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GENERATOR BUSHING MAINTENANCE,
DESIGNS & RENOVATION.
E.R. PERRY AND ROSALIA TORRES, POLYTECH SERVICES
PRESENTED AT CARILEC – ENGINEERS & SUPPLY CHAIN CONFERENCE
JULY 23-25, 2002
There are many new companies and personnel entering the generation business today.
Without some background knowledge in certain of the technologies (such as bushing
design and maintenance), it is sometimes difficult to determine when a piece of
equipment is in need of maintenance, or near the end of its life. Generator bushings
are a mystery to most operating engineers. They seldom require maintenance, and
each type and design of a generator bushing has a different set of parameters that must
be evaluated. Yet, a generator bushing can often be the weak link in the chain that can
cause an outage if not properly maintained.
A number of generator bushing types exist, and in each type category, there is a
multitude of design variations. Once you understand the basics of a generator bushing,
the function of each part, then it is easier to evaluate the bushing to determine its
suitability for continuing duty. In most generator bushings, there is a commonality of
design and function. Learning about these similarities makes it easier to determine the
need for repair or replacement if it is required.
General Bushing Design
All generator porcelain bushings are spring loaded to compensate for the variation in
thermal expansion of the conductor and porcelain. The outboard end of the conductor
usually has a nonferrous collar screwed onto the threaded conductor. The collar is
screwed down to compress springs located beneath the threaded collar. A second
loose fitting collar is located between the springs and the outboard end of the
porcelain to hold the springs in place. Normally, the outboard end of a generator
bushing is actually vented to the atmosphere except when filled with asphalt.
The inboard end of the bushing has a fixed (usually brazed) round metal plate
approximately the diameter of the porcelain to anchor that end of the porcelain to the
conductor. Gaskets are placed on both ends of the bushing porcelain to protect the
porcelain from the metal collars and to even the pressure over the surface of the
porcelain. On the inboard end, the gasket acts to form a gas seal between the
generator and the bushing. The inboard gasket is the most important in preventing
leakage through the bushing, as the outboard end is not truly sealed.
With all the pieces in place, the threaded collar is screwed down on the conductor,
placing pressure on the multiple springs and partially compressing the springs. This
allows the conductor to expand and contract due to heating and cooling. This
arrangement maintains pressure on the porcelain and gaskets to assure a good seal at
the inboard end of the bushing. In larger bushings, the collar is screwed down on the
conductor until contact is made with the set of springs under the collar. The springs
are too strong for compressing with the threaded collar. There are individual
setscrews in the collar to allow the high pressure springs to be compressed
The more common types of generator bushings are:
• Simple Hollow Porcelain Bushings- These bushings are insulated by only an
air space between the conductor and the porcelain. Used primarily on small
generating units, not hydrogen cooled. Many of these are old, dating back for
40-60 years. The most common problem encountered with these bushings are
gaskets that have deteriorated with time and heat. Almost all of these
bushings require replacement of the neat cement between the flange and the
porcelain. Years of heat and vibration have deteriorated the strength of the
• Asphalt Filled Bushings- As generator units became larger; it was desirable
to transfer the heat from the conductor to the porcelain along the entire length
of the outboard porcelain, thereby reducing the temperature at the connectors.
This was accomplished by filling the bushing with an asphalt material. The
asphalt also became a liquid seal when hot, to prevent hydrogen leakage
Contrary to popular belief, the asphalt does not play a part in providing
dielectric integrity to the bushing. The asphalt is there primarily for heat
Most problems with these bushings become apparent by visual inspection.
Asphalt leaking from the bushing is easily observed. This is not always a
danger sign, but should be checked carefully. Asphalt leakage is usually
caused by old gaskets shrinking, or the bushing has become overheated for
various reasons. Asphalt leakage is a danger signal and should be checked for
When overheating has occurred, pressure inside of the bushing builds up
sufficiently to overcome the pressure of the compression springs and the
asphalt leaks from the bushing. The primary concern here is to determine why
the bushing is overheating. The most common cause of overheating with this
type of bushing is a loose connector, or a connector that is not making
sufficient area contact.
Most of these old bushings also suffer from deteriorated neat cement beneath
• Forced Hydrogen Cooled Bushings- The hydrogen-cooled bushings are
constructed similar to the “Simple” and “Asphalt Filled” bushings. They are
slightly more complex internally, having internal piping to carry hydrogen
around the conductor for cooling. There are three chambers inside the
The inner chamber is a hollow pipe in the center of the bushing, inside of the
hollow conductor. The hydrogen is directed under pressure inside of the
inboard end of the hollow pipe. The pipe has exit holes near the outboard end
of the bushing, but still internal of the bushing, where the hydrogen flow is
reversed. The hydrogen flows back down along the outside of the pipe and in
contact with the internal diameter of the copper conductor, where it is
extracted at the inboard end of the bushing and cooled outside of the bushing
As the hydrogen passes along the inside of the conductor, it is extracting a
majority of the heat generated in the bushing conductor. Some of the
remaining heat generated by the conductor is conducted by the outside
diameter of the conductor in contact with a thin layer of asphalt between the
conductor and the inside of the porcelain housing. This heat is then dissipated
through the porcelain to the outside air.
In this design, there can be more causes for asphalt leakage due to over
heating of the bushing than in the previously discussed designs. As in the
simpler designs, the asphalt is still being used primarily as a heat conductor
and not as a dielectric. Overheating and the resultant asphalt leakage can still
be caused by loose connectors.
There is an additional possibility of trouble in this design. Since the bushing is
mounted nearly vertical and the outboard end of the bushing is pointed down,
there is a possibility that oil or oil vapor can accumulate in the internal
outboard end of the bushing. If sufficient oil accumulates in the bushing, it
will plug the holes in the pipe inside the bushing and stop the cooling
hydrogen flow. The external symptom of this happening is overheating and
asphalt running out the end of the bushing.
Sometimes hydrogen cooled bushing with a clogged hydrogen passage can be
repaired without removing the bushing from the generator. This is
accomplished by removing a plug in the end of the outboard end of the
bushing end cap and drilling a hole through the end cap to the inside chamber
of the bushing. This will allow the oil that has accumulated in the hydrogen-
cooling chamber to drain out of the bushing, and allow the free flow of the
hydrogen to resume. The small pipe plug can be reinstalled, sealing the
bushing. This procedure only works if the bushing has not been overheated
long enough to solidify the oil in the cooling passageway. If the oil has
solidified, the bushing should be removed and renovated by trained personnel.
• Solid Cast Epoxy Bushings-These bushings are simplicity in design. The
solid cast epoxy bushings utilize a cast epoxy flange and insulating body as
one continuous material.
It has the advantage of placing the body in direct contact with the conductor
for better heat dissipation. It also eliminates the compression springs necessary
with porcelain, and the need for gaskets to seal around the conductor. There is
no neat cement required to attach the flange to the bushing insulating body.
While many of the problems associated with porcelain, insulated bushings
have been eliminated, other problems have occurred.
There are plasticisers in epoxy to give it flexibility. The plasticicers tends to
dissipate with time and temperature. This results in the epoxy becoming
brittle. The epoxy can no longer follow the thermal expansion and contraction
of the copper conductor, resulting in either leakage between the conductor and
epoxy or cracks appearing in the epoxy. Some problems have been
encountered when tightening down the epoxy flanges onto uneven surfaces,
resulting in cracking the epoxy flange.
The epoxy dielectrics are adequate, but the heat transfer in epoxy is marginal,
resulting in rapid aging of the epoxy.
GASKETS AND NEAT CEMENT
There are a large number of variations in the details of the above bushing designs.
Some designs replace the gasketing on the inboard end of the bushing with a thin
shell of copper, soldered to the conductor and than to a metalized area on the
porcelain. This has proven to be an excellent seal, but the thin copper shell is
susceptible to damage in handling, as the thin copper is kept thin by design in order
to follow the difference in thermal expansion and contraction between the copper and
Older generator bushings utilized cork gasketing that ages rapidly and has a tendency
to shrink and crack with age. The cork was later replaced with a combination of cork
and neoprene referred to as a “corkprene” gasket. The advantage of this material as a
gasket was less prone to cracking with age, and could still be used without
containment of the gasket, such as on a flat surface. The material has been improved
with time and is still often used today.
More recently, and especially with hydrogen cooled machines, the tendency has been
to use a Buna-N material as it has less porosity to hydrogen than the other gasket
materials. The Buna-N material has good resilience for proper conforming under
pressure to match the adjoining surfaces. This results in an excellent seal. It is
necessary to contain the Buna-N gasket as it will cold flow under pressure unless
contained by placing it in a groove or contained by multiple bolts, such as found with
a flat mounting flange.
The neat cement located between the bushing flange and the porcelain is a gasket of
sorts. The purpose of the cement is to form a leak proof seal, but it also forms a
mechanical bond for support of the porcelain to the mounting flange. The neat
cement has the unique property of forming a strong mechanical bond while at the
same time providing sufficient resilience to compensate for the different thermal
expansion and contraction between the metal and porcelain.
Older bushings need to have the neat cement inspected for leakage and deterioration
of mechanical strength. Years of heat and vibration while installed in a generator tend
to pulverize the neat cement, causing it to loose its sealing and mechanical properties.
It also appears there was less quality control in the “old” days and this often resulted
in large voids internal to the neat cement. It is possible the voids were caused by a
chemical reaction when the neat cement was hydrolyzed. These void are not apparent
from the surface, but lie internally. On older bushings, it is desirable to have the neat
cement removed and either replaced with more neat cement or a new material such as
a polymer ceramic material presently available. The polymer ceramic material has
greater resilience and mechanical strength than the older neat cements, and no voids
due to chemical reactions.
The porcelain materials, used as the principal insulation of a generator bushing,
varies widely in strength and configuration. The older bushings did not have the clay
formulations available today to provide the mechanical strength of modern
porcelains. Better clays combined with alumina in modern porcelains and more
precise processing resulted in added strength and better uniformity to porcelains.
Until recently, broken porcelains could not be repaired. If a generator bushing
suffered a thermal crack or a broken skirt, the bushings had to be replaced. New
materials and new processing procedures have made porcelain repairs more
commonplace. It is now possible to repair or replace broken sections of porcelain
with a polymer ceramic material. The unique characteristics of a polymer ceramic are
that it can match the thermal expansion and contraction of the porcelain, and is
stronger mechanically and electrically than porcelain. The polymer ceramics are
formed chemically and do not require firing or heat. This eliminates the hazards of
subjecting the original porcelain to possible thermal cracking.
Broken porcelain skirts or chips are replaced in the field or factory. It is a simple
process of cleaning the broken area with diamond abrasives. The porcelain surface is
then prepared mechanically, and treated chemically for maximum adherence of the
polymer ceramic material. A metal mold is field or factory constructed and applied to
the broken area to shape the polymer ceramic to conform to the porcelain surface.
The polymer ceramic material is mixed and poured into the mold. After a few
minutes to allow the polymer ceramics to cure, the mold is striped from the repaired
area. The surface of the new area is coated with a fluorourethane material to match
the porcelain glaze in color and gloss. The repair of a typical broken skirt takes
approximately 2-4 hours in the field.
Often porcelains are damaged in the field due to excessive thermal stress or hydrogen
explosions. These damages can be quite severe. Repair of severely damaged
porcelains can only be made in the factory with proper equipment available.
Fortunately, these repairs can be accomplished rapidly, usually within one to two
days. The repaired sections are of equal or greater mechanical and electrical strength
than the original porcelain.
DIELECTRICS & TESTING
Generator bushings are generally large diameter compared to their equivalent
bushings in substation equipment. This is a result of the lower voltage and higher
currents required by the generator bushings. It is seldom a problem to meet the
dielectric requirements of a generator bushing, as there is more than ample room
between the conductor and the mounting flange to provide adequate dielectric
strength. Most dielectric tests (such as the Doble power factor test) are used to detect
cracks in the porcelain, rather than to determine the adequacy of the bushing’s
Materials such as the asphalts used in generator bushings are more to dissipate the
heat away from the conductor and to the porcelain, than to provide dielectric strength.
Simple Megger tests in the field and or a 60Hz Hi-Pot test in the factory or field is
generally adequate. Checking partial discharge during the 60Hz Hi-Pot test is
desirable to ascertain the adequacy of the design and dielectrics of the bushing.
NEW BUSHING DESIGN & MATERIAL
Within the last few years, a new material and design for generator bushings has been
introduced to the industry. The material is a polymer ceramic with a history of over
20 years in the field as an outdoor insulator on utility systems. It is chemically
constructed as slurry, consisting of 87% silica and 13% resin composition. It can be
poured into a mold to cure without heat. The curing reaction is completely
chemically. Cure time is less than 20 minutes.
The polymer ceramic material has been thoroughly tested both in the laboratory and
in the field. The polymer ceramic test data is attached (see Fig 1) and compared with
fired porcelain test data used for bushing manufacturing. In all electrical and
mechanical tests, it is the equivalent of, or exceeds the requirements of porcelain.
A polymer ceramic generator bushing simplifies the design of the bushing. The
material matches the coefficient of thermal expansion and contraction of metals. It
appears to be a rigid material, but there is sufficient flexibility in the material to
match the differences in thermal expansion and contraction of copper, steel and
aluminum. This allows these metals to be directly cast onto the material.
The resultant design of a generator bushing using the polymer ceramics is simple.
There are no requirements for gaskets, neat cements or spring loading as is required
when using porcelains. It is a one-piece construction. The polymer ceramics are cast
directly onto the conductor, forming a vacuum tight seal. The mounting flange is
embedded from the outside into the polymer ceramics with grooves machined into
the inside diameter of the metal flange to act as labyrinth seals. No conventional
flange seals are required.
Heat is dissipated from the conductor along the entire length of the conductor. The
polymer ceramic has a high heat conductance due to its high silica content, and is
cast into intimate contact with the conductor. The continuous polymer ceramics in
intimate contact with the conductor and with its high heat conductance is more
efficient in removing the heat from the conductor than a simple porcelain or asphalt
filled design. In some instances, it is more efficient than hydrogen forced cooled
bushings. This results in cooler terminal connections as the heat generated in the
middle section of the bushing is dissipated outward to the outside air or hydrogen,
through the bushing body and is not transmitted to the terminals at the end of the
The polymer ceramics are not susceptible to cracking, from either heat/cold, or
Tests have been conducted, taking samples of the polymer ceramics from liquid
nitrogen temperatures to be immediately placed into a propane flame and no cracking
has occurred. The material is non homogeneous and is practically immune to impact.
While conducting tests for the manufacture of high voltage outdoor insulators, 69kv
Station Post insulators were shot with a 30.06 caliber rifle and only small chips were
knocked loose, but the insulators were not cracked. In general, identical designs of
porcelain and polymer ceramic bushings will provide a 10% to 25% greater current
carrying capacity for the same current rating. If standard current ratings are used, the
polymer ceramic bushing runs considerably cooler than a porcelain bushing.
In emergencies, the polymer generator bushing is especially valuable. Starting from a
blank design sheet, the polymer ceramic bushings can be designed, manufactured and
delivered in less than four weeks.
A number of polymer ceramic generator bushings have been installed in large
generator units for several years now and are operating without incidents. It is
anticipated the trend will be more towards the polymer ceramic bushings in the future
as a result of their simplicity of construction, less maintenance requirements, and
cooler operating temperatures.
POLYMER CERAMIC MATERIAL
1. Dielectric Strength, volts/mil 450-650 55-300
2. Dielectric Constant 4.5 5.4 - 7
3. Dissipation Factor and 0.019 0.9-1.12
30 days @96-98% Rel. Humidity 0.065
4. Material and Processing Cost, cents/pound 7-20 40-60
5. Energy Required, BTU/pound <10,000 20,000
6. Compressive Strength, psi (large sample) 22,226 16,450
(small sample) 26,000 40,000
7. Modules of Elasticity , psi 4.4x10
8. Impact Strength (Charpy) @ 24
C 0.52 no data
C 0.56 no data
9. Specific Gravity, lb/ft
gr/cc 2.18 2.37-2.53
10. Thermal Resistivity ρ (rho) 50 58.8
11. Coefficient of Thermal Expansion 24x10
12. Helium Permeation (80 psi), cc/sec 2x10
13. True Porosity , % none 6.15
14. Weatherometer (UV), hrs 1867 no change unknown
15. Surface Withstand Stress 1.313 0.8-10
Fog Density: 4 gr/m
Equiv. Salt Deposit: 0.1 mg/cm
TYPICAL INSULATOR DATA
69 kv Station Post
Cantilever, lb 3,800 1,500
Tensile, lb 26,780 12,000
Corona Onset, kv 245 90
60 Hz Wet Withstand Voltage (*), kv 240 105
* 30 seconds is std. PC insulator has no time limit on withstand