Smart circuit breakers: does flexibility have to mean complexity?

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In this quickly evolving world of energy, it’s important that power distribution systems are designed to tackle any challenging applications that come along. For example, though wind power is estimated to supply up to 20% of global electricity by 2030, turbines are an extremely harsh environment for power equipment to operate in. Another challenge arises as businesses continue to set aggressive growth goals in the face of tough competition. A global report by KPMG states manufacturing leaders are planning for “flexibility and agility to respond to increased (even unpredicted) demand and market disruptions.” This might require higher, as well as highly variable, production output from existing plants, placing even greater demands on power infrastructures.

Meeting these new kinds of demands requires robust power distribution systems and components that can be specified to meet the exact performance requirements of each application. It also requires components that have the flexibility to adapt to new requirements. Among the most important of these power components are circuit breakers. The unfortunate dilemma is that increased flexibility often naturally leads to increased complexity, in terms of selection, ordering, and upgrading. The newest smart circuit breakers are helping simplify things.

Delivering on flexibility

Leading manufacturers of circuit breakers provide a range of options to enable configuration and customization for specific applications. This will typically let you choose the appropriate rated current, breaking capacity, and short-time withstand current. There will also likely be options related to the breaker’s control unit, in terms of available protection functions (e.g. long-time, short-time, instantaneous, earth fault, earth leakage). A variety of auxiliary accessories might include options for connection, signaling, controlling, protection of people and property, and communications.

The newest smart circuit breakers also include a choice of advanced monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. This can include high accuracy power and energy metering, harmonic distortion measurements, event and alarm logs and messages, trip history, and traceability of setting changes. Some more advanced functions may include breaker aging analysis and other breaker health diagnostics.

One of the most exciting innovations to emerge for smart circuit breakers are downloadable digital modules. These offer the ultimate in flexibility, as a breaker can be upgraded with new functionality either during commissioning or after it has been put in service. Upgrading is typically done fairly seamlessly, such as over a USB connection from a laptop, without taking the breaker out of service. Digital modules might offer additional protection functions, power or energy measurements, or power quality capabilities (e.g. waveform capture and harmonics analysis). They may also include smart ‘assistant’ functions, for example to help facility teams perform breaker operations or restore power faster and more safely.

Simplified ordering

As you can see, the breadth of configuration possibilities, auxiliary options, and digital modules can be quite extensive. This is necessary to ensure a circuit breaker will meet very specific, and sometimes, very demanding applications. But this flexibility can make for a confusing ordering process, unless adequate tools are provided.

Some of the newest online software tools are making ordering much simpler for circuit breakers, even smart breakers with many advanced functions. These tools lead the purchaser through a series of intuitive and interactive steps to complete an order. Intelligence is built into the interface that will automatically filter available options for a particular configuration, and will check the completeness of an order. This ensures every order is correct, saving significant time by avoiding mistakes.

Online ordering tools also allow a previously ordered configuration to be saved, reloaded, fine-tuned, and resaved. This makes reorders for a similar or modified configuration extremely fast.

Finally, simplified product codes help with understanding the configuration of a circuit breaker. This can streamline with the ordering process, but can also greatly assist field technicians that are seeking help from remote support teams.

An example of the newest breed of low voltage smart circuit breakers is the MasterPact™ MTZ range from Schneider Electric, which offers the most innovative capabilities available. A robust design, broad selection of options, and extensive functionality including downloadable digital modules make the smart circuit breaker adaptable to any demanding protection application. It’s supported by the intuitive Product Selector that saves time and makes reorders simple.

This has been the eighth post in our series on how the newest smart circuit breakers are helping improve operational efficiency and reliability. To learn more about MasterPact MTZ, visit the product range web page.

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