Many factors determine the lifespan of switchgear. That said, there are practices that extend the switchgear life expectancy by several years, sometimes even doubling it. We will go over five of the most important practices in this article. These are mostly activities that many overlook, perform poorly, or are not aware of.
What is a Switchgear Device?
Switchgear encompasses all of the electrical equipment used to connect, disconnect, and protect electrical equipment and circuits. The devices include switches circuit breakers, fuses, disconnects, grounding equipment, and surge protection devices.
The term “switchgear” is used to describe an assembly of these devices, usually in a grounded metal enclosure. When not in an enclosure, electrical switchgear is installed in the open, especially when used in substations, utility power lines, and other outdoor electricity distribution systems.
Switchgear Life Expectancy
Switchgear is normally built to withstand the rigors of its environment and the forces imparted by its operation. The switchgear life expectancy is the length of time the equipment can be expected to operate without requiring and overhaul or replacement.
Switchgear life expectancy is defined as either mechanical or electrical. Mechanical life is determined by the switch design, contact masses, and other factors such as acceleration. Electrical lifespan is mainly influenced by operating temperature and is normally shorter.
The lifespan of switchgear also depends on its voltage rating. Low voltage switchgear will typically last for 20 to 30 years, while high voltage switchgear can last for 40 years or more. However, the lifespan can be greatly affected by several factors, including:
- The environment in which the switchgear is operated
- The way the switchgear is used
- The quality of maintenance performed on the switchgear
- The quality of the switchgear itself
While switchgear will eventually age and need to be replaced, there are ways to extend its life expectancy, and that users can take advantage of. The tips to increase switchgear life expectancy are provided below.
How to Extend Switchgear Life Expectancy
As a facility owner or manager, you want the switchgear distributing power throughout your facility to last as long as possible. Fortunately, this is possible— by regularly maintaining the switchgear and following some best practices. The things to do to extend the life expectancy of switchgear include those listed below.
1. Switchgear Maintenance Schedule
A switchgear maintenance schedule is an absolute must if you want to extend the lifespan of switchgear. This schedule should be designed by a qualified electrical engineer, though, and include all of the recommended maintenance tasks for your specific switchgear.
Formalize the switchgear maintenance checklist by creating a work order system that generates maintenance tasks on a set schedule. This will ensure that all of the recommended tasks are performed promptly and that nothing is overlooked.
Be sure to include both preventative maintenance tasks, such as cleaning and inspecting the equipment, and corrective maintenance tasks, such as repairs and replacements.
2. Switchgear Thermal Monitoring
One of the biggest reasons for reduced switchgear life expectancy is thermal damage. Thermal damage occurs when the switchgear overheats due to electrical faults or other problems. High switchgear temperature may also come from sources outside of the equipment, such as a hot work environment.
Monitor the switchgear temperature with thermal imaging cameras or infrared thermometers to spot potential problems before they cause damage. Investigate any areas of high heat, as they may be indicative of an electrical fault or other problem that needs to be addressed.
Take actions to prevent overheating, such as providing ventilation to cool the equipment or installing air conditioners in hot environments. This will go a long way towards extending the life of your switchgear and save you from incurring costs unnecessarily.
3. General Switchgear Monitoring
In addition to monitoring the switchgear temperature, it’s also important to keep an eye on the equipment for any other potential problems. This entails visual checks to ascertain the switchgear condition.
Regularly inspect the assembly for physical damage, such as broken insulation, loose connections, or bent frames. These problems can cause electrical faults that lead to overheating and reduced life expectancy.
Also, monitor the switchgear devices for any abnormal sounds or vibrations, as these may be indicative of an issue that needs to be addressed. By monitoring the switchgear and taking action to address any problems that are found, you can extend its life significantly.
4. Switchgear Arc Flash Protection
Incidences of switchgear arc flash generate extreme heat levels and pressures. In the circuit breaker, the heat ends up wearing the contacts. In other parts, arcing can cause the insulation to break down and, in worse situations, a switchgear fire or explosion.
One of the best ways to protect the switchgear from arc flash damage is to install components that take a short time to clear arc faults such as fast acting breakers and other switches. It’s also important to invest in a modern switchgear monitoring system that includes a light sensor to detect arc flashes.
Another way to protect the switchgear is to make sure that all electrical panels and cabinets are properly labeled. This will help ensure that only qualified personnel or switchgear technician are working on or near the equipment.
5. Switchgear Retrofit
Switchgear technology is constantly evolving. By retrofitting your existing switchgear with the latest technology, you can extend its life expectancy while also improving its performance. Some of the latest switchgear technologies that you may want to consider include flash mitigation devices and advanced monitoring systems
Performing a switchgear retrofit or upgrade is a big decision, but it can be well worth the investment. By staying up-to-date with the latest switchgear advancements, you can improve the safety, reliability, and performance of your equipment in addition to its lifespan.
Alongside upgrades, ensure timely switchgear repair. This means taking action when an issue is first identified. Addressing problems early on will save you time and money in the long run while also helping to extend the life of your switchgear.
Switchgear life expectancy can be extended significantly with proper maintenance and care. By monitoring the equipment, taking action to prevent overheating, and staying up-to-date with the latest technology, you can keep your switchgear in top condition presently and for many years to come. With a little bit of effort, you can ensure that your switchgear continues to provide reliable performance and for a long time.