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Brian Schmalberger, ABB
Industrial Solutions

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Delivering Smarter & Safer Power Panel Systems With Connected Technologies


Brian Schmalberger, GE Industrial Solutions
January 2019  %7C  By Brian Schmalberger
Brian Schmalberger is an OEM segment market leader for ABB.


Any engineer will tell you that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Today’s smarter power panel technologies integrate sensing and communications capabilities to provide new capabilities for real-time monitoring, analytics, diagnostics and power system protection.

Connecting to Operational Efficiencies

Real-time information on operating and exception conditions of an electrical distribution system can help control both operational and energy efficiency. Next-generation circuit protection, such as some models of our molded case circuit breakers (MCCB), can monitor, collect and analyze a circuit breaker’s mechanical and electrical performance to help users make better operational and maintenance decisions. Metering capabilities also offer real-time data on both circuit breaker and trip unit system efficiency, as well as the power demands of operating equipment on a particular power panel circuit.

Sometimes performance and related efficiency data is built into operational interfaces, such as newer solid state reduced voltage starters with real-time read-outs on system performance.  These interfaces provide insight on power usage and conditions such as:


  • Line voltage or motor current
  • Fault diagnostics including overload, overvoltage or undercurrent conditions
  • A record of elapsed run time, or fault or trip events

These new communications features give operations teams a higher level of visibility into their electrical systems that create new operational efficiencies such as proactive maintenance planning.

“Intelligent” Power Simplifies Monitoring and Maintenance

Optimizing both the expense and performance of an electrical power panel requires using smart, connected devices to manage the full scope–from installation through ongoing maintenance–of a power distribution system. For example, specialized trip unit communications and analytics software, or tool kits, can link system tools with mobile devices to manage system functionality from startup and commissioning through testing and maintenance. Monitoring tools display waveforms, event logs, and real-time data, including metering, phasor, diagrams and circuit breaker status. These tools also provide critical predictive analytics on variables such as contact wear and mechanism timing.


Some newer trip units, such as our PremEon*, also include a smart “plug-and-play” capacity to recognize and automatically synchronize new components or upgrades made in the field.


Some newer trip units, for example, are now fitted with micro-USB ports that can be used to communicate performance data for early diagnostics or maintenance – as well as making the initial set-up easier.

Connected Power Panel Technologies Enhance Function and Safety

A new generation of circuit breakers now employs trip units embedded with communication capabilities that instantly respond to electrical events, improving control selectivity and reliability to provide new levels of protection against arc flash incidents.

In another example of enhanced communications, our waveform recognition (WFR) technology uses an upstream circuit breaker to automatically sense a fault current signature caused by a downstream current-limiting circuit breaker, reducing unnecessary circuit breaker trips and improving arc flash protection through intelligent selective coordination.


Instantaneous Zone Selective Interlocking (I-ZSI) is also a smart protection approach that communicates with upstream and downstream breakers to automatically coordinate protection between breakers.  This reduces the potential for an arc flash by adapting and coordinating a response to small overloads or large faults as needed. Additionally, clearing arcing current at instantaneous speeds results in lower arc flash incident energy.  

Monitoring Power as a “Proxy” for Measuring Equipment Performance

While most of the focus on monitoring and communications centers on the condition, efficiency and protection of the power distribution system itself, this data stream can also be used for insight into the performance of the equipment being powered.  We work with an industrial  pump manufacturer who harnesses the energy usage data from a control panel as an indicator to gauge any strain or anomaly on the pump motor. Data center operators monitor power usage as a key indicator of server load allocation or for planning preventive maintenance.  Being able to tap into the energy consumption of each circuit can mean insight into a fleet of machines in the field or on the shop floor.

With the advent of intelligent control systems enabled by new sensors, data monitoring and analytics tools, and communications standards, electric panel designer can now build new performance metrics, preventative maintenance and enhanced protections into their power distributions systems. 


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