When it comes to operating at peak performance or planning for future expansion, the last thing you want is for your plant to be limited by its electrical infrastructure. Let’s look into a few critical ways to future proof, maintain, and increase the safety of your electrical switchboards.
Coordination. Having a coordination study done on feeder breakers ensures everything trips in the proper sequence. You don’t want something minuscule like a bad lighting circuit taking down your main switchboard and shutting down the whole site.
Metering. Consider adding an electronic power meter to monitor volts, amps, KW, PFC, harmonics, etc. This eliminates needing someone to do energized work to take measurements, improving safety. These new meters can measure so much more than a standard fluke meter, and they can show/log power trends and events, which a typical handheld meter cannot do. Newer breakers are increasingly advanced and can do a lot of the metering on a load-by-load basis.
Remote Main Breaker. Typically, the main breaker coming right off the utility transformer has the highest arc flash value in the system. Moving the main breaker to its own cabinet outside of the electric room helps keep arc flash values at a safer level.
Maintenance Mode. This switch, called different things by different manufacturers, is required by NEC 240.87 on any breaker 1200A or greater. When the switch is activated, it changes the breaker settings to more conservative values, causing the breaker to trip faster in the event of a fault or arc flash. This significantly reduces the magnitude of the blast and keeps plant personnel safe. Just make sure to turn the setting back off once work is completed to avoid nuisance tripping.
Space. Don’t build yourself into a corner; keep wall space available to add sections onto the switchboard. Nobody wants to have big expansion plans not come to fruition because of lack of space in the electric room.
Remote Operation. Remote operation allows you to open and close breakers from across the room at a safe distance from high-energy main breakers coming directly off the incoming service.
Electrical Preventative Maintenance. Cleaning, exercising and performing vendor-recommended maintenance routines can decrease equipment failure rates by as much as two-thirds. It can also help diagnose potential issues before they become major issues that could require significant unplanned downtime.
Don’t let your switchboards hold you back. You can ensure plant personnel safety, boost gear reliability and be primed for expansion by taking action now.
Zach McBrayer, P.E., Electrical Engineer
This blog was originally published in the Current Connections Summer 2021 issue.