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Electrical System Protection Fuses vs Breakers the Proper Selection

Electrical System Protection Fuses vs Breakers the Proper Selection

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Published by: madam121 on Oct 01, 2009
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capacity increases, the price in-creases dramatically. In addition,breaker manufacturers require annualexercising and re-calibration of theirproducts to insure proper operationand maintain the manufacturer’s war-ranty. This annual maintenance addsconsiderable expense in terms ofparts and labor.Installations utilizing fuses exhibitsubstantial savings in both the initialinstallation costs and the eliminationof unnecessary annual maintenance.Fuses are inexpensive to install anddo not require scheduled mainte-nance.
Derating and Aging
If a circuit breaker is not properlymaintained, it will derate and requirere-calibration. The NEMA Low-Volt-age Standard states “after a perfor-mance at or near its interrupting rat-ing (IR), it is not to be inferred thatthe circuit breaker can again meet itsIR without being inspected and if nec-essary, repaired.” If the breaker is putback into operation without being re-paired, a serious safety hazard couldexist. These maintenance issues donot exist with fuses because oncethey operate they are always replacedwith a brand new fuse.
Circuit breakers often need to beoversized (some as much as 1100%of full load current while still beingwithin code) to account for the inrushcurrents of industrial load applications(i.e. motors and transformers). Fusescan be sized closer to load current,which in turn provides much better pro-tection for the equipment from damagedue to current overloads and short cir-cuits.
Type II “No Damage”Protection
Type II is one of two damage levelsdefined in IEC standard 947-4-1 andUL 508E. Based on these standards,only Type II coordination allows mini-mal damage to either the contacts oroverload relay of a motor starter, aslong as the calibration is not lost andthe device is reservicable after a faultoccurs. Fuses are the only protectivedevices available that are current-lim-iting enough to limit the available shortThe proper selection of overcurrent pro-tective devices for branch circuits isan important decision affecting thesafety, reliability and efficiency of anelectrical system. In addition to of-fering a greater degree of protection,the performance of a properly sizedfuse provides significant advantagesto an electrical system when com-pared to the performance of a circuitbreaker in an equivalent system.
Initial and PreventativeMaintenance Costs
The initial cost for an electrical distri-bution system employing circuitbreakers is up to 300% more than anequivalent system employing fuses.Breakers are standardized with initialinterrupting capacities (IC) of10,000AIC, 22,000AIC, 42,000AIC,64,000 AIC,...etc. As the interrupting
“No Damage” protection isfast becoming the industrystandard for both IEC andNEMA type devices.
Fuses Vs. Breakers
Volume 2
circuit current to a non-destructivelevel. Most circuit breakers can notprovide Type II"No Damage" protec-tion. While no device can prevent aninitial fault from occurring, the protec-tion provided to components by prop-erly sized fuses will insure that thecomponents will remain functional af-ter the fault. “No Damage” protectionhas already been embraced as thestandard (SAE HS1734) for the pro-tection of both IEC and NEMA rateddevices by the automotive industryand is quickly becoming the standardin other industries.
Component Protection
When a fault occurs, fuses will openwithin 1/4 and 1/2 cycles (0.00833seconds). Depending on the applica-tion, some breakers can take as longas 17 cycles (0.28322 seconds) toopen. As an example, an uninsulatedten gauge wire with 30,000 amperesof current applied to it will reach wellin excess of 1000
F in approximately3/4 of a cycle. Under this moderate
At the inception of a fault, a branch circuit can reach peak available current (Ip) without a current-limitingprotector. The heat produced reaches temperatures that melt conductors as well as insulation, and themagnetic forces bend conductors and supports. When protected with a current-limiting fuse, however, thelet-through current is only a fraction if Ip, usually opening the fuse in less than one-half cycle. Type 2coordination assures that no harm to people or damage to equipment results from short-circuit currents.
do not exist because they do not re-quire maintenance and must be re-placed after they operate.Because most fuses have a standard200,000 AIR (300,000 AIR in somecases), fuse changes are not requiredduring service upgrades. In compari-son, standard breakers have relativelylow AIC (10,000 to 42,000 AIC) andthus become obsolete and must be re-placed when the available fault currentfrom the utility rises.The city of Chicago is a prime ex-ample of the importance of interrupt-ing ratings. For years, the availablefault current supplied from the utilityin Chicago was approximately 39,000amperes. Construction of skyscrap-ers began and the local utilitychanged the power supply to accom-modate these new buildings. This re-sulted in a new available fault currentof 107,000 amperes. The local utility,however, is not required to and didnot inform any of its customers (whowere using 42,000 AIC circuit break-ers) of the change. This dangeroussituation is avoided if a fuse with a200,000 AIR is used.
Single-Phasing Protection
While no device can prevent or elimi-nate single phasing, an overcurrent pro-tection device must be able to safelyand effectively disable power to the re-maining active legs of the circuit. Dueto the design of a circuit breaker, whenone phase is opened, all of the phasesare physically opened. This inherentlyprevents extended single-phase opera-tion. A properly sized fused system,although operating in a different man-ner, will achieve the same result.When one of the phases opens, theremaining two will always experienceovercurrents. This will cause the othertwo fuses to open, preventing powerfrom reaching the device.
Fuse opens within 1/4 to 1/2 cycleCurrentPointof faultTimeNormalloadcurrentHeat EnergyBreaker operates herePeak available current (Ip)FusesBreakers
amplitude of short circuit a fuse willprotect the wire, a circuit breaker willnot.
Interrupting Rating
Circuit breakers, like fuses are onlyrated to safely interrupt their maximumcurrent once. Once a breaker has op-erated at or near its interrupting rating,the breaker may not adequately pro-tect the circuit again without theproper maintenance or repair. Ifproper maintenance and repair is ne-glected, extensive equipment dam-age and possible injury to personnelcan occur. With fuses, these issues
A system comprised of fuses can becoordinated with relative ease bymaking sure the amperage ratings arewithin with designated ratios.A system utilizing circuit breakers maycoordinate easily in the overload re-gion of a fault, but the difficulty oc-curs in the instantaneous or short cir-cuit region. A pair of breakers operat-ing in the instantaneous region willboth open due to a short circuit. A rela-tively minor fault on a branch circuitcontaining breakers will frequentlycause all circuit breakers in the cur-rent path to open (including the maincircuit breaker). This can result in anentire facility experiencing a poweroutage. Compared to these inconve-niences, and considering the relativeease of keeping within fuse line-to-load side ratios, the advantages ofusing fuses to achieve selective co-ordination are significant.
Required Maintenance
Circuit breaker manufacturers statethat breakers require annual mainte-nance in order to assure their ratedperformance levels. This time-con-suming process is often neglected. AnIEEE survey reported that 40% oftested circuit breakers are faulty. Fur-thermore, after five years of use manybreakers, if not properly maintained,become completely inoperative. Onecircuit breaker manufacturer statedthat "Nine times out of ten, circuitbreakers fail because of lack of main-tenance, cleaning, and lubrication".
A complete power failure cripples pro-duction and creates a tremendousamount of lost profit. Isolation of afaulted current from the remainder ofthe facility is becoming mandatory intoday’s modern electrical systems. Itis not enough to select protective de-vices based solely on their ability tocarry the system load current and in-terrupt the maximum fault current attheir respective levels. A properly engi-neered system will allow only the pro-tective device closest to an overcurrentto open, leaving all upstream equip-ment in service.Today’s molded case circuit breakersdo not give an option for internal lubri-cation and calibration. In contrast, fusesdo not require maintenance or calibration.
Robust Designs
Circuit breakers are mechanical de-vices with moving parts that need con-stant and consistent maintenance tokeep their calibration. Damage of onecomponent may result in a breaker’sinability to function properly.Because fuses are electrical devices,they will function in accordance withelectrical conditions present withoutregard to mechanical failures.In conclusion, the proper selection ofovercurrent protective devices forbranch circuits is an important deci-sion affecting the safety, reliability, ef-ficiency and cost of an electrical sys-tem. Although a circuit breaker mightinitially appear to be a more conve-nient device, initial costs, safety, andlong term maintenance need to beconsidered. Properly selected fusesprovide a much greater degree of pro-tection to personnel and equipmentin a smaller and more cost effectivepackage. When all the factors aretaken into consideration, fuses areclearly the better choice for electricalsystem protection.
A system composed offuses can be coordinatedwith relative ease...
Additional Questions?
Call 1-800-TEC-FUSE and speak with a Littelfuse POWR-GARDProducts Application Engineer
“Nine times out of ten,circuit breakers fail becauseof lack of maintenance,cleaning, and lubrication.”

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