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Life Prediction for Epoxy Resin Insulated Transformer Windings through Accelerated Aging Tests

Qikai Zhuang, Peter H.F. Morshuis, Xiaolin Chen, Sander Meijer and Johan J. Smit
High-voltage Components & Power System group Delft University of Technology Mekelweg 4, 2628CD Delft, the Netherlands
Abstract - This investigation aims to perform a probabilistic prediction of the lifetime of epoxy resin insulation of transformer windings. To support the prediction, several accelerated electrical aging tests were conducted at different voltage levels on epoxy resin insulated transformer winding specimens. The lifetimes achieved from the tests show a flat z-shaped V-t (voltage vs. lifetime) curve and indicate the well known threshold stress effect. Since the operation stress is in the convex part of the V-t curve, the life exponent n was not predetermined, but estimated from a data pool obtained at the lowest voltage levels. As a result, the operation life and its confidence intervals were predicted from the breakdown data at these low voltage levels. Keywords - life prediction, epoxy resin, transformer insulation, accelerated aging

Zhongrong Xu
Smit Transformatoren B.V. Groenestraat 336, 6531JC Nijmegen, the Netherlands

curve[1] and indicate the well known threshold stress effect[2]. Since the operation stress is in the convex part of the V-t curve, the life exponent n was not predetermined, but estimated from a data pool of several lowest voltage levels. The selection of this data pool maximized the life exponent n. After applying ALTA on this data pool, the operation life was predicted with 90% confidence level and 90% reliability level. II. EXPERIMENT



Lifetime data from long-term voltage endurance tests have been widely applied to predict the insulation life. In long-term tests, aging stresses are applied to the insulation higher than the operation level so that the aging is accelerated and the test time is shortened. Lifetime prediction through accelerated aging tests requires a stress vs. lifetime model. In the last decades, many empirical and theoretical V-t (voltage/electrical stress vs. lifetime) models have been developed for solid insulation[1-3]. In practice, the empirical inverse power model is still used to extrapolate accelerated lifetime testing data to operation level [4]. In the Accelerated Life Testing Analysis (ALTA)[5], the inverse power V-t model is composed to the Weibull probability distributions as the probabilistic model at a single stress level. This composition enables testers to estimate confidence bounds of the life exponent n, as well as a full probability density function instead of a single Mean-Time-ToFailure (MTTF) at any given stress level. In our investigation, we performed accelerated electrical aging tests on epoxy resin insulated transformer winding specimens. The tests started with step-up breakdown tests and continued with long-term tests at lower voltage levels. Lifetimes at different voltages show a flat z-shaped V-t

A. Specimens and Test Set-up The test samples were taken from a 590 MVA/400 kV power transformer. In the original transformer winding, the copper strands are first coated by epoxy resin compounds and then wrapped by oil-impregnated paper. The thickness of the epoxy layer on the winding is 0.075 mm. The AC voltage across this epoxy layer in operation is 250 V (rms). The electric field is not distributed evenly in the specimen. According to the calculation, the maximum electric field in the epoxy layer is approximately 4kV/mm at operation stress. Partial discharge (PD) was observed in the routine test of the original transformer. Microscopic inspection of this epoxy layer revealed air-filled cavities. Furthermore, PD measurements and PD pattern analysis confirmed these cavities as the cause of PD. Fig. 1 shows a fully prepared sample to be tested. The compressed paper layer was removed, because the purpose of this investigation is the lifetime of epoxy resin with PD inside. The copper strands of each sample were connected to an AC voltage source to form the high-voltage electrode. On the other side, the epoxy bounded copper strand was first coated with conductive paint and then wrapped in metal foil to form the ground electrode. The length of the epoxy layer covered by the earth electrode and stressed in the tests is 20 cm for each sample. In the test setup, the samples were immersed in the insulating oil from the original transformer. In the test setup a maximum of 10 samples was connected in parallel to the same voltage source and the times-to-breakdown were recorded for each sample. No thermal or mechanical stresses were applied. All long-term tests were finished indoors at room temperature.

ground electrode HV electrode

99 90






20 cm 40 cm

Figure 1. The photograph of a sample in the long-term tests

Unreliability (%)


B. Selection of Test Voltages A critical point of conducting an electrical accelerated aging test is to decide upon an appropriate stress which satisfies two conditions: First, under this stress, the aging mechanisms are supposed to be similar to those in operation. Second, to be practical, the test period and cost must be affordable for the tester. In our tests, a step-up breakdown test of 1 hour duration was first carried out on 7 samples before the long-term tests. The breakdown voltages were observed around 3.75 kV, approximately 15 times the operation voltage. Following are the long-term tests at 1.8 kV and 1.5 kV. Lifetimes of samples at these two voltages are mostly below 100 hours. After that, the test voltage was significantly reduced to 0.9 kV and 0.75 kV, which are 3.6 times and 3 times the operation level. As a result, much longer lifetimes were achieved at these voltages. During the 0.75 kV test, PD patterns of cavity characteristics were measured in all samples in the course of the aging process, which indicates a PD induced insulation degradation process. III. VOLTAGE VS. LIFETIME CHARACTERISTICS



Lifetime (hours)



Figure 2. Weibull Probability Plot of the lifetimes at different voltages

TABLE I. Parameter Shape parameter Scale parameter

WEIBULL PARAMETERS AT DIFFERENT VOLTAGES 1.8 kV 4.97 54.91 0.96 50.39 1.5 kV 2.02 154.3 0.99 136.7 0.9 kV 2.57 325.4 0.96 288.9 0.75 kV 1.17 2940 0.95 2785

Test Voltage

Correlation coefficient Mean time to failure

With the estimations in Table I, a life curve can be roughly drawn in Fig. 3 to illustrate the V-t characteristics. The Voltage vs. lifetime curve is plotted on a bi-log sheet, on which a straight line will indicate the well-known inverse power law:
t = CV n

The electrical accelerated aging tests were performed on 4 different voltage levels successively. From the tests, 7 lifetime data points were obtained for 1.8 kV, 8 for 1.5 kV, 9 for 0.9 kV and 9 for 0.75 kV. In this section, we perform a statistical analysis at different voltages separately and draw a rough V-t curve for the insulation. Based on the life curve, a proper V-t model and a data pool are selected for life prediction. In the statistical analysis, the lifetimes at each voltage level are fitted into a 2-parameter Weibull distribution. The probability density function of a 2-parameter Weibull distribution is:


Where the t is the Mean-Time-To-Failure (MTTF) at the electrical stress V, and C is a constant. In Fig. 3, we simply connect the MTTFs at different voltages to produce a piecewise-straight life curve. The life exponent n, as the slope of each segment of the life curve, is labeled on the curve. The shape of our life curve matches the flat z shape which has been observed in many solid insulation materials, such as polyurethane, epoxy resin, etc. It can be divided into three regions[1]: Region I, inverse power law at high stresses: From 1.5 kV to the step-up breakdown voltage, the n values are constant and the inverse power law is satisfied. Region II, at the medium stresses: Between 1.5 kV and 0.9 kV, the n value is significantly smaller than at other voltage levels. Many researchers[3, 6, 7] recommended modeling Region I and II together with exponential models on a semi-log sheet instead of using an inverse power model. Region III, threshold effect: Below 0.9 kV, the life curve bends to the right, which indicates a threshold

T f (T ) =


Where T is the lifetime, is the shape parameter and is the scale parameter. The Weibull Probability Plot of the lifetime data is shown in Fig. 2. The four Probability Lines from the left to the right represent the 2-parameter Weibull probability density functions estimated from breakdowns at 1.8 kV, 1.5 kV, 0.9 kV and 0.75 kV. The estimated Weibull parameters are listed in Table I. The correlation coefficients are all close to 1, which implies a good fit to the 2-parameter Weibull distribution.

electrical stress at which very long lifetimes can be obtained.

The life exponent n is estimated deterministically. No confidence bound is given on the estimation. In some cases[4], the analyzers simply divide the estimated n by 1.1 or 1.2 to be pessimistic. The Weibull shape parameter at higher voltages are not used. As a result, no probability distribution is estimated for the operation stress level. In some cases[1], the analyzers simply use the same from another voltage level.

The traditional method separates the Weibull analysis from the life prediction, and thereby loses a lot of statistical information. In our ALTA analysis, it is improved by making the following assumptions:
: step-up test results; : Estimation of the MTTF at each voltage level; : long-term test results; : Inverse-power life curve

Assumption 1: The lifetime at any single voltage level satisfy a 2-parameter Weibull distribution. Assumption 2: The Weibull shape parameters at different voltage levels are the same. Assumption 3: The MTTF has the inverse power relationship with the voltage.

Figure 3. V-t characteristics of the epoxy insulation

In practice, the threshold electrical stress is difficult to be estimated precisely from the test data, because the test period will too long. Therefore, we keep employing the inverse power law for lifetime prediction. The flat-z shaped life curve implies that the n value is not constant. So we estimated the n from the lifetime data, during which the following rules are obeyed: The fast breakdowns in Region I should not be extrapolated to predict the operational life, because the concave (convex downwards) property of the life curve in Region II makes the prediction overoptimistic. The lifetimes in Region III are suitable for prediction. Lifetimes predicted from extrapolation with inverse power law are most likely to be shorter than the real life, i.e. a safe estimation, because of the convex property of the life curve in Region III. The data pool to be used for extrapolation can be selected to maximize the estimated n value, because the convex property assures the safety of estimation. In most cases, the data pool is composed of lifetimes at several lowest voltage levels.

Based on Assumption 1, the mean of a 2-parameter Weibull distributed lifetime at a certain voltage is as follows:
1 MTTF = 1 +


Where () is the Gamma Function. Because of Assumption 2, the value of the () in Eq. (3) is independent from the voltage. According to Assumption 3, we can combine Eq. (2) and Eq. (3) and make the inverse power law function for the Weibull scale parameter by defining a new parameter K:

1 1 , K = 1 + / C n KV


With the above three assumptions, the Inverse Power Weibull Model for ALTA is made. In this model, the lifetime data at different voltage levels can be inputted simultaneously to perform maximum likelihood estimation (MLE) on: The shape parameter , the life exponent n. At a certain stress level: The scale parameter , the MTTF or the lifetime of a certain reliability level. Confidence bounds on all above estimations.

According to these rules, only 0.9 kV and 0.75 kV data are used in our life prediction. IV. LIFETIME PREDICTION AND DISCUSSION

In this section, the Accelerated Life Testing Analysis (ALTA) is performed to predict the operation life from the 0.9 kV and 0.75 kV data. Traditionally, only one lifetime from each tested stress level is used for extrapolation. This lifetime can be the MeanTime-To-Failure (MTTF) or the Weibull scale parameter both can be estimated statistically at a single voltage, as we did in Section III. This traditional analysis has two disadvantages:

In our case, we use the 18 lifetime data (9 at 0.9 kV and 9 at 0.75kV) as the input. The estimated parameters are listed in Table II. Each parameter is provided with its MLE and its 90% lower and upper 1-sided confidence bounds. From the lower confidence bounds of the parameters, two conclusions can be made: The shape parameter is larger than 1, so the breakdowns result from normal aging instead of infant mortality. The life exponent n of the epoxy insulation layer is (90% confidence) larger than 10.9 when the electrical

stress is less than 3 times operation stress on the investigated transformer winding. Further to the above conclusions, the Weibull distributions of lifetimes at 0.9kV, 0.75kV and 0.25kV can be plotted in a Weibull Probability Plot, as Fig. 4 shows. With the probability distribution at the operation stress, not only the or MTTF, but also the lifetime time of a certain reliability level (sometimes called the reliable/warranty life) can be predicted with its confidence bound, as the 6th and 7th rows in Table II show.
TABLE II. ESTIMATIONS OF PARAMETERS AND LIFETIMES 90% 1-sided Lower 1.24 10.9 230 2459 4.4E+8 3.9E+8 9.8E+7 3.3E+5 Maximum Likelihood Estimation 1.58 13.1 302 3267 5.6E+9 5.0E+9 1.34E+9 8.4E+6 90% 1-sided Upper 2.02 15.2 396 4344 7.1E+10 6.4E+10 1.85E+10

and 90% reliability level that the epoxy insulation layer in a transformer will have life of 3.3E+5 hours, i.e. about 37 years. This lifetime is approximately the design life of a transformer. Thus, at the corresponding confidence and reliability level, it supports the conclusion that the investigated partial discharge in cavities is acceptable. V. CONCLUSION

Confidence Level Parameter Shape parameter Life exponent n The scale parameter at 0.9 kV (hours) The scale parameter at 0.75 kV (hours) The scale parameter at 0.25 kV (hours) MTTF at 0.25kV of a sample (hours) Life of 90% reliability of a sample (hours) Life of 90% reliability of a transformer (hours)

Accelerated aging tests were performed on short epoxy resin insulated transformer winding specimens at different voltages. The V-t characteristics confirm the existence of a threshold electrical stress and limit the data pool for life prediction to below 0.9 kV (3.6Uo, max. 15 kV/mm). Time-tobreakdown data at 0.9 kV and 0.75 kV are inputted into Accelerated Life Test Analysis simultaneously. As a result, the life exponent n is estimated with a lower 90% confidence level larger than 10.9 and a mean value of 13.1. The Weibull shape parameter was estimated at the lower 90% confidence level to be larger than 1.24 and a mean value of 1.58. By applying these probabilistic estimations, the lifetime of a full transformer at the lower 90% confidence level and 90% reliability level is predicted as 37 years. The prediction supports the manufacturer to accept the existence of partial discharge in the insulation at the corresponding confidence and reliability level. REFERENCES



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10 5

[5] [6]

1 1 Beta=1.58; n=13.06







Lifetime (hours)


From the left to the right: 0.9 kV, 0.75 kV and estimation of 0.25kV : Weibull unreliability function - - - -: Confidence bound on the time

H. Hirose, "A Method to Estimate the Lifetime of Solid Electrical Insulation," Electrical Insulation, IEEE Transactions on, vol. EI-22, pp. 745-753, 1987. L. Simoni, G. Mazzanti, G. C. Montanari, and L. Lefebre, "A general multi-stress life model for insulating materials with or without evidence for thresholds," Electrical Insulation, IEEE Transactions on, vol. 28, pp. 349-364, 1993. J. P. Crine, "A model of solid dielectrics aging," in Electrical Insulation, 1990., Conference Record of the 1990 IEEE International Symposium on, 1990, pp. 25-26. Y. Shirasaka, H. Murase, S. Okabe, and H. Okubo, "Cross-sectional Comparison of Insulation Degradation Mechanisms and Lifetime Evaluation of Power Transmission Equipment," Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation, IEEE Transactions on, vol. 16, pp. 560-573, 2009. G. C. Montanari and G. Mazzanti, "From thermodynamic to phenomenological multi-stress models for insulating materials without or with evidence of threshold (XLPE cables)," Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, vol. 27, pp. 1691-1702, 1994. D. Chinh, J. L. Parpal, and J. P. Crine, "Electrical aging of extruded dielectric cables: review of existing theories and data," Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation, IEEE Transactions on, vol. 3, pp. 237247, 1996.

Figure 4. Weibull Probability Plot of the accelerated life testing analysis

The prediction at a certain reliability level can be generalized to predict the life of the epoxy layer of a larger volume, e.g. a full transformer, which is of most interest to the manufacturer. In the original transformer, the total length of epoxy layer on the winding stressing at 250 V in operation is 590 meters. This length is 2950 times that of the test part of a sample (20cm, see Fig. 1). This means the 90% reliable life of a transformer approximately equals to the life of (1-0.1/2950)= 0.999966 reliability of a sample. The last row of Table II gives the prediction of this lifetime there is 90% confidence level

Unreliability (%)