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Brian Schmalberger, ABB
Industrial Solutions

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Smart Power Devices that Enhance Power Panel Installation, Maintenance OpEx and Safety


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


When power panel designers specify a new or upgraded industrial electrical distribution system, they are always faced with demanding requirements. Complying with rigorous standards for performance and reliability. Building enough capacity today and flexibility for tomorrow. And, always first, ensuring protection from -potentially devastating electrical incidents like arc flashes.


Important as well, but sometimes lower on the “must have” list, is meeting more common end-to-end operating requirements for electrical power panels, from installation to ongoing maintenance. Not only are these key operational expenses (OpEx) factors, but putting installation and maintenance in the planning mix also impacts baseline requirements for reliability and safety.

Right From the Smart – Smarter and Modular Power Devices Drive Installation Efficiencies

Optimizing both the OpEx and performance of an electrical power panel requires using smart and versatile technologies to manage the full scope–from installation through ongoing maintenance–of an electrical distribution system.

When we talk about “smarter” installation technologies, we mean power components and software tools that offer data collection and communications functions. 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, commissioning and testing, as well as maintenance. These same trip units, fitted with a micro-USB port, connect real-time performance information during both installation ongoing maintenance procedures.

Coupled with these new communications advances, the advent of new modular and pluggable components offers electrical and control panel designers new options to configure and install power panel systems faster and with more flexibility. Modular “click-in” and “pluggable” power panel and control components, from easy-to-assemble low-voltage distribution boards to pluggable components such as soft starters, trip units and other circuit breaker accessories, simplify the installation process. Our line of starters, for example, is comprised of various pluggable parts and connectors assembled and installed without any additional tools – all for faster and easier installation and maintenance.

Monitoring, Measurements and Maintenance

With the emergence of integrated communications capabilities in power components, system designers and operations personnel have new tools for tracking and reviewing energy usage and conditions monitoring. These new communications functions give personnel new levels of visibility to create operational efficiencies and to be more proactive with maintenance planning.

The specialized communications and analytics “toolkit” software for the trip unit mentioned earlier can also provide critical predictive analytics on maintenance-related factors, such as contact wear and mechanism timing of an individual circuit breaker.  Next-generation circuit protection, such as some of our molded case circuit breakers (MCCBs), for example, can monitor, collect and analyze a circuit breaker’s mechanical and electrical performance and efficiency to help users make better operational and maintenance decisions.  This information provides insight into how a machine is operating and can be used to more effectively plan maintenance and downtime.

These same circuit breakers employ trip units embedded with communication capabilities that help reduce the risk of one critical maintenance concern–an arc flash incident. These circuit breakers instantly respond to electrical events with improved control selectivity and reliability.  Part of mitigating this risk are two related yet separate enhanced sensor and communications tools; our waveform recognition (WFR) and Instantaneous Zone Selective Interlocking (I-ZSI) technology. These tools sense overcurrent conditions and coordinate protection between circuit breakers, helping to reduce the potential for an arc flash by adapting and coordinating a response to small overloads or large faults as needed.

Installation and maintenance are sometimes secondary considerations in power panel design.  Yet, considering the impact on OpEx, performance, and certainly worker safety, employing new smart and connected power technologies as part of any power distribution design strategy pays off in both short-term installation and long-term maintenance benefits.


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