Troubleshooting Your Way Through Electrical Problems

Today's troubleshooters use many tools, from simple handheld meters that measure resistance and voltage to sophisticated recording oscilloscopes that capture fast transients. Ever watch veteran electrical troubleshooters in action? If not, you should: It'ssomething to see. Years of experience coupled with intelligent "hunches" seem to guide their investigation. To help you in your troubleshooting efforts, we've compiled the following tips to solving motor control, power distribution, and adjustable speed drive problems. Testing contact quality on energized motor starters. Typically, you must get a "failed" motor to run again as soon as possible. Obviously, you're under pressure and must use all the troubleshooting techniques you've acquired over the years. One tried-and-true technique involves testing contact quality on energized starters. To understand this method, consider a typical manual or magnetic motor starter having three sets of power contacts and three overload (OL) relays. When a starter energizes a motor, equal currents (theoretically) flow through each contact and OL relay. So, you can measure the voltage drops across the contact or OL relay poles and compare them with one another. How do you do it? First, connect your multimeter's lead set to the correct input terminals and set it to read AC millivolts (mV). With the starter energized, begin with the lefthand pole and place one probe's tip on the line-side terminal. Then, carefully position the other tip on the corresponding load-side terminal, but electrically upstream of the OL relay. Then, note the reading. Repeat this process for the other terminals and compare the results. For each reading, try to place the test lead probes in the same relative position at each contact and OL relay. You can apply this online millivolt-drop test to contactors serving other loads too. With a little experience, you can measure the voltage drop on a cable termination. Where there's a small amount of exposed bare conductor on the cable, place one probe on a strand and the other on the corresponding lug or bus bar. You shouldn't use this procedure to establish a precise benchmark, substitute as a preventive maintenance program, or replace currentinjection OL relay testing or thermographic surveying. It only provides a basic check for use in breakdown troubleshooting situations.

impedance). By taking phase current readings and using Ohm's Law. Typical CPT problems include open circuits. you can calculate and compare the respective contact resistance values (technically. Getting a process line back into operation can be stressful. With the resultant highresistance value for Phase C.Suppose you do the testing as indicated above on a magnetic starter and get the readings shown in the Table (in the original article). you're connecting your meter to points energized by line voltage. • Use the utmost caution and exercise all required safety practices. and the capabilities and limitations of your test instrument. for this troubleshooting tip. or poor contact pressure. rubber gloves. causing a voltage drop. Special thanks to Scott Falke. First. Remember. • Make sure you have good work-area lighting. However. and grounded windings. follow these safety guidelines: • Use only a test instrument having internal protection circuitry that prevents damage. available short-circuit current. Reviewing these readings. loose hardware. • Wear appropriate protective equipment such as safety glasses. • Be well aware of the circuit voltage. Troubleshooting control power transformers. This may be the result of an internal problem such as excessive wear. partial shorts. etc. immediate surroundings. The result will be unannounced downtime. even though you're making a fraction-of-a-volt measurement. a partial short occurs in the CPT's secondary. should you inadvertently apply input terminals to line voltages while set at lower voltages. The source can be as mundane as the ubiquitous control power transformer (CPT) in a motor control center. complete shorts. this condition (if left as is) can cause high heating and eventual starter failure. Sometimes it's not the exotic sensor or mysterious black box (known as the PLC) that's the problem. . the starter contact reading for Phase C is significantly higher than the others. you should check the primary of the CPT to verify you have power. former High-Voltage Electrician at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. considering the electrical components tied into the control system. you would see those of the OL relays are nearly the same. Therefore. Overheating of the CPT is the usual symptom because large circulating currents are flowing through the shorted windings. working clearances. Sometimes. Partial shorts.

Here. If the voltage is normal. The best way to find the location is to disconnect the external secondary circuit from the CPT and take a voltage reading at the CPT's secondary. insulation breakdown is common. take an insulation resistance reading between the windings by connecting one test lead to the primary and the other to the secondary. Then. If the readings are somewhat lower than normal. the symptoms are overheating. Finally. especially overloaded units. part of the CPT winding will be shorted out. there may be instances where the CPT continues to operate. However. verify line power is available by taking a voltage reading at the CPT's primary. But be careful: The short may be in the external secondary circuit and not the CPT's winding. Grounded windings. Another method is to use a sensitive ohmmeter with the CPT's leads disconnected and the system de-energized. and a point in the external secondary circuit also becomes grounded. Here. Then take a reading at the secondary. Here. . First. connect the megohmmeter's negative test lead to an associated ground and its positive test lead to the winding you're testing. In older transformers. You can also detect this by a lowvoltage reading at the CPT's secondary. the insulation physically breaks down or deteriorates to the point where the winding's bare wire exposes. Record the reading. If the voltage is zero across the secondary leads.Troubleshooting here involves a sequence of steps. disconnect the leads from the CPT's primary and secondary windings. the CPT is shorted and needs replaced. If the exposed wire comes in contact with a grounded surface (such as the CPT housing). the difference in resistance from normal will be very slight. resulting in excessive overheating (due to very large circulating current) and melting of CPT winding insulation. the problem is in the external secondary circuit. a lower-than-normal resistance reading indicates a partial short. Another is no voltage output across the shorted winding. The best method for detecting this condition is to use a megohmmeter. the CPT shorts to ground. However. First. Should the above condition develop. Sometimes a CPT's winding shorts out. which you can detect by touch or smell. activating a circuit breaker or fuse to protect the circuit by de-energizing it. Complete shorts. The most apparent symptom is a strong odor. The only alternative here is to replace the damaged CPT. suspect a partial short.

which are classified as swells (1. (per unit) and less than 0. then you should install a surge protection device at the service entrance to the building. If the transient events are greater than 2 p. it's possible an isolation transformer or series line reactor will take care of the instantaneous overvoltage.5 cycle duration.Diagnosing ASD "trip" problems. A longer duration overvoltage lasting greater than 30 cycles is a less common fault affecting ASDs.0 p. current overload. Be careful though: Not all UPS systems can regulate overvoltages. contact the utility. The problem is fairly easy to detect with a recording power line monitor. Use these parameters as a guide: DC bus overvoltage. 1. Swells longer than one or two cycles may require some additional voltage regulation like an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). kVAR capacitors). Repeated "tripping out" (shutdown) of an installed adjustable speed drive (ASD) is not only an annoying and elusive problem. then a UPS designed to compensate for overvoltages may be the answer. utility switching (transformer taps. such as at the end of a work shift. DC bus overvoltage faults.u. to 2.u. (See Fig. It occurs when the local utility is slow to respond and compensate for large loads from industrial and commercial customers being switched off. An isolation transformer will also reduce common mode noise from the ASD. If you can't determine the source of the transient event. . and 0. but an expensive one when manufacturing or production processes stop. and ground fault protection relay tripping. Line transients from the AC source are a common cause of an overvoltage fault. longer duration transients. For shorter magnitude. it's not a long-term solution.u. If you can correlate the transients to a regular utility switching event. or some power line fault clearing event. If you can't resolve the problem with the local utility. in the original article) The best way to discover the cause of this is to connect a voltage recorder to the AC line inputs and time-stamp the transient event.3 p. It's possible the utility is unaware of the effect it's having on customers. Most modern ASDs monitor many different fault conditions that can trip the drive.5 cycles to 30 cycles). DC bus undervoltage. Repetitive tripping of a drive may be a warning sign complete failure is not far off. While altering the trip levels of the ASD is tempting (and in some cases economically justifiable). load switching within the building. it's likely they're caused by lightning. It may even be willing to modify practices or install equipment to minimize such effects.

you'll probably need voltage regulation like that from a UPS.) In either case. in the original article. as measured at the output side of the DC bus. (See Fig. Another possible cause for undervoltage is when the line voltage supply has "flat-topped" peaks. 4 and 5. We call this motor regeneration.5 cycle) sags or dropouts.If line voltage monitoring doesn't record a transient or swell associated with the overvoltage fault. Your best bet in detecting ASD undervoltage faults is to use a recording line voltage monitor. One final word about overvoltage transients: Inadequate building grounds can cause transients to propagate through a distribution system at magnitudes greater than normal. you don't need to detect fast undervoltage events. which presents a problem when someone switches another large load on in the building.) This happens when you have other large electronic loads in the building. or the conductors are too small or too long). This reduces the charge on the DC bus capacitor. (See Fig. A simultaneous measurement of the DC voltage will confirm current flowing back into the DC bus is causing the overvoltage. While this makes the problem easier to detect. (See Figs. not the line side. all electronic loads draw a short burst of current at the voltage peaks. This might explain why one building is having more problems than adjacent ones. Because all electronic loads convert from AC to DC. One problem with elevators and large centrifugal loads. Installing a dynamic brake is the most common way to solve this problem. If your drive permits.) If the AC source is weak (either the transformer kVA is too low. It's also possible the dynamic braking is too excessive. If it's a solid-state type. Basically. 3. regeneration occurs when the motor is "coasting" and changes from being a motor to a generator. You can detect regeneration by looking at a change in direction of the DC current level. in the original article. then the peak currents flatten the peak of the voltage waveform. fixing it is more difficult due to large current surges caused by large loads either inside or outside your building. Because most ASDs have enough "ride through" to handle short duration (less than 0. the AC-to-DC conversion is responsible for almost all nonlinear (harmonic generating) currents that cause flat-topping. in the original article. check the transistors for proper conduction. lengthen the deceleration time to minimize the regenerative effect. check the resistance measurements according to the manufacturer's specifications. it's possible the increased energy at the DC bus is coming from the load side of the inverter. As a . stopping the motor too suddenly. If you've already done this. DC bus undervoltage faults. 2. using the diode test function on your multimeter.

the ASD may not be programmed properly. the actual motor is sometimes different than the original specification due to cost and/or size concerns. An increase in environmental temperatures can cause component failure and/or higher-than-normal conduction of components. the other two phase windings in the motor have significantly increased current. because the ASD may trip and shutdown before you can take a visual reading. First. About the only way to recognize this problem is with an oscilloscope or power monitor that can display the voltage waveform. This. Current overload faults. in turn. make sure the motor is sized properly for the load. While this may seem obvious. An open phase connection can also cause an overload condition known as single phasing. make sure there's a proper match between the motor and drive. Measure the motor current on all three phases and check against the nameplate rating to be sure. The best way to check for single phasing is to measure the in-rush (acceleration) current on all three phases. some are easier to find than others. this could account for overload tripping. resulting in a voltage drop on one of the phases. or a bad connection between the drive and motor. Basically. and the motor keeps running. The one with no in-rush current is the culprit. or trip points change. While there are several different causes of overload tripping with ASDs. Voltage imbalance between phases at the motor terminals can cause excessive current to flow in one or two motor windings.result. the capacitor charge becomes even lower than it was due to flat-topping. However. the voltage peak drops further. Open circuits are sometimes difficult to find because wiring is not always easily accessible. It could be due to a problem with one of the output transistors in the drive not conducting properly. can cause the overload to trip. Shorted windings can also cause an overload condition. the drive will probably trip when you restart it. You should also make sure the ambient air temperature at the ASD installation is within specified operating temperatures. you should use a DMM or oscilloscope capable of measuring and recording the peak in-rush (acceleration) current. Also. If this is the case. Make this measurement on all three phases to see if a shorted winding in one of the phases is causing . What's more. Another overload consideration is whether the load has changed. Sometimes an equipment operator increases the demand of a load without knowing the consequences. and the DC bus voltage drops below the trip point. If the acceleration time decreases.

but may not be a cost-effective solution unless you're using them to solve other problems . as it may require isolating the motor frame from ground and then reestablishing a connection to ground via a cable that allows you to take ground current measurements. If you exceed the overload current on each phase. Measuring this phenomenon can be difficult. you may need to investigate whether you're exceeding the mechanical load connected to the motor for the application. as many GFP relays trip at 300mA or less. The fast edged pulses of a pulse width modulation (PWM) drive may cause leakage currents to flow between the motor windings and the grounded motor frame through the capacitor created by the metal windings. winding insulation. This can cause nuisance tripping of the drive. and it's beyond the nameplate rating of the motor. low-pass filtering. Isolation transformers also minimize common-mode leakage currents. and metal frame. the high switching frequency of the PWM signal reduces the motor's internal capacitive reactance. use a common-mode choke and dampening resistor or special cabling that employs either EMI suppression. Be careful though: A voltage imbalance may be the cause of any current variations between phases. this isn't a problem. This means you may have to disconnect the drive and motor and test them separately. However. Ground fault protection relay tripping. With normal 60 Hz sine wave operational.more current to flow in it than the others. To reduce leakage currents. or ferrite granule coating that absorbs the radio frequency (RF) energy and turns it into heat. causing greater amounts of leakage currents to flow.

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