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Industrial Circuit Breakers: The Status Quo Doesn’t Cut It | Industrial Conformal Coatings

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Mallory McGuinness | November 3, 2020

Circuit breakers are a multibillion-dollar market, estimates place market sizing as much as $19 billion by decade’s end. The status quo for circuit breakers are simple electromechanical devices, sitting idle most of the time, but “smart circuit breakers” such as molded case circuit breakers (MCCBs) and low-voltage power circuit breakers (LVPCBs) provide wireless connectivity and impressive computing power. Capabilities like these present exciting possibilities as they provide critical functionality and safeguard connected devices from short circuits and overloads.

Why Smart Circuit Breakers Matter 

Smart circuit breakers such as MCCBs and LVPCBs are an effective, economical, safe way to disconnect and connect loads from the electrical source. As such, they are ubiquitously applied across industries, particularly in applications such as manufacturing, oil and gas operations, and factory settings where uptime is critical. Smart circuit breaker reliability mitigates risk, cost, and liability in mission-critical environments such as hospitals, where an unexpected outage can cost upwards of $800,000 per day.

In virtually every global application, MCCBs and LVPCBs serve an indispensable function, protecting personnel and key equipment downstream. Industrial circuit breakers also facilitate predictive diagnostics and higher-level system visibility. Their connectivity and intelligence offer connectivity to a building management system, network, or cloud, and collect sensor data that generates useful information used to help improve equipment utilization and the condition of system components.

Leveraging smart circuit breaker data, it is possible to support the integration of an electrical system with a building system, advancing impressive reductions in maintenance costs and a fail-safe facility.

View our webinar 5 Things To Know To Achieve Reliability And Resiliency In The Evolving Industrial Landscape.

How They Work

Within MCCBs and LVPCBs is a trip unit – the brains of the circuit breaker. When a circuit breaker “trips,” this means that circuit has identified what is known as a fault condition and has shut itself off to prevent the wiring from overheating. In the event of a short circuit or overload of current, the trip unit will trip the operating mechanism for protection. Smart circuit breakers use one or more trip elements to provide critical circuit protection for varied applications. These trip elements protect against short circuits, thermal overloads, and arcing ground faults. 

Threats to Reliability 

Although circuit breakers are becoming smarter, they still are comprised of sensitive circuitry that can easily be damaged by environmental and chemical threats within the operating environment. Variables such as moisture, humidity, chemical vapor, and dust can have a detrimental effect on the health of the breaker. Constituents such as these can lead integral parts of MCCBs and LVPCBs to become corroded and cease to function.  

Within the circuit breaker, undesired arcing can have detrimental effects on the electronic equipment when a high current or voltage is generated. The arc can cause damage to equipment, including melting the conductors, destroying insulation, or causing fire. Thus, they must be cooled, contained, and extinguished in a controlled way, or better yet, avoided altogether.  

Overcoming the Challenges with Conformal Coatings

Circuit breakers protect key equipment downstream. An upstream current could cause downstream systems, like switch gears, relays, or motors to stop working, along with networks, equipment, and loss of assets. Thus, ensuring that smart circuit breakers are reliable is of the utmost importance.

Arc resistance is defined as the time in seconds that an arc may exist on the surface of a material before electrical breakdown of the surface occurs. Conformal coatings, polymer films applied to the components of a PCBA (printed circuit board assembly), can be used to provide arc resistance.

Among next-generation thin-film coatings that can provide this necessary arc resistance, Parylene is a proven performer, exhibiting superior protection capabilities as compared to conventional conformal coatings. In general, Parylene performs extremely well as a barrier to corrosion and contaminants due to the coating’s ability to minimize the influence of the factors that affect coating lifetime and performance, including the following:

  • Oxygen permeability − low oxygen permeability for a polymer coating
  • Water vapor permeability − very low WVTR for a polymer coating
  • Liquid water uptake − Parylene absorbs very little water
  • Ionic permeability − salts have a difficult time passing through the coating
  • Coating porosity − at a thickness of just 5 to 8 microns, Parylene forms a pinhole/pore-free coating

Are the products you’re designing truly industrial-grade? View the Relentless Reliability video series. 

MCCBs and LVPCBs serve an indispensable function, protecting personnel and key equipment downstream.

The Big Picture

At the end of the day, safe, reliable performance of circuits is crucial. For example, in a data center application, if less than one percent of an important load is lost, the bottom line is directly impacted. Downtime can range from $9,000 per minute, or $540,000 an hour. The reliability of your equipment should be a top priority. Thankfully, next-generation thin-film coatings provide ways to bolster predictive maintenance methods with efficiency. With solutions such as Parylene, it is possible to reduce effort and costs and increase equipment uptime, boosting system reliability. For more information on how you can use HZO technology to bolster your system reliability, contact us today for a consultation.  

Downtime can range from $9,000 per minute, or $540,000 an hour.

Mallory McGuinness

Mallory is an electronics protection evangelist who writes content for HZO. In her free time she is reading non-fiction, and hanging out with her beta fish, King Awesome.

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