When it Comes to Electrical Panel Equipment, Less is More:
Consolidating Function and Capacity into Electrical Panel Design
April 2018 | By Brian Schmalberger
Brian Schmalberger is an OEM segment market leader for ABB.
Consolidating features and functions is a core design goal in the evolution of most technology. How can multiple functions be integrated into a single device to make systems work smarter, faster and more easy to use? We experience this each day with our smart phones and televisions; and electrical panel equipment is no exception.
Many electrical components consolidate multiple functions and capabilities, previously handled by separate components, into new smaller packages–while also adding new sensing, monitoring and communications functionality to power panel and control systems.
Putting More into Less – Consolidating Electrical Panel Functionality
When we talk about consolidation of features and functions, part of that calculation is certainly reducing the physical size or number of components. For example, recent advances in modular contactor design for technologies combine motor starters and auxiliary components such as relays and timers in one module. This eliminates the need for a second DIN rail. These advances in integration reduce overall space requirements, giving panel designers more room to add features or increase power density.
Feature consolidation also means either reducing the dependence on additional dedicated components, or eliminating the need altogether. Newer soft starter components, such as our family of ASTAT soft starters devices now have integrated by-pass technology, cutting the cost and size of a dedicated contactor, along with the added benefit of generating less heat. In another example, advanced circuit trip can also incorporate current sensing capabilities, eliminating the space and cost of separate current transformers in the system.
Our new line of low voltage molded case circuit breakers (MCCBs) allow adjustments of trip units to be made on the device, eliminating the need for ratings plugs altogether.
Building in Connected Technologies to Enhance Function, Safety and Maintenance
In recent years, given the wider use of intelligent control systems enabled by new sensors, communications standards, and data monitoring and analytics tools, electric panel designers can now build new functionality and capacity into their systems.
A new generation of circuit breakers have trip units are embedded with communication capabilities to better signal responses to electrical events, improving control selectivity and reliability, and providing new levels of protection against arc flash incidents.
In another example of enhanced communications, our waveform recognition (WFR) technology is an upstream circuit breaker that automatically senses a fault current signature caused by a downstream current-limiting circuit breaker, reducing unnecessary circuit breaker trips and improving arc flash protection through intelligent selective coordination.
Instantaneous Zone Selective Interlocking (I-ZSI) is another smart protection approach that communicates with upstream and downstream breakers to automatically coordinate protection between breakers, reducing the potential for an arc flash by adapting and coordinating a response to small overloads or large faults as needed. Additionally, clearing arcing current at instantaneous speeds results in lower arc flash incident energy.
Adding “smart” functionality to power panel systems also means that operational and performance data can be monitored, collected and harnessed to check system performance, plan maintenance and reduce unexpected performance issues.
Specialized trip unit communications and analytics software, or tool kits, link system tools with computers or smart tablets to manage system functionality from startup and commissioning to maintenance and testing. Monitoring tools display waveforms, event logs, and real-time data including metering, phasor, diagrams and circuit breaker status, and also provide critical predictive analytics, such as contact wear and mechanism timing.
Some newer trip units, like our PremEon* trip units, also include a smart “plug-and-play” capacity to recognize and automatically synchronize new components or upgrades made in the field.
Using smarter, function-consolidating approaches significantly raises the “intelligence” of any power distribution system to help reduce arc flash events, increase worker safety, and provide data to improve maintenance and system uptime.