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A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect

an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is
to detect a fault condition and interrupt current flow. Circuit breakers are made in varying
sizes, from small devices that protect an individual household appliance up to
large switchgear designed to protect high voltage circuits feeding an entire city.
MCBs or Miniature Circuit Breakers are electromechanical devices which protect
an electrical circuit from an overcurrent. The overcurrent, in an electrical circuit, may
result from short circuit, overload or faulty design. An MCB is a better alternative to a
Fuse since it does not require replacement once an overload is detected. Unlike fuse, an
MCB can be easily reset and thus offers improved operational safety and greater
convenience without incurring large operating cost.
Another advantage is, as the switch operating knob comes at its off position during
tripping, the faulty zone of the electrical circuit can easily be identified. But in case of
fuse, fuse wire should be checked by opening fuse grip or cut out from fuse base, for
confirming the blow of fuse wire.

Figure 1: A two pole Miniature Circuit Breaker

Miniature circuit breaker construction is very simple, robust and maintenance free.
The frame of miniature circuit breaker is a molded case. This is a rigid, strong, insulated
housing in which the other components are mounted.
The trip unit is the main part, responsible for proper working of miniature circuit
breaker. Two main types of trip mechanism are provided in MCB. A bimetal provides
protection against over load current and an electromagnet provides protection against
short-circuit current.

Figure 2: Different parts of a MCB


There are two arrangement of operation of miniature circuit breaker. One due to
thermal effect of over current and other due to electromagnetic effect of over current. The
thermal operation of miniature circuit breaker is achieved with a bimetallic strip whenever
continuous over current flows through MCB, the bimetallic strip is heated and deflects by
bending. This deflection of bimetallic strip releases mechanical latch. As this mechanical
latch is attached with operating mechanism, it causes to open the miniature circuit breaker
contacts. But during short circuit condition, sudden rising of current, causes
electromechanical displacement of plunger associated with tripping coil or solenoid of
MCB. The plunger strikes the trip lever causing immediate release of latch mechanism
consequently open the circuit breaker contacts.


The operating mechanism of miniature circuit breaker provides the means of manual
opening and closing operation of miniature circuit breaker. It has three-positions "ON,"
"OFF," and "TRIPPED". The external switching latch can be in the "TRIPPED" position,
if the MCB is tripped due to over-current. When manually switch off the MCB, the
switching latch will be in "OFF" position. In close condition of MCB, the switch is
positioned at "ON". By observing the positions of the switching latch one can determine
the condition of MCB whether it is closed, tripped or manually switched off.
If circuit is overloaded for long time, the bi-metallic strip becomes over heated and
deformed. This deformation of bi-metallic strip causes displacement of latch point. The
moving contact of the MCB is so arranged by means of spring pressure, with this latch
point, that a little displacement of latch causes, release of spring and makes the moving
contact to move for opening the MCB. The current coil or trip coil is placed such a manner
that during short circuit fault the mmf of that coil causes its plunger to hit the same latch
point and make the latch to be displaced. Hence the MCB will open in same manner.
Again when operating lever of the miniature circuit breaker is operated by hand, that
means when we make the MCB at off position manually, the same latch point is displaced
as a result moving contact is separated from fixed contact in same manner. So, whatever
may be the operating mechanism, the same latch point is displaced and same deformed
spring is released, which is ultimately responsible for movement of the moving contact.
When the moving contact separated from fixed contact, there may be a high chance of arc.
This arc then goes up through the arc runner and enters into arc splitters and is finally
quenched. When we switch on an MCB, we actually reset the displaced operating latch to
its previous on position and make the MCB ready for another switch off or trip operation.


MCBs are of following types

1. Single Pole
2. 1 Pole (with N)
3. 2 Pole (DP)
4. 3 Pole (TP)
5. 3 Pole with N (TPN)
6. 4 Pole (4P)

Characteristic curve is the curve between release current and tripping time. MCB have

Type B characteristic curves.

Type C characteristic curves.
Type D characteristic curves.

Figure 3: MCB Characteristic Curves

The classification of Type B, C or D is based on fault current rating at which magnetic

operation occurs to provide short time protection (typically less than 100ms) against short
circuits. It is important that equipment having high inrush currents should not cause the
circuit-breaker to trip unnecessarily, and yet the device should trip in the event of a short-
circuit current that could damage the circuit cables.
Type B devices are generally suitable for domestic applications. They may also be used in
light commercial applications where switching surges are low or non-existent. Type B
devices are designed to trip at fault currents of 3-5 tomes rated current. For example a 10A
device will trip at 30-50A.
Type C devices are the normal choice for commercial and industrial applications
where fluorescent lighting, motors etc. are in use. Type C devices are designed to trip at 5-
10 times In (50-100A for a 10A device).
Type D devices have more limited applications, normally in Industrial use where high
inrush currents may be expected. Examples include large battery charging systems,
winding motors, transformers, X-ray machines and some types of discharge lighting. Type
D devices are designed to trip at 10-20 times (100-200A for a 10A device).
Normal cable ratings relate to continuous service under specified installation conditions.
Cables will, of course, carry higher currents for a short time without suffering permanent
damage. Type B and C circuit breakers can generally be selected to achieve tripping times
that will protect the circuit conductors against normal surge currents in accordance with
BS 7671. This is more difficult to achieve with Type D devices, which may require a
lower earth loop impedance (Zs) to achieve tile operating times required by Regulation
Surge currents: Surge currents in domestic installations are generally low, so that a Type
B device is adequate. For example Inrush currents associated with one or two fluorescent
fittings or the compressor motor in a refrigerator/freezer are unlikely to cause unwanted
tripping. Fluorescent and other discharge lamps produce surge currents and while one or
two fluorescent lamps are unlikely to cause a problem, the block switching of a number
of fluorescent lamps. In a shop, office or factory can produce substantial inrush currents.
For this reason Type C devices are recommended for these applications.
Unwanted tripping: Sometimes failure of tungsten filament lamps can trip Type B circuit
breakers in domestic and retail environments. This is caused by high arcing currents
occurring at the time of failure and is generally associated with inferior quality lamps. If
possible the user should be encouraged to use better quality lamps. If the problem persists
then one of the measurements listed below should be considered.
A Type C device may be substituted for a Type B device where unwanted tripping
persists, especially in commercial applications. Alternatively it may be possible to use a
higher rating Type B MCB, say 10A rather than 6A. Whichever solution is adopted, the
installation must be in accordance with BS 7671.
A change from Type C to Type D devices should only be taken after careful
consideration of the installation conditions, in particular the operating times required by


Quick restoration of supply is not possible in case of fuse because fuses have to be
rewired or replaced for restoring the supply. But in the case of MCB, quick restoration is
possible by just switching on operation.
Handling MCB is more electrically safe than fuse.
Because of all these advantages, in modern low voltage electrical network, miniature
circuit breaker is mostly used instead of backdated fuse unit.
Only one disadvantage of MCB is that this system is costlier than fuse unit system.

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