Power Distribution and Management

Five Safety Tips for Modernizing Your Aging Switchgear

Switchgear can have an extremely long service life, stretching into multiple decades. However, while a 30- or 40-year-old piece of equipment may still perform its original functions as well as ever, aging switchgear will lack the advanced intelligence today’s specifiers consider to be a standard feature. Fortunately, facility managers have affordable options for modernizing older equipment to both its performance and safety.

We’ve identified five ways you can extend the life of your aging switchgear while also reducing electrical hazards for your facility staff. Read on to learn more.

  1. Mitigate arc flash hazards
    Arc flash risks are now a frequent topic of discussion, but they were significantly less understood when today’s aging equipment was first installed. While you might think your only available solution for reducing staff hazards is to add another layer of personal protective equipment (PPE), there are choices for retrofitting “safety by design” into your switchgear, even if it’s decades old.For example, digital relays with overcurrent sensing can be added to the low-voltage side of a service transformer, designed to trip an existing upstream device. Or light sensors capable of detecting arcs in just a millisecond can be installed within switchgear compartments. When tied to the latest relays, such systems can be designed to trip an appropriate circuit breaker. In short, a thorough engineering study with safety as its goal can identify the right options for almost any installation.
  2. Modernize breakers

Direct-replacement circuit breaker options can modernize equipment and upgrade performance much more affordably than a full switchgear replacement. New breakers can be specified to fit within the same footprint as existing units, and they can be installed over time to make upfront costs easier to absorb. Such replacements also can generate operational savings – new breakers can include features that make them easier to maintain and when replacement parts are needed, they’ll be both easier and less expensive to obtain.

  1. Enable remote operations

Even decades’ old switchgear can gain real-time, smart connectivity when existing breakers are replaced with versions offering remote monitoring capabilities. Features like real-time alerts and self-diagnosis can help facility staff understand potential problems before they arise. And, with remote operation via Bluetooth or other communications protocols, workers can open and close breakers, adjust trip curves and perform other physical operations from well outside the arc flash zone.

  1. Incorporate predictive detection

Adding thermal and environmental sensors to your existing switchgear can allow you an option to replace or reduce periodic infrared-based thermal inspection with 24/7 continuous monitoring. This approach provides a means of predictive maintenance and reduces ongoing maintenance costs with better results, as problems can be identified before they happen.

  1. Engage with remote monitoring services

Keeping on top of switchgear conditions can be especially challenging with large infrastructure and multi-site plants. Pairing the kinds of remote sensors and control capabilities described above with third-party monitoring services can free up your staff from routine inspections. These arrangements allow facility personnel to focus on other plant priorities with the knowledge that electrical systems are still fully protected. Customized service plans can keep you up-to-date with regular status reports and predictive insights.

Learn more about ways to modernize your electrical equipment to help reduce potential arc flash hazards in our white paper, “Arc Flash Mitigation.”


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