breaker would trip immediately. But, if that setting is over 300%, ie 3000 amps, the breaker would cook for a long time before tripping. By that time you can smell the breaker overheating.
Sometimes we get calls from a customer that is in a real jam and has limited resources or time to get out of it. And sometimes these problems are over small pieces of electrical equipment, such as a replacement General Electric circuit breaker, two pole 100 amps. We got such a call just before Christmas. A home owner’s electrician needed a replacement circuit breaker, 2 pole 100 amps, for an old home. The existing circuit breaker would not latch closed. They had limited information on the old circuit breaker. They would have changed the whole panel but they couldn’t get it done before Christmas.
First we explained they had to contact the electric utility because they were changing the main breaker for a house. We sent them two styles of recondition circuit breakers because their information was not specific enough. We told them to use the replacement circuit breaker that was correct and to return the other breaker to us. Their ‘replace circuit breaker’ problem, as they called it, was solved and they had lights for Christmas. They returned the other breaker to MIDWEST. Their problem wasn’t because they needed an unusual replacement Square D circuit breaker or replacement Cutler Hammer circuit breaker. Their problem was because the location was Hawaii. It was a big problem for a small customer, but it made everyone feel great that we took care of them for Christmas.
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.