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ow-Voltage Circuit Breaker Testing Strategies

Part 2 High-Current Overloads and Ground Fault Detection

This three-part article addresses testing requirements, methods, and challenges for low-voltage circuit breaker testing strategies.

igh currents are those that exceed 200 percent of the breakers rating and are segregated into short-time and instantaneous faults. Ground faults are characterized by an excessive amount of current flowing in the ground system. These types of faults are of the most concern in industrial and commercial applications and, therefore, these protection modes are most often found on three-phase breakers. Part one of this series (Summer 2002) described the general technology of circuit breakers and how long-time overcurrent conditions are detected. This article will specifically focus on the sections of the trip unit dedicated to high currents and ground faults. Electromechanical trip units rely on the magnetic field generated by the fault current to activate what is essentially a relay armature. Closure of this magnetic circuit activates the tripping mechanism, and the breaker opens. For the instantaneous function, this action is not time delayed and normally happens within 200 milliseconds after the fault is initiated. Electrohydraulic mechanisms commonly respond in less than one second. Tripping times are shorter when the strength of the magnetic field generated by the current pulls the slug through the liquid at a faster rate. The higher the magnetic field, the shorter the trip time. Finally, electronic trip units implement all of these functions by measuring the actual current and comparing it to a reference table of values to determine the appropriate response.

by Adam R. Fleder Electronic Device Corporation

that the breaker tripped within the required time frame. Limiting the pulse to one second by means of electronic controls is essential to accurate testing because if the fault is applied for too long the breaker will trip via the long-time mode. In contrast, relying on a quick trigger finger to limit the pulse duration can produce inconsistent results. Figure 1 diagrams the possible test results and their interpretation.

Short-time Overload Performance

This test verifies that a breaker will trip in less than one second when subjected to an overcurrent condition in the range of 200-1000 percent of its rating. This is accomplished with a single short pulse of current. It is generally best to measure the duration of the current pulse and confirm

Fall 2002

Figure 2

Ramp Test
The ramp test is the original type of instantaneous current test. The current is turned on somewhere near 70 percent of the target trip point and continuously ramped until the breaker trips. Figure 2 illustrates a ramp test waveform. There are two benefits to this method: 1. It determines an actual trip value.
Figure 1

2. The test rate is fairly high. There are three disadvantages to this method: 1. The current source must be sized larger because the duty cycle is the greatest of the three methods. 2. The accuracy of the test is questionable because the person performing the test can influence the results by adjusting the rate of ramp. Also, some breakers trip mechanisms activate prematurely when exposed to this waveform. 3. The metering resolution is affected by a fast ramp. As an example, take a test ramping from 7000-13000 amperes with a one second ramp time. The current must rise 6000 amperes in one second and a minimum of one half cycle is required to make a measurement. Assuming a 60 Hz test, this yields 120 half-cycle periods in which the current may be measured. Dividing 6000 amperes by 120 results in a maximum current resolution of 50 amperes for this example. There is also the question of which cycle caused the breaker to trip. Was it the last one measured or was it actually the one before?

Instantaneous Overload Performance

This test verifies that a breaker will normally trip in less than 200 milliseconds when subjected to an over-current condition in the range of 300-2400 percent of its rating. Performance is verified at both hold and trip levels. The hold level test verifies that a breaker will not trip prematurely whereas the trip level test indicates the breaker will clear appropriately. There are three primary ways to accomplish this test, and each has its benefits and problems. The three types are ramp, dual pulse, and multiple pulse.

Dual Pulse Test

The dual pulse test evaluates the breaker at the extreme limits. The first current pulse is applied at the hold level, and the breaker should remain closed. The second pulse is applied at the trip level, and the breaker should open. This is a fast and convenient way of determining that a breaker complies with a specification but this does not produce an actual trip current level. All that can be confirmed is that the breaker trips somewhere in between these two levels.

Offset Compensation
Offset refers to the distortion in the first cycle of the current waveform. The main output transformers that make up the typical primary injection test sets are the cause of this problem. The main output transformer is turned off prior to testing. The transition from the off to the on state creates current transients that enlarge the first cycle. This is typically corrected by delaying the start of the first half cycle of current through an electronic control. This delay is referred to as the phase-on angle, and its effects are shown in Figure 3. The phase-on requirements will vary with load currents as well as load impedance. Variable transformer regulated test sets will exhibit both the zero-crossing and the peak distortions, while electronically regulated test sets can dynamically compensate for the distortion. When verifying settings, always measure the width of the first half-cycle to be sure of proper phase-on adjustment.

Figure 3 These waveforms depict three different phase-on angles. The top signal (phase-on angle too small) is that of a load that requires more phase-on angle. In this situation, the peak of the first half-cycle is seen to be larger than the average peak value. The peak of the second half-cycle may also be affected. Note also that the zero-crossings are shifted in time causing the period of the first half-cycle to be more than 8.333 milliseconds. The second signal is the opposite condition. Here the phase-on angle is too large and the first half-cycle is too small. The period of the first half-cycle is also shorter than 8.333 milliseconds.

Multiple Pulse Test

The multiple pulse test was devised to overcome the deficiencies of the preceding two tests. Individual current pulses are applied at increasing increments until the breaker under test trips. The resulting trip current is then compared to the hold and trip level requirements to determine compliance. The power supply does not have to be sized as large and the test more closely simulates actual instantaneous faults when compared to the ramp test. The actual trip current is also determined with a high degree of certainty, but the drawback is found in the test rate. The multiple pulse test is the slowest of the three methods.

Ground Fault Performance

Ground fault is actually a wide field and encompasses everything from the ubiquitous GFCI device that can be found in kitchens and baths to dedicated devices that look for excessive current in grounding conductors. This article will be restricted to ground fault sensing in multipole breakers. Balancing loads in an electrical system reduces costs and is often required by the utility company. A perfectly balanced three-phase wye circuit will have no current flowing in the neutral conductor. As the circuit becomes unbalanced the current in the neutral conductor will rise. Ground fault sensing monitors the sum of the phase currents and opens the breaker when it exceeds a preset level.

Instrumentation Concerns
Current Measurement
The current waveforms used in overload tests present some interesting measurement challenges. The actual rating of a circuit breaker is based on the root-mean-square (rms) value. The rms level can be calculated in two ways. The first method uses the sinusoidal ratio of peak to effective current (.707). The peak value of current is captured and scaled accordingly. This relationship holds if the waveform is not distorted which in turn changes the ratio of peak to rms value. Secondly, the true rms method most accurately represents the actual current that will affect the device under test. The rms method involves summing the area under the sine wave to accurately calculate the effective current value. This method will work equally well on symmetric and distorted sine waves.
Fall 2002

Testing this mode varies with the type of sensing. Four-wire systems utilize a separate neutral current transformer (CT) connected to the trip unit. Current must be passed through the CT in the correct direction and the breakers response noted. The breaker should not trip. In the opposite direction, the breaker should trip at half the rated ground fault pickup. Double-ended substations require additional tests for the mains and tie breaker. The short-time test mentioned above is a good choice for verifying the operation. A fixed duration of current is applied, and the time to trip is compared to the specifications. Applying the fault current to one pole at a time, which produces the necessary unbalance condition, tests these products. The ground fault mode must be disabled on these types of devices when making other tests because the breaker may trip for ground fault when one is testing for long-time overload.

High-current and ground fault testing can be some of the most difficult testing for a technician to consistently perform. It is recommended that good controls and instrumentation be used to achieve and monitor the testing process. Part three of this article will examine dielectric testing and the safety implications of various accessories with which breakers can be outfitted.

Adam R. Fleder is the CEO of the Electric Device Corporation and a member of the UL489 STP. Electric Device Corporation manufactures a variety of circuit breaker testing instruments. Joseph Bouch and Paul Miller also contributed material for this article.