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MIT 1020/2

By Jeff Jowett

Guard Terminal
10-kV, MIT1020/2 in use

nsulation testers, or megohmmeters, are the instruments of choice for checking and measuring electrical insulation. Beyond the stated function of providing a resistance reading of the insulation around wires, motor and transformer windings, and any other kind of electrical equipment, the total value of an insulation test is much greater. It is a quick and simple way to get an idea of the overall condition of electrical equipment, the degree of wear, and where it is on its life cycle. It is a convenient way to make much broader assessments of an electrical maintenance program. Insulation resistance readings act something like the odometer readings on a car, but in reverse. They start highoff the scale of all but the best insulation testersat time of manufacture, and then drift gradually lower through the accumulation of wear, moisture, dirt, contamination, burn tracks and stress. All megohmmeters employ a dc test current, and therefore positive and negative terminals to connect the test leads across the specimen. Accordingly, these are generally marked + and -, or possibly L and E for

Line and Earth, or some similar notation. Many testers, especially handhelds and 1kV and below models, have only these two terminals. But wait! Whats that third terminal on many units, especially benchtop (landscape style) and higher voltage (above 1kV) models? First of all, it is NOT a Ground. Typically marked with a G, the Guard terminal is sometimes mistaken for a safety

MIT 510/2

ground. Using it as if it were a ground and connecting it in parallel with the low side of the test will do no real harm, but it will short circuit all of the test current and invalidate the readings. The function of the Guard is to act as a shunt circuit for parallel leakage paths in the test item. With it, one or more parallel current paths can be removed from the measurement, thereby permitting a precise reading of the remaining path. Again, the guard terminal can be compared to an automobile function, where many drivers never use the added gears on an automatic transmission and dont consider the difference. Similarly, a three-terminal insulation tester can be used in the two-terminal configuration for its life and no real harm is done. It just isnt being employed to full advantage. Without the guard, the test item is being measured as a complete unit. With the guard, the test item can be sectionalized and multiple readings can be taken and compared. Lets start with some common examples. The most prevalent use is for the elimination of surface leakage. An Continued on page 16 insulation tester

Electrical Products & Solutions February 2011

Figure 1

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measures the small (generally nano-amp) current that flows through insulation to ground or other conductors and increases as the insulating material deteriorates over time. This is termed leakage current. But in addition to leakage through the insulating material, there can also be current drawn across the surface of the material. A frequent occurrence is that of surface leakage across cable terminations. With the negative terminal connected to the conductor and the positive to a sheath or braid, the test voltage gradient exists between these two points and will pull current across the cable surface as well as through the insulating material. This is of interest for two reasons: how dirty is the cable and what is its insulation condition? These two factors are closely inter-related but, with the use of the guard, can be measured and evaluated separately. Surface leakage is promoted by dirt, moisture and contamination on the cables exterior jacket and exposed surfaces. ReMIT 520/2

member to separate the consideration of this current from that of conductor current. It is extremely small but enough to cause considerable damage over time. The ions in water, dirt, and contaminating chemicals, and the semi-conductor effect of carbon burn tracks are sufficient to accommodate surface flow. Over time, this will contribute to the deterioration of the cable, but surface leakage is more easily dealt with than leakage through the body of the insulation. First, it must be identified and evaluated. In order to separate out the surface leakage, a bare copper conductor can be wrapped around the cable termination between the alligator clips of the two test leads. A third lead then connects this to the

guard terminal (Fig. 1). Current traveling across the surface from one clip to the other will be intercepted and shunted back through the guard circuit. This circuit returns to the testers transformer, bypassing the measurement function. It is effectively shunted out of the measurement. Accordingly, the tester measures only the leakage getting through the insulating material, from conductor to sheath. The reading will be higher than without the guard, because a portion of the leakage current has been diverted, and the magnitude of the difference indicates the degree to which each element contributed to the overall resistance. It could be that the insulation is actually in good shape, and a cleaning of the termination and remeasurement will verify this. It will also eliminate a possible future breakdown, at least until dirt and contamination have had time
Figure 2

to build up again. Without the guard terminal, this critical determination, which can be made quickly by little more than switching leads, would be left to guesswork. Another frequent use of the guard terminal is in the testing of transformer bushings. As these are often outdoors, the buildup of dirt, moisture and contaminants is paramount. In early morning there may be a coating of dew. If a maintenance test is performed on the insulating ceramic, current can track through this surface coating and substantially bring down the reading. But the real concern is cracks or pinholes in the ceramic that can be made by lightning strokes or fault spikes. If merely tested with a two-terminal configuration, the low reading caused by surface tracking cannot be separated from the possibility of structural damage to the ceramic. The bushing may Continued on page 18


Electrical Products & Solutions February 2011


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be removed and returned to the shop only to yield a satisfactorily high reading once the dew has evaporated. Again, if the surface leakage is intercepted and guarded out, a single test will reveal the actual condition of the ceramic. The guarding can be implemented with a simple bare copper wire, but specialized devices, like bushing guard springs, are also available (Fig. 2). By extension, it can be seen that the guard terminal can perform numerous other functions to sectionalize and refine measurements wherever suspected parallel leakage paths may occur. A cable can be further sectionalized by guarding out various conductors while exploring the condition between the remainder. The insulation between stator and rotor can be measured while guarding out the case of a motor, or the individual windings tested to ground while guarding out the other windings. In the same manner, a transformers primary and secondary can be tested for leakage between them while

Figure 3

guarding ground (Fig. 3), or individual winding to ground with the other windings guarded out. Any test item with parallel leakage paths can be considered a three-terminal network of guard, line and

earth, and by switching the leads between these elements, any one path can be singled out for measurement. This capability is narrowing down or isolating the trouble to a particular Continued on page 20



Electrical Products & Solutions February 2011


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conductor, winding, or ground. For maintenance, it helps show where the greatest needs are for cleaning, drying or replacement. Finally, however, it is wise to be aware that all guards are not the same. Like other measurement functions, they have associated specifications. This could come as a surprise to people who

have worked with them for years, as it is not a prominent spec and the ability to evaluate the guards capabilities is not commonly advertised or known. The central issue is available test current. Insulation testers, although outputting high voltage, are capable of only very limited test current. This is what primarily separates them from high-pots. They are

not intended to break a test item down and take it out of service; they are intended to make a measurement. The operator then makes the decision as to what is to be done with the test item. Accordingly, test current is limited to only a few milli-amps, the maximum amount of current that insulation might accommodate while still being considered at least nominally good insulation. Once the testers current limit is being reached, something has to give. A little arithmetic and Ohms Law will show that this translates into something around 1 to 5 M, below which insulation is not generally considered good. An insulation tester worth its salt will NOT drop test voltage below the selected value, provided that the load being tested is nominally good insulation. But at breakdown levels of resistance, the tester should not be contributing to further deterioration by applying high voltage. Accordingly, voltage will collapse. The critical implication for the guard circuit is that it should not be competing successfully for the limited available current. When designing a tester to reach the market on price rather than capability, one of the easiest things to cut is guard performance. No one is likely to look for it, and the tester can be specified on the basis of its two-terminal performance, without the effect of the guard. A poorly designed guard circuit can load down the tester. Surface leakage will often be ten or more times that of the insulation. Voltage will collapse around the guard circuit and the readings will no longer be truly indicative. Guard terminal error can be as much as 80%! Thankfully, theres a simple safeguard. Dont be satisfied with vague general statements but look for a precise and rigorous definition of the guard error. The percent accuracy should be stated while guarding a specific surface leakage (in k) against a specifically stated test load (in M). These values should all represent reasonable and realistic parameters to the experienced technician. If no specification is available, beware! If the guard terminal error is limited to an acceptable accuracysay on the order of 2%...the operator can use the tester with confidence and the added capability will provide an extra tool for the detailed assessment of electrical condition and troubleshooting. J



Electrical Products & Solutions February 2011