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Molded-Case Circuit Breakers Reduce Arc Flash Hazard Impact

Introduction
When an arc fault occurs with personnel in the area, the harmful results can be
devastating and deadly for those who are not properly prepared. In addition equipment
damage is usually considerable, frequently resulting in extended down time for the
installation. Industry codes and standards have recently included measures to counter
the effects of arc flash. These codes and standards help facility operators to take
preventive steps.
The purpose of this paper is to identify the impact on arc flash by molded-case circuit
breakers (MCCBs) and methods of determining it.
The arc flash hazard
NFPA 70E-2000, Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee
Workplaces, defines arc flash hazard as: a dangerous condition associated with the
release of energy caused by an electric arc. It is an explosion involving an electric arc
operating at temperatures of several thousands degrees Celsius and a pressure wave
created by the arc. Within a few milliseconds of arc ignition, the energy from this
explosion can cause molten metal particles, equipment parts and other loose items to
be expelled from the arc area in addition to the expulsion of hot, ionized gas. Extensive
equipment damage frequently results in extended down time for an installation. More
devastating are the trauma, hearing and eyesight loss and burns to personnel in the
area which can result in catastrophic injuries or even death.
Installed equipment can have a significant impact on the degree of hazard present.
When equipment is expected to be serviced or opened while not in an electrically safe
work condition, an electrical safety program is required for such maintenance including
training, practices and analysis. Guidelines for practices and training are included in
OSHA, 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910, Subpart S with how to detail in
NFPA 70E. NFPA 70E also provides basic information regarding arc flash analysis.
IEEE 1584-2002, Guide for Performing Arc-Flash Hazard Calculations, supports NFPA
70E and provides a dependable method of performing the calculations.
Section 110.16 of the 2002 National Electrical Code (NEC) requires switchboards,
panelboards, industrial control panels and motor control centers be field marked with a
warning of possible flash hazard. Proposals have been made for the 2005 NEC that
could require additional marking of the flash protection boundary distance and PPE
Category.
Flash Hazard Protection
There is only one sure way to protect against the potential devastating effects of arc
flash and that is to de-energize the equipment before approaching it for the purposes of
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opening it or for working on it. NFPA 70E describes several key steps in the process of
placing the equipment in an electrically safe work condition. Those steps include
turning off the supply, locking it off, measuring to verify that it is de-energized, and
assuring that stored energy such as from capacitors or induced voltage does not impact
workers.
These steps are done while the equipment is not yet considered to be in a safe
condition, which requires that appropriate protective precautions including use of
personal protective equipment (PPE) are applied during the de-energizing process. PPE
includes the clothing, gloves and headwear that help to mitigate the effects of an arc
flash event for a worker who is exposed. PPE is generally determined to protect the
head and body against thermal effects that would cause severe burn. It does not
necessarily protect from the possible impact of any harmful light, sound, or pressure
impulses, toxic gas by-products or ejected debris.
PPE is required by OSHA and NFPA 70E for operations that must be done with
equipment energized, including the steps to place the equipment in an electrically safe
work condition. Both OSHA and NFPA 70E acknowledge that some electrical work must
be done with equipment energized when it is either infeasible to de-energize or when
de-energizing would cause additional hazards. In those cases in which work is done on
energized equipment, there is increased risk of arc flash.
To address those cases, NFPA 70E requires among other things that employees who
do that work be trained and knowledgeable regarding the task and its hazard, that a
specific work plan be made and used and that appropriate PPE be used based on a
flash hazard analysis.
Arc Flash Energy
Energy is a critical factor in evaluating the potential effect of an arc flash occurrence.
These three definitions from NFPA 70E relate to energy:
Arc flash hazard: A dangerous condition associated with the release of energy caused
by an electric arc.
Flash hazard analysis: A study investigating a workers potential exposure to arc flash
energy, conducted for the purpose of injury prevention and the determination of safe
work practices and appropriate levels of PPE.
Incident energy: The amount of energy impressed on a surface, a certain distance from
the source, generated during an arc event. (Incident energy is measured in Joules/cm2
or Calories/cm2)
The magnitude of energy available during an arc flash event is proportional to the
product of the current flowing times the system voltage times the duration of the event.
An analysis of the flash hazard must identify these three elements. By raising or
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lowering any of these elements, the available energy is also raised or lowered
proportionally.
Incident energy is determined by the three basic elements (arc current, system voltage
and duration). Other factors include system grounding, bus bar spacing, and whether
the arc is in a box radiating in a single direction, or in open air radiating in all directions.
Components or equipment parts located between the arc and a worker may also
provide some shielding from the arc, if these items do not become projectiles.
Overcurrent protective devices including MCCBs have a significant influence on the
incident energy. From their position in the system, they impact both the magnitude and
the duration of the arcing fault current.
Calculation method
A dependable method of performing the calculations is in IEEE 1584, Guide for
Performing Arc-Flash Hazard calculations. This method is based on extensive testing
and solid analytical work. It requires input of the following basic items:

Accurate bolted-fault current available at the equipment location


System voltage
Duration of the arc (clearing time for the overcurrent protective device)
Whether conductors are enclosed or in open air
Class of equipment (switchgear, switchboard, motor control center, etc.)
Whether the system is solidly grounded, impedance grounded or ungrounded
Distance from worker to conductor
Gap distance between conductors

The last two items are optional with default values assigned for most common
configurations where specific information is not provided.
IEEE 1584 provides equations to output the following information with input of the above
items. The complexity of the equations makes solving them by hand difficult. However,
IEEE 1584 provides an Excel spreadsheet with each copy of the standard that
automatically performs the calculations when basic information is input. This
spreadsheet allows multiple calculations to be done rapidly.
Output items:
Arc current. Arc current is quite different from bolted fault current, especially in lowvoltage systems. For example in a 480 V system, a bolted fault current of 50 kA
available will result in an arc current of only 26 kA. Arc current is used to determine the
time for the overcurrent protective device to clear the circuit. Since the time for the
overcurrent protective device depends on the value of current flowing, it could be quite
different for an arc than for a bolted fault.

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Incident energy. This value, defined above, is used to determine the hazard category for
selection of PPE.
Flash protection boundary. This boundary is defined in NFPA 70E as An approach limit
at a distance from exposed live parts within which a person could receive a seconddegree burn if an electric arc flash were to occur. An incident energy value of 1.2
calories/cm2 is the accepted maximum value at which a second-degree burn would be
expected. Only qualified workers are permitted within the flash protection boundary
and they are required to use appropriately rated PPE.
Hazard category. The hazard category is used to determine the kind of PPE required. It
is directly related to incident energy as indicated in Table 3-3.9.3 of Part II of NFPA 70E.
Input items
The most difficult input items to obtain are bolted fault current and arc clearing time or
duration. As we will see, it is essential to have accurate bolted fault current information
rather than a guess at maximum bolted fault current. Higher incident energy may
actually occur for certain lower bolted fault current conditions.
To obtain accurate bolted fault current, it is necessary to obtain the value of available
power from the utility. It is also necessary to obtain information about equipment and
conductors installed in order to determine their impedance. Modes of operation should
be well understood to know whether there are multiple potential sources or current
paths. With this information, a short circuit calculation can be made to determine the
bolted fault current. Another simple spreadsheet is provided with each copy of IEEE
1584 to make this calculation.
Knowing the bolted fault current and system voltage, a value for arcing fault current can
be determined from an equation in IEEE 1584. It is essential to use arcing current rather
than bolted fault current because there can be significant difference between the two.
Duration of arcing is determined by knowing how long the overcurrent protective device
will take to clear the circuit. This time can be taken from the time-current curves that are
available from the manufacturer. A typical, MCCB time-current characteristic appears in
figure 1. Using the arcing current, read the highest time from the band presented.
Remember, it is essential to use the calculated arcing current when determining the
clearing time!

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10 0 0

Clearing time (seconds)

Typical MCCB Time-Current


Characteristic

10 0 0 0

Thermal Region

10 0

10

Instantaneous
region

0 .1

0 .0 1

0 .0 0 1
1

10

10 0

10 0 0

Current in multiples of rating

Figure 1
Instantaneous versus thermal long-time region
As we look at figure 1, it is useful to compare the clearing time in the instantaneous
region with that in the thermal region. Notice that instantaneous region time is roughly
one electrical cycle or 0.016 seconds. The actual value will change slightly with each
circuit breaker. Contrast that very short time with tens or hundreds of seconds in the
thermal region. In considering the duration that must be taken into account, it is useful
to note this statement from IEEE 1584: It is likely that a person exposed to an arc flash
will move away quickly if it is physically possible and two seconds is a reasonable
maximum time for calculations. Recognize that it is possible to have a bolted fault
current well into the instantaneous region, such as 20 times rating. However, when an
arc occurs, the current could be well below 10 times and into the thermal region.
Figure 2 illustrates a typical relationship between incident energy and corresponding
bolted fault current available, Ib. This chart takes into account the reduced arc current
that would result from the available bolted fault current shown even though arc current
is not shown. Notice that between points I1 and I2 the line has only a modest slope. At
the point I1, it changes radically. This is the impact of the change from the instantaneous
region to the thermal region. The point is that if the equipment is operating near this
point I1, consideration should be given to performing the calculation with time as in the
thermal region.

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Incident energy, E

Incident energy for long delay


extends to very high values

Flash Hazard Risk Category


8 Cal/cm 2

5 Cal/cm2

Straight line
E=MIbf+N
1.2 Cal/cm2

I1

Available Fault Current, Ibf


Figure 2

I2

Location in the circuit


A critical point regarding calculations relates to choosing which overcurrent protective
devices clearing time to use. Consider figure 3. Assume the 100 A branch circuit
breaker is located in a panelboard and we are calculating for a fault within the
panelboard on the load side of the branch circuit breaker. When an arcing fault occurs,
ionized gas is produced by the arc, which could cause the fault to propagate to the
supply side of this branch circuit breaker. For that reason, it is advisable to perform
calculations with the understanding that the device feeding the equipment containing
the branch breaker will clear the fault. In the case of figure 3, it would be the 225 A
circuit breaker.
100 MVA, X/R=15
13.8 kV sec

13.8 kV
1.5 MVA,
208 V

Assume fault will


propagate to
supply side

225 A

100 A

4,190 A

Fault initiates
at branch

Figure 3 Typical system

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If the fault is assumed to be at equipment on the load side of the branch circuit breaker
and is not located within the same enclosure or compartment with the circuit breaker, it
is reasonable to assume that the branch circuit breaker will clear. In our example, if we
assumed that the work were being performed at a motor located in a separate
enclosure or compartment from the 100 A circuit breaker and on its load side, it would
be reasonable to assume that the 100 A circuit breaker would clear the fault.
IEEE 1584 shortcut calculations for circuit breakers
For circuit breakers, it is possible to enter the IEEE spreadsheet using the time of
interruption for the specific circuit breaker. This interruption time is based on the arcing
current. An alternative is to enter the IEEE spreadsheet knowing only the circuit breaker
type. This shortcut method is based on simplified equations as described below. The
great advantage of the shortcut method is that you do not need to obtain or interpret
time-current characteristics for each circuit breaker.
The input information needed includes:
Bolted fault current
System voltage
Current rating of the circuit breaker
Type of trip unit (thermal-magnetic, magnetic only, or electronic)
Type of circuit breaker (molded-case or low-voltage power)
Tripping current setting for the circuit breaker (or default value)
Notice that input information does not include arc current or time to clear. The shortcut
makes worst case assumptions for system grounding, class of equipment, conductor
gap and enclosure. It assumes that all working distances are 18 inches, a normal
working distance. It requires an accurate determination of bolted fault current, as does
every other method. This method is published in IEEE 1584.
Shortcut equations
TABLE 1
Equations for Incident Energy and Flash protection boundary
1.1.1.1.1.1

480 V and lower

Incident
energy

600 V

(cal/cm2)
0.045 Ib + 0.13

Flash
boundary
(mm)
9.16 Ib + 194

Incident
energy
(cal/cm2)
0.065 Ib + 0.04

Flash
boundary
(mm)
11.8 Ib + 196

TM or M

0.053 Ib + 0.38

8.45 Ib + 364

0.080 Ib + 0.09

11.4 Ib + 369

Rating A
100 400

Breaker
Type
MCCB

Trip Unit
Type *
TM or M

600 1200

MCCB

600 1200

MCCB

E, LI

0.09 Ib + 0.324

12.5 Ib + 428

0.112 Ib + 11.0

14.3 Ib + 568

1600 6000

TM or E, LI

0.107 Ib + 0.72

11.1 Ib +696

0.164 Ib + 0.04

16.7 Ib + 606

800 6300

MCCB or
ICCB
LVPCB

E, LI

0.15 Ib + 0.88

14.5 Ib + 786

0.23 Ib + 0.070

19.1 Ib + 864

800 6300

LVPCB

E, LS

1.09 Ib + 6.51

47.2 Ib +2660

1.64 Ib + 0.519

62.4 Ib + 2930

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The circuit breaker types are:


MCCB molded-case circuit breaker
ICCB insulated-case circuit breaker
LVPCB low-voltage power circuit breakers
The various types of trip units are briefly defined below.
TM Thermal-magnetic trip units trip under short circuit conditions instantaneously, with
no intentional delay. Below the instantaneous trip current, they have a long-time delay
established to protect conductors while allowing momentary current surges such as for
motor starting and transformer inrush. In many cases they have adjustable
instantaneous trip current settings.
M Magnetic (instantaneous only) trip units are used for short circuit protection only,
usually in motor circuits. They have no long-time characteristic and will not trip below
the instantaneous trip current, which is usually an adjustable setting.
E Electronic trip units have three characteristics that may be used separately or in
combination, (L) long-time, (S) short-time and (I) instantaneous. A trip unit may be
designated LI when it has both long-time and instantaneous features. Other common
designations are LS and LSI, indicating other combinations of these same
characteristics.

L The long-time setting is for lower overcurrent conditions to allow for momentary
current surges. It usually has a current pick-up adjustment and a time-delay
adjustment.

S The short-time setting is for coordination purposes through the overload and
short circuit current levels. It usually has a current pick-up and a time-delay
adjustment.

I The instantaneous feature sets a current level above which tripping occurs with
no intentional delay. It is usually turned off or is absent when the short-time function
is used.

Range of shortcut equations


The range of these equations is from 0.6 to 106 kA and for the voltages mentioned in
the table. Each equation is additionally limited to the range I1 < Ib < I2.
I2 is the interrupting rating of the CB at the system voltage.
I1 is the minimum arcing fault current at which this method can be applied. It is defined
as the lowest bolted fault current level that generates arcing current great enough for
instantaneous tripping to occur. (Recall that the arc current flowing is lower than the
available bolted fault current.)

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(Eq. 1)

I1 = 10^[0.0281 + 1.09 Log(1.3 It)] at 600 V and,

(Eq. 2)

I1 = 10^[0.0407 + 1.17 Log(1.3 It)] at 480 V and lower

and It is the tripping current setting for the circuit breaker, as illustrated in figure 4.
It Default Value
When the tripping current, It, is not known, use a default value of 10 times the
continuous current rating of the CB, except for CBs rated 100 A and below. For CBs
rated 100 A and below, use a default value of It = 1300 A. Where an LS trip unit is used,
It is the short-time pick-up current.

Typical time-current characteristic


10000

Time (sec)

1000
100
10
1
0.1
0.01
100

It

1000

10000

100000

Current

Figure 4 It on Time-Current Characteristic


Shortcut charts
IEEE 1584 provides shortcut equations for fuses as well as circuit breakers. The values
for fuses are directly from tests while the circuit breaker values are worst case
calculations. The charts below review the incident energy values for a range of bolted
fault current levels.

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Incident energy (cal/cm-sq)

12
10
0-200A RK1

400A RK1

0-400A CB
Cat. 1 bdry

4
2
0
0

20

40

60

80

100

120

Fault current (kA)

Chart A 0 to 400 A ratings

Incident energy (cal/cm-sq)

12
10
8

1200A L
1200A CB

Cat. 1 bdry
Cat. 2 bdry

4
2
0
0

50

100

150

Fault current (kA)

Chart B 1200 A ratings

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Incident energy (cal/cm-sq)

35
30
2000A L

25

2000A MCCB

20

Cat. 1

15

Cat. 2

10

Cat. 3

5
0
0

50

100

150

Fault current (kA)

Chart C 2000 A ratings

Incident energy (cal/cm-sq)

35
30
2000A L

25

Impact of lower
instantaneous
setting.

20
15
10

2000A MCCB
Cat. 1
Cat. 2
Cat. 3

5
0
0

50

100

150

Fault current (kA)

Chart D 2000 A ratings showing impact of instantaneous setting


There are several points to notice regarding Charts A through D.
The 0 to 400 A ratings shown in Chart A are all within the two lowest hazard categories,
categories 0 and 1. Minimum PPE is required regardless of the device used. These
ratings are those most frequently found installed for branch circuit protection.
Chart B shows the impact of the thermal region versus the instantaneous region of
operation for the device. Fault current levels are quite high before the lower incident
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energy associated with instantaneous operation are seen. Ratings similar to this 1200 A
rating are normally seen at feeder locations.
Chart C shows an even greater impact of the thermal region. Devices of 2000 A are
frequently seen in main device applications.
Chart D shows a means of obtaining better arc flash protection by adjusting the
instantaneous trip setting of the circuit breaker to a low value when coordination will
permit the lower setting.
Current limitation and current-limiting circuit breakers
The shortcut calculation methods presented here and in IEEE 1584 all assume that
arcing short circuit current will flow for the entire duration shown of the maximum time
on the trip curve of the circuit breaker. That is the best assumption to be made when
more definite test information is not available. However, there are two considerations
that impact the incident energy that deserve review.
The first is that the time-current characteristic for an MCCB with current limiting
characteristics can be expected to show much faster clearing times than for a standard
MCCB. This point is bypassed in the shortcut method.
The second point is that a second arc is generated between the circuit breaker contacts
while it is clearing. This second arc significantly reduces the magnitude of current
flowing. This point is presently bypassed by both of the circuit breaker calculation
methods in IEEE 1584.
The first point is illustrated by the comparison of incident energy for a standard MCCB
compared to that for a current limiting MCCB in figure 5.

Incident Energy (Cal/cm-sq)

400 A Standard and Current Limiting


6
5
4
CL

Std

2
1
0
0

20

40

60

80

100

120

Fault Current (kA)

Figure 5 Incident energy for standard and current-limiting MCCBs


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Technologies for Reducing Arc Flash Risk


When arc flash considerations are a significant factor in the selection of electrical
distribution equipment, the following existing technologies should be considered:
Zone Selective Interlocking (ZSI): ZSI deactivates the preset delay on the circuit
breaker closest to the fault, which then trips with no intentional delay.
Faster tripping reduces the amount of time that current flows during a fault condition.
Thus, zone-selective interlocking reduces the amount of arc flash and stress (I2t energy)
that the system encounters during fault conditions, resulting in improved personal
protection and prolonged equipment life.
Ground Fault Detection: trips the circuit breaker during the lower current stages of
fault development and prior to "bolted fault" conditions.
Use of finger-safe electrical components as much as possible. This can reduce the
chance that an arcing fault will occur.
Use of current-limiting overcurrent protective devices. Current Limiting MCCBs limit
the faulted circuit before that current reaches potential maximum value. The currentlimiting action limits thermal and mechanical stress created by the fault currents.
Peak let-through current (Ip) and I2T are two measures of the degree of current
limitation.
Sizing the current-limiting branch circuit overcurrent protective devices as low as
possible. Typically, the lower the ampere rating, the greater degree of currentlimitation.
Limiting the ampere rating size of main and feeders where possible. For example by
splitting large feeders into two feeders.
Setting the instantaneous setting for circuit breakers as low as possible to maintain
desired selective coordination.
Summary
Arc flash is of significant concern as evidenced by requirements in the National
Electrical Code, and NFPA 70E, as well as through enforcement by OSHA. Thus the
NEC requires certain equipment to be labeled to warn of possible flash hazards and
NFPA 70E requires a flash hazard analysis to determine the degree of exposure a
worker may have to hazardous energy. IEEE 1584 provides spreadsheets that can be
used to determine the arc flash hazard level in circuits protected by MCCBs. These
spreadsheets take into account MCCB current interruption times, which significantly
reduce the impact of arc flash hazards. The spreadsheets can be entered using either
the known interruption time, or the generic breaker rating, and the background
equations relative to the generic rating method have been explained. Future
calculations will need to be refined in order to understand the full benefit of currentlimiting MCCBs, which reduce the current magnitude, and consequently further reduce
the arc flash hazard. It is also noted that the focus of present calculations has been on
the high arc fault levels, whereas it is critical to understand that higher incident energy
can result from lower fault current.
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