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The Switchgear Survival Guide

10 suggestions to optimize equipment life and enhance reliability

BY HAL THEOBALD, Schneider Electric

With increasing dependence on computers and automated processes, most modern facilities cannot afford downtime. According to studies published by the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Company and FM Global, “Electrical equipment failures account for millions of dollars in damage and lost business every year.”

Performing proper maintenance on a facilities’ electrical equipment can reduce the risk of an unplanned outage and help extend useful life of the asset. In today’s economy, budget constraints on capital improvement projects will mean more reliance on existing equipment maintenance.

Electrical switchgear is composed of passive and active components. The passive components include the horizontal and vertical bus structures while the active components are the power circuit breakers and fusible switching devices.

The main function of the active components is to protect the electrical assets downstream, to disconnect the circuit, and to protect personnel in case of an arc flash event. Both the passive and active components require regular maintenance to ensure equipment integrity and proper mechanical and electrical functionality, as well as to optimize the equipment’s useful life.

A regularly scheduled electrical system preventive maintenance program is intended to detect, repair, or replace affected electrical components, parts, or equipment before they lead to catastrophic damages, significant power interruptions, and loss of business functions.

Most of this feature will focus on circuit breakers, as they are the most commonly utilized active component in low and medium-voltage switchgear and switchboards. Medium-voltage switchgear can consist of one of three types of circuit breakers; air, vacuum or oil.

These circuit breakers are typically draw-out type, a design which facilitates removal from the power source, simplifying maintenance. The three types require similar maintenance; however each has unique characteristics and testing procedures.

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