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Electrical Distribution
Loose connections
cause power quality problems
The problem

In this issue, In June, an office building in a large industrial He found that it had captured multiple
complex began experiencing unexpected re-starts voltage fluctuations on phase A-to-neutral.
we discuss of personal computers. Also, some of the Voltage on this phase dropped below the 88%
the need fluorescent lighting in the building was flickering. threshold intermittently over the preceding hour
to eliminate The problem had been occurring for an hour (see figures 1 and 2).
before a frustrated employee reported it to the
facility engineer. Suspecting utility power quality The office building was served by an overhead
connections disturbances, the engineer immediately returned 12 kV circuit owned and maintained by the local
in ac power to his office to check the plant’s power utility. This feeder served the office building and
monitoring and control system. other commercial and small industrial customers
located beyond the plant.
in order The facility had
to reduce recently installed a
the voltage PowerLogic system
capable of capturing
fluctuations voltage and current
that cause waveforms.
power quality The system included
Circuit Monitors at key
problems locations within the
(and complex, including one
equipment CM-2350 at the
service entrance of the
damage) building that was
suffering the
intermittent PC
problems. Noting that
his workstation
software was
indicating an alarm on
the office building
Circuit Monitor, the
facility engineer
interrogated the CM’s Figure 1: Voltage fluctuations show the cycle-by-cycle voltage drop on phase A-N, which caused
on-board memory. equipment misoperation and lighting flicker.

Figure 2: Waveform capture

translated into effective (rms) values
shows the voltage fluctuations on
Phase A-N due to the faulty utility

ENMED199034EN Electrical Distribution

Circuit Monitor Inside


o VOLTMETER, L-L (V) [PT:120] A (A-B)
o VOLTMETER, L-N (V) [Sys. Type] B (B-C)
o WATTMETER (W) [Dmd. Int.] C (C-A)
o VARMETER (VAr) [WH/Pulse]
o VA METER (VA) [Address]
o DEMAND AMMETER (A) [Reset] [Value]
o DEMAND POWER (W) [Reset]
o THD, CURRENT (%) [Rst. Min/Max] MAX
o THD, VOLTAGE (%) [Set Password] ALARM
o K-FACTOR [Accept] [Setup]

Feeder to
Utility Transformer

Figure 3: The office building in this case history was served

at 480 V from an overhead 12 kV utility distribution system.

Suspecting that the voltage sags resulted

from problems on the utility system, the facility
engineer called the local utility. Then an
employee at the office building reported seeing
a “welding light” at the top of the utility pole just
outside the building. Figure 4 shows that the
“welding light” came from one phase of a 3-pole
knife-blade switch mounted just upstream
of the feeder serving the building.
Figure 4: A three-pole knife blade switch began arcing
By this time, the arcing problem had escalated due to improper seating.
to the point that personal computers were re-
starting, lights were flickering badly, and the local
area network server was malfunctioning. The
facility engineer placed another call to the utility
to report the arcing.

Key concepts and Terms

Voltage Fluctuations Light Flicker
Voltage fluctuations are defined as systematic Sensitive equipment disruption and power
or random variations of voltage. Fluctuations system component failures are only part
cause cycle-by-cycle changes in voltage which of the problem. Voltage fluctuation
can come from a variety of sources. Arc magnitudes as low as 0.5% can cause a
furnaces are one of the most common causes perceptible flicker in some lighting sources.
of voltage fluctuation. These furnaces can often Though individuals vary widely in their
affect other customers served from the same susceptibility to light flicker, it is extremely
utility circuit. Loose connections, frequent motor irritating to some workers, resulting in
starting or intermittent loading (as may occur decreased productivity and increased
with a chipper machine), and welding are re-work. Studies show that sensitivity
common sources of voltage fluctuation inside depends on the amount of illumination
commercial and industrial facilities. Loose change (magnitude), how often it occurs
connections form high impedance points (frequency), and the type of activity
in the electrical system which cause undertaken. The problem is further
intermittent voltage drops. The fluctuations complicated by the fact that lighting systems
affect equipment on the load side of the loose have different response characteristics to
connection. Inside a facility, loose connections voltage changes.
can occur wherever conductors terminate
or transition.

ENMED199034EN Electrical Distribution

Loose Connections Cause Power Quality Problems

The solution
For the industrial complex in this case history, Preventive Loose Connection
the solution to a loose connection problem was Problems
to call the local utility. The company sent a line
Loose connections in a facility need not be
crew to the scene to investigate the report. By
disruptive. They can be detected early with a
the time the crew arrived, molten metal dripping
PowerLogic monitoring and control system.
from the switch had ignited dry grass at the base
As demonstrated in this case history, Circuit
of the pole. The switch had deteriorated to the
Monitors can detect voltage fluctuations caused by
point that it could not be closed. After notifying
loose connections. Monitors placed at key points
customers along the circuit, the crew
in new or existing switchgear can trigger waveform
de-energized the 12 kV feeder to install
captures and initiate alarms when loose
a temporary jumper around the faulty switch.
connections cause fluctuations.
The next day, the line crew replaced the faulty
Some industrials rely solely on thermo-graphic
switch and removed the jumper, all without power
surveys of electric switchgear to identify loose
interruption to the customers on the circuit.
connections. These surveys are often called
The industrial customer’s problem was identified
infrared scans because the detection scheme
quickly and effectively with his power monitoring
records infrared light variations. Loose
and control system before it caused more
connections show up as lighter-colored areas
serious production delays. One manufacturer
(hot spots) on thermographic prints.
of time clock controllers was less fortunate. This
Some devices indicate the actual temperature
plant suffered a fire and shutdown due to a faulty
of the metal components.
connection inside the facility. The cause, as
While periodic infrared scans are strongly
the plant engineer discovered, was traced
recommended, their benefit in preventing loose
to a twisted piece of busbar to which large
connections problems is limited. Many
cables were attached. The cable lugs had been
companies complete the surveys on an annual
correctly selected and installed, but the plant
or biannual basis. The problem may continue
never again checked the integrity of the

Figure 5: Circuit diagram of the switch circuit shows virtually Figure 6: During switch arcing due to improper connection,
no voltage drop across a properly seated knife blade switch. there is an intermittent five- to ten-percent voltage drop across
Most voltage drop occurs across customer loads. the switch. This arcing dissipated about 70 kVA—enough
power to run a 100-hp motor—and caused the switch to begin

connections. And it did not have a PowerLogic for months, intermittently disrupting sensitive
system. One phase connection began arcing production equipment or reducing employee
during third shift, cascaded to a three-phase effectiveness, before the periodic scan discovers
fault, and initiated a fire that closed the plant for it. The scan also relies on the secondary effect
a week. of loose connections: excessive heating. The
Another plant without a PowerLogic system heat is caused by unusual voltage drops across
spent weeks trying to determine the cause of circuit components not intended to be high
operating problems with a new electric glue- impedance connections.
curing machine. The problem was finally traced PowerLogic systems continuously monitor for the
to poor connections inside a weather-head at voltage fluctuations that are the cause of heating
which cables were attached to bus duct. The and equipment problems. The systems capture a
voltage fluctuations disrupted the equipment, but variety of other power-related problems as well,
the additional heating losses in the weatherhead but can easily pay for themselves by preventing a
were not noticed because it was located outside, single loose-connection incident like those
and the problem occurred in the winter. described earlier.

ENMED199034EN Electrical Distribution

Some experts claim that most power quality
problems can be solved with a screwdriver.
What they mean is that wiring and grounding
problems like loose connections cause
the great majority of operating problems
experienced by sensitive equipment.
Ensuring that loose connections do not disrupt
your facility is more complicated than just
tightening lugs with a screwdriver (and needs
to be safer!). One important way to ensure that
voltage fluctuations from any source do not
disrupt production, or cause catastrophic faults,
is to monitor your electrical circuits.
PowerLogic Circuit Monitors can capture voltage
fluctuations, as well as other phenomena that
disrupt or damage equipment. The system
provides the plant engineer with the information
needed to reduce downtime, ensure employee
productivity, and reduce manufacturing costs.


Schneider Electric Centre Merlin Gerin This paper was originally published as a part of the series PowerLogic This document has been
F - 38050 Grenoble cedex Solutions, copyright Square D Company 1998. Used with permission. printed on ecological paper.
Industries SA
Tel.: +33 (0)4 76 57 60 60 Published by: Schneider Electric SA
Fax: +33 (0)4 76 57 73 62 Design and layout by: Insign’ Printed by:

ART.28267 09/1999