Types of Industrial Circuit Breakers and How They Work

Industrial circuit breakers are an essential component in ensuring the safety of your facilities against electrical mishaps. However, with the multitude of circuit breaker options available on the market, determining the right one for your application can be challenging.

In this blog post, we will delve into the world of circuit breakers, exploring their various types, applications, and the proper maintenance of your electrical equipment with these devices.

Types Of Industrial Circuit Breakers

Industrial circuit breakers are essential equipment used in many industrial applications, protecting against short circuits, overloads, and electrical fires. However, it’s important to note that not all circuit breakers are the same. There are multiple types of industrial circuit breakers, each designed for specific purposes and applications.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between residential-grade circuit breakers and those intended for industrial use. Industrial-grade circuit breakers have higher current ratings compared to residential ones, enabling them to withstand harsh environmental conditions like high levels of dust or moisture. When shopping for an industrial circuit breaker, ensure you choose one with the appropriate current rating for your specific application.

Industrial circuit breakers can be classified based on their design and applications. The most common types include:

  • Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCBs)
  • Air Circuit Breakers (ACBs)
  • Residual Current Circuit Breakers (RCCBs)
  • High Voltage Circuit Breakers (HVCBs)
  • Motor Protection Circuit Breakers (MPCBs)

Each type serves a unique purpose depending on the application it is used for.

Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCBs)

Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCBs) are among the most prevalent types of circuit breakers used in industrial settings. They are versatile devices designed to protect electrical circuits from damage caused by overload or short circuits.

Available in a wide range of amperage capacities, MCCBs typically offer greater interrupting capacities when compared to other similar devices. Their design often includes thermal magnetic trip units for overcurrent protection, making them a reliable choice for diverse applications.

MCCBs are designed with convenience and safety in mind. They can be manually switched on and off, allowing easy control over the electric current flow in circuits. In the event of overcurrent or short circuits, MCCBs automatically interrupt electrical flow, preventing potential damage to downstream equipment.

These breakers can also be reset quickly and easily, making them a cost-effective solution since there is no need for frequent replacement.

Air Circuit Breakers (ACBs)

Air Circuit Breakers (ACBs) are distinctive types of circuit breakers that offer an impressive level of durability and overload protection. Despite bearing similarities with other circuit breakers, ACBs use air as their arc quenching medium and are equipped to handle high current levels, making them uniquely suited for industrial applications.

Functioning in both open-air and closed conditions, ACBs are capable of interrupting high fault currents, even reaching levels of up to 100,000 Amperes. They are primarily used in low-voltage applications where large currents are expected, and fast interruptions are crucial.

Their robust construction, adjustable settings, and ability to handle high overload make ACBs a popular choice in large commercial and industrial electrical systems. Whether in power stations, commercial complexes, or industrial applications, ACBs provide reliable, high-performance circuit protection.

Residual Current Circuit Breakers (RCCBs)

Often found in domestic and smaller industrial settings, RCCBs play a significant role in preventing fires and protecting against electric shock. When current leaks from an electrical installation, it signifies a potential safety hazard. This is where an RCCB steps in. It continuously monitors the electric current flowing along a circuit. When it detects an imbalance between the live and neutral wires, it quickly breaks the circuit, cutting off the electricity supply to the affected section.

It’s important to note that while RCCBs provide valuable protection against electric shock and fire, they don’t offer protection against current overload or short circuits. Therefore, in an industrial setting, they are usually used alongside other types of circuit breakers such as MCBs (Miniature Circuit Breakers), MCCBs, and ACBs to ensure comprehensive safety against all types of electrical faults.

High Voltage Circuit Breakers (HVCBs)

High Voltage Circuit Breakers (HVCBs) are designed for applications involving high-voltage electrical systems — typically greater than 1,000 volts AC or 1,500 volts DC. As the name suggests, these breakers are equipped to handle much higher voltage levels compared to other circuit breakers, offering protection against overloads and short circuits in high-voltage electrical systems.

HVCBs operate using different arcing mechanisms such as gas blast or vacuum to extinguish the electrical arc formed when interrupting high voltage circuits. These mechanisms help in containing and safely dispersing the energy produced from the sudden interruption of high current flow. In addition, HVCBs are also designed to prevent electrical flashovers, thereby enhancing safety in high-voltage environments.

Often found in electrical power distribution systems and industrial applications, HVCBs play a crucial role in ensuring system safety and continuity of electrical power supply. As safety is of utmost importance, it’s always advisable to consult with a trusted electrical expert when selecting a circuit breaker for high-voltage applications.

Motor Protection Circuit Breakers (MPCBs)

Motor Protection Circuit Breakers (MPCBs) are designed specifically for motor protection and control applications. Their main role is to protect motors, motor circuits, and motor starters against a variety of faults, which include short-circuit, overload, phase failure, and under-voltage situations.

MPCBs function by gauging the motor’s electrical current levels during routine operations and breaking the circuit if any abnormalities are detected. They typically feature an adjustable overload trip setting, allowing the user to fine-tune the circuit breaker based on the motor’s nameplate current rating. This unique feature ensures optimal motor protection while minimizing downtime caused by nuisance tripping.

Some models of MPCBs also provide diagnostic capabilities, enabling users to identify and address potential issues effectively. This makes them an essential tool in the proactive maintenance of industrial electrical systems, ensuring the safety and longevity of your motor-powered equipment.

How Industrial Circuit Breakers Work

Now that we have covered the different types available, let’s jump into how these devices work. In general, industrial circuit breakers operate by utilizing an electromagnet connected to contacts. These contacts detect any overcurrent within a system and open up, cutting off the power supply to prevent damage from overloading or short-circuiting.

When there is an increase in electric flow, the electromagnet pulls a trip lever, opening the contact and breaking the flow of electricity. Once the situation normalizes, the lever is released, restoring the flow. Additionally, these devices employ insulation systems such as vacuum chambers, air pressure chambers, or oil tanks to enhance performance and safety.

Industrial circuit breakers have a current rating that indicates the amount of current safely handled by a breaker at any given time and a voltage rating that shows how much voltage it can handle before tripping off to protect against overload or short-circuit situations. Interrupting ratings indicate the maximum amount of energy a specific type of breaker can safely interrupt without causing damage or hazardous conditions.

Along with industrial circuit breakers, an electrical system works in harmony with these other parts:

  • Motor starters – commonly used in commercial applications to regulate starting currents and provide overload protection for motors
  • Control relays – offer greater flexibility by controlling multiple circuits with one unit
  • Electrical panels – contain multiple circuit breakers, connected for troubleshooting convenience and offering safety features like ground fault interrupters and surge protectors
  • Electrical enclosures organize individual components or systems, protecting them within one space

how industrial circuit breakers work

Understanding the Complexities of Industrial Circuit Breakers

It is important to know all about the complexities of industrial circuit breakers to ensure the safety of your electrical systems. Whether you are an electrical supervisor or manager, understanding the types of industrial circuit breakers and how they work is essential for proper maintenance and installation.

According to Eaton, there are five universal circuit breaker parts: the frame, operating mechanism, contacts, arc extinguisher, and trip unit. The frame protects the interior of the circuit breaker, the operating mechanism allows the breaker to open and close, the contacts enable current flow through the circuit breaker when it’s closed, the arc extinguisher extinguishes an arc when the contacts are open, and the trip unit opens the operating mechanism if a lengthy short circuit occurs.

Along with understanding the parts of a circuit breaker and how they work, it is important to perform periodic maintenance checks to ensure their effective functioning. For example, regularly checking for loose connections or burnt-out fuses will help prevent potential risks associated with using incorrect circuit breakers, such as fire hazards or electric shock due to excessive current.

Additionally, inspect any electrical panels or enclosures where these devices might be installed, as dirt buildup can cause corrosion, leading to malfunctioning components over time if not cleaned properly every few months.

Maintain Your Electrical Equipment and Circuit Breakers

To avoid unnecessary breakdowns, you should regularly monitor your electrical equipment for signs of wear or damage. This includes checking loose components and ensuring correct wiring connections are made. It’s also critical that you inspect and test all circuit breakers periodically, as they may have become faulty over time due to regular use or environmental conditions.

You may also want to exercise your circuit breakers to ensure that they are operating freely. A general rule of thumb is to cut them on and off at least three to four times. Doing this lets you test the industrial circuit breaker’s components to make sure they are operating correctly and efficiently. Be sure to follow manufacturer instructions when it comes to regular maintenance of your circuit breakers. 

Also, remember that if tripped circuits occur in-between maintenance inspections, then they must be reset as soon as possible; and if necessary, have a professional electrician inspect and repair the system accordingly before further use can take place safely again.

According to Quad Plus, regular maintenance is always preferable to emergency repair services. If you fail to maintain your breakers, your electrical equipment could cease functioning and production will grind to a halt until repairs can be made.

industrial circuit breakers

Select the Right Circuit Breakers for Your System

Circuit breakers are an essential part of any electrical system. They protect the system from dangerous overloads and ensure safety. But how do you know which circuit breaker is best for your application?

It’s crucial to understand the differences between AC and DC power when selecting an industrial circuit breaker. Additionally, you should be aware of the current ratings (in amps) and voltage ratings (in volts). Knowing about these specifications will help you choose a product that can handle the required load without risking danger or damage to your system.

When inspecting existing installations or installing new ones, it’s vital to accurately test each component for the correct voltage before proceeding with any work. Failing to do so can result in serious injury or even death. To test properly, use a multimeter or another testing device designed specifically for voltage testing in circuits commonly found in household appliances or power tools.

Once everything has been tested correctly, it’s time to explore the different types of industrial circuit breakers available. Analyze their features to better understand how they work and what functions they provide. Make sure to check power requirements, safety ratings, compatibility between the breaker and your application, amperage, and physical connectors. 

Finally, compare costs between various models. Installation costs may vary widely depending on the location, and regular maintenance costs should also be considered over time. This will enable you to select the best option tailored to your specific needs both now and in the future.

In Conclusion

By now, you should have a comprehensive understanding of the types of industrial circuit breakers and how they work. From the current ratings to proper installation and maintenance, these devices are essential components in protecting your electrical equipment from overloads or short circuits.

With this knowledge, you will be able to choose the right circuit breaker for your specific application and ensure its optimal performance over time.

To learn more about industrial circuit breakers, read our article about how to select the right circuit breaker.