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Circuit breaker testing: troubleshooting tips

Answers to common electrical testing questions from the field



—Sponsored article by Megger

Circuit breakers are at the heart of every modern power system. To ensure the systems are properly protected, it’s essential the breakers should operate correctly when called upon to do so.

This means regular testing is vital, so it’s unsurprising our technical support team often receives questions on topics relating to breaker testing. These are a few of the things we’re asked most frequently.

When measuring the resistance of circuit breaker contacts, the results obtained are often considerably higher than the figures quoted by the manufacturer. Why is this and what can be done about it?

By far, the most common reason for these unexpectedly high readings is the test current used to make the measurement is too low. To obtain dependable results, it’s essential to use a test current of 50 A or more.

The breaker manufacturer’s literature, or the standard to which the breaker is being tested, will provide more detailed guidance. This need for high current testing means a general-purpose low-resistance ohmmeter that uses only a modest test current likely won’t be suitable for measuring the resistance of circuit breaker contacts.

Can contact resistance be measured with the safety earths still connected to the breaker?

Yes, if the test equipment used is confirmed by the manufacturer as being suitable for dual-ground testing. It’s important to check this point carefully, however, as by no means all circuit breaker test sets meet this requirement.

This is because, as we’ve seen, the instrument must inject large currents into the breaker in order to produce dependable results. For all but the best specified instruments this can be challenging in the case of dual-ground working, where a substantial proportion of the available current is typically shunted via the path provided by the two ground connections.

What is dynamic resistance measurement (DRM) for circuit breaker contacts and what can it reveal about the condition of the contacts?

DRM essentially means measuring the resistance of the circuit breaker contacts throughout the opening and closing operations, and then plotting the resistance against time.

The plot obtained during the opening operation is particularly informative. It will show a step change in resistance as the main contacts open, since at this point all of the test current is carried by the arcing contacts.

A short time later, the resistance will increase almost to infinity as the arcing contacts open. By noting the time between the operation of the main contacts and the arcing contacts, it is possible to deduce the remaining length of the arcing contacts—something that could otherwise only be determined by dismantling the breaker.

This technique does, of course, rely on the availability of dependable information about the motion of the breaker contacts during operation, but Megger circuit breaker test sets like the TM1800 provide facilities for accurate motion analysis as well as for DRM and support for dual-ground testing.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 edition of Megger’s Electrical Tester magazine.

Megger designs and manufactures portable electrical test equipment. Megger products help you install, improve efficiency, reduce cost and extend the life of your or your customers’ electrical assets. To learn more visit www.megger.com

To view more articles on electrical testing, visit the Electrical Testing Centre on CanadianManufacturing.com

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