Protecting motor driven systems with the correct breaker

Protecting motor driven systems with the correct breaker

Motor-driven systems are everywhere from processes to commercial heating, ventilating, cooling, and refrigeration. With business productivity so dependent on them, they must be correctly protected.

OEM machine builders and electrical contractors need to ensure that there is a circuit breaker on all motor-driven systems. According to Schneider Electric’s Henrique Matheus, selecting the proper type of motor circuit breaker will ensure the protection of the motor.

This is not the case when using standard electrical distribution circuit breakers: a fact not understood by many. Often selected due to their lower cost, their overload design is for the protection of standard distribution cables. Using standard breakers, risks motor damage, disruption and downtime for the end-customer, or even fire.

The primary reasons for using a dedicated motor circuit breaker as opposed to a distribution circuit breaker are:


Avoiding nuisance tripping during motor start-up

When a motor starts, it draws current up to 10 times its rated value. This can last up to 30 seconds until it reaches its steady speed. Distribution circuit breakers have a magnetic trip threshold set at eight times the rated current, or less. When current exceeds this threshold, the breaker identifies it as a short-circuit event and trips unnecessarily.

In contrast, Schneider Electric’s dedicated GV Series motor circuit breakers have their short-circuit trip threshold set around thirteen times the rated current. This avoids the risk of nuisance tripping in motor-driven systems during motor start-up and still protects the motor.


Risk of nuisance tripping due to a transient overload

The electrical tripping characteristic designed into distribution circuit breakers is for protecting cables. Their overload tripping times are set according to the overcurrent withstand of cables, which is usually shorter than that of motors. So, distribution breakers are likely to trip before the situation becomes dangerous for a motor. Keep in mind that motor protection relays, and dedicated motor electronic trip units, offer options to configure even slower overload protection for classes 10A, 10, 20 and 30.


Risk of nuisance tripping due to high ambient temperature

The design of most distribution circuit breakers is for operation under 30 °C, or in some cases under 40 °C. At higher enclosure temperatures the breaker will trip at a lower current than its rating, unnecessarily interrupting a process.

In contrast, motor circuit breakers operate up to 60° C, or 65° C. So, a 10 A-rated motor circuit breaker, protecting a 10 A-rated motor will not trip when the current is 10 A and the ambient temperature is 60° C. In this way, machines and operations keep the motor-driven systems running whilst still protecting the motor.


Risk to motor-driven systems by phase fault

A phase fault can happen for many reasons, and distribution circuit breakers are not equipped to trip in these common conditions as they pose no hazard to distribution networks. But a phase fault is a critical event for motors, causing misoperation, overheating and possible damage to the motor. But motor circuit breakers will trip within seconds when sensing a phase fault. This will protect a running motor, or during start-up.


Risk of contactor damage and fire due to short-circuit

EN 60204-1 requires at least a Type 1 short circuit coordination device between a motor protection circuit breaker and a contactor. It is unusual for the testing of distribution circuit breakers in coordination with contactors, so there’s no performance guarantee of the combination.

A short circuit may also destroy the contactor. The energy dissipated by the contactor during the interruption process can burn surrounding materials or start a fire. Motor circuit breakers allow a choice of short-circuit coordination. Type 1 ensures no damage around the contactor, and Type 2 ensures the contactor can still operate after the short-circuit.

Installing the correct type of circuit breaker ensures the difference between average motor maintenance or costly disruption to the motor drive system.

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