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Electrical engineering
Protecting electrical installations
This lesson examines the protections necessary in an electrical installation. The
properties of each type of protection are given. Based on these properties, the
application range for each of the protection systems is examined. In addition,
this lesson contains warnings and advice for proper use of these protections.
Contents of the lesson
1 Electrical safety
2 Safety fuse
3 The importance of an earth wire
4 Thermal protection
5 Electromagnetic maximum protection
6 Earth leakage protection
7 Control current blocking switch
The copyright in this material is vested in Shell Global Solutions International B.V., The Hague, The Netherlands and Shell Netherlands Raffinaderij B.V. All rights
reserved. Neither the whole or any part of this document may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means (electronic,
mechanical, reprographic, recording or otherwise) without the prior written consent of the copyright owner.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
1. Electrical safety
In an electrical installation, limits must be imposed on the magnitude of currents.
The flow of excessive currents can be prevented by using various types of
If no precautions are taken:
- large damage to the installation may occur;
- generation of heat may cause fire;
- the installation can become live, due to which contact can lead to
Commonly used protections are:
- safety fuse;
- thermal protection;
- electromagnetic protection.
2. Safety fuse
A safety fuse is a device containing a wire or strip which melts if the current
exceeds a certain value for a certain time.
They are used for instance to protect a wire from an excessive current, which
might cause it to become too hot. They also ensure the voltage is disconnected in
the case of short circuit or earth leakage.
Safety fuses can be divided into two groups: screw plug fuses and short circuit-
resistant fuses.
Screw plug fuses consist of a cartridge fuse in a screw cartridge holder.
Figure 1
Cartridge fuse of a screw plug fuse
The principle of operation is as follows (see figure 1):
Normally, most of the current flows through the fuse wire. Should this wire
blow, the current has to pass through the detector wire which will then also blow
and let go of the telltale.
- consequences of
inadequate safety
- safety fuse
- screw plug fuse
- cartridge fuse
- detector wire
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
The cross section of the fuse wire determines the current the safety fuse was
made for.
To prevent a cartridge holder from being fitted with a higher current cartridge,
the bottom of the holder has been fitted with a collar of a certain diameter. The
cartridge for the highest current also has the largest diameter, so it will not fit
into a smaller collar (see figure 2).
Figure 2
Cartridges and cartridge holder in a safety fuse
25 A cartridge holders are always used. There are also cartridge holders with a
maximum value of 63 A. They can hold 35, 50 and 63 A cartridges.
The maximum value of the fuse cartridge used is limited by the cross section of
the cable used in the installation.
In some cases it is desirable for a safety fuse to be able to resist a higher current
for a short time, particularly in switching on motors which have a start-up
current several times the rated load current I
. In that case so-called slow fuses
are used, which do not blow in the case of a short-lasting high start-up current.
- fuse wire
- collar
- cartridge holder
- slow fuse
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Safety fuses do not react to a small overload; the cut-out time would then be too
long. They are therefore used only as a short circuit protection.
Question 1
What is the purpose of the detector wire?
Short circuit resistant safety fuses
Figure 3 shows the design of a short circuit resistant safety fuse.
These safety fuses are designed for cutting out big short circuit currents without
the risk of the safety fuse exploding. For that reason, they are sometimes called
explosion-proof safety fuses.
Because of the shape of the connecting strips, the name blade fuse or blade
cartridge is also used.
Figure 3
Short circuit resistant safety fuse
a its components
b after assembly
Safety fuses may only be replaced under no current conditions. For blade fuses,
a special plastic handle must be used. Only the electrician is allowed to do this,
- short circuit
- explosion-proof
fuse cartridges
- blade fuse
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
3. The importance of an earth wire
Figure 4 shows a simple appliance, a radiant heater, which is connected to the
mains by means of a two-pin plug. The heater is fitted with a metal casing and
metal legs with rubber feet.
Figure 4
Earth leakage, appliance not earthed
Figure 5
Appliance earthed, fuse blows
Due to some cause or another, the heating coil touches the metal casing (the
earth). This is called earth leakage. What would happen if this were the case?
The answer is: nothing, as long as you don't touch the heater.
The voltage on the casing depends on the spot where the earth leakage has
developed. If it is on the side of the phase conductor L
, the voltage will be
about 220 V; if it is on the side of the neutral conductor N, which is connected to
earth, the voltage is much lower and may even be zero volt. If the latter is the
case, and the next time you insert the plug into the socket the other way round, a
voltage of 220 V may be applied to the casing. It will be obvious that in the case
of earth leakage, there is a risk of a dangerously high voltage on the metal
casing. And the most dangerous thing is that normally there is no way of
knowing. Due to the fact that the radiant heater rests on insulating feet, there is
no current from the heating coil to the casing, let alone a large current which
would blow the safety fuse. Earth leakage is therefore essentially different from
a short circuit.
If the casing is under high voltage and you touch it, a current will suddenly be
able to flow, from your fingers to the earth via your body, as on one side, the
heating coil is connected to the earth via the neutral wire, so the circuit is then
closed and you will be lucky if you happen to be wearing shoes with insulating
- earth leakage
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
To avoid this perilous situation, the metal casing is fitted with an additional
connection to earth, thus creating the situation shown in figure 5. Should there
be earth leakage on the side of the phase conductor now, a short circuit will be
created between the phase conductor and the earthed casing, and the safety fuse
will blow at once. You can also look at it like this: the heater casing is connected
to earth via a good conductor and can never under any circumstances carry a
voltage with respect to that same earth. Consequently, you will never be able to
get an electric shock.
4. Thermal protection
As is clear from the above, a safety fuse will not blow at a small overload, or
will do so only after a very long time.
An electric motor, however, when operating with a small overload, can become
hot enough after a while for the insulation of the windings to burn out. This
demonstrates that a safety fuse is not suitable for protecting a motor from this
type of overload.
The solution to this problem is a thermal protection. The principle of operation is
as follows:
As you will know, each metal has its own specific coefficient of expansion. If
two strips of equal length but in different metals are heated, one strip will
expand more than the other one. When these two strips are rolled together, a
combination of two metals is produced which is called a bimetal.
If the bimetal is heated, it will buckle, due to the different coefficients of
expansion (see figure 6).
Figure 6
Principle of operation, bimetal
To heat the bimetal, an electric current is used. If the main current flows through
the bimetal itself, this is called direct heating (figure 7).
With a normal current, the bimetal will not be able to get hot enough to buckle.
With a higher current, the bimetal will get hotter and buckles after a while. As a
result, the contact is broken.
- short circuit
- risk of burning
- bimetal
- direct heating
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Figure 7
Direct heating by means of current flow through the bimetal
As there is no current flowing now, the bimetal will cool again, and will re-
connect itself. This is referred to as self-recovering self-resetting.
Question 2
How is a bimetal produced?
In most cases, however, indirect heating will be used. Here, the main current
does not flow through the bimetal itself, but through a heating coil, which is
wound around the bimetal (see figure 8).
Figure 8
Indirect heating by means of current flow in a wire around the bimetal
Here again, the contact can be made by the bimetal itself, as shown in figure 7,
but it can also be provided by a separate switching mechanism. The bimetal will
activate this switching mechanism by buckling (see figure 9). The switching
contact can then also be incorporated into the motor's control current circuit and
provide cut-out. The heating coils are connected in series with the motor. In the
case of a three-phase motor, a bimetal is fitted in each phase. All three of them
have been joined into a so-called thermal package (see figure 10).
By means of a adjustment screw, the protection can be set to a specific current
This setting should obviously be somewhat above the normal value of the load
current, if not, the bimetals would continually cut out. Setting the bimetals
requires great accuracy and may therefore be performed only by qualified
- self-recovering
- indirect heating
- thermal package
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Figure 9
Buckling bimetal activates switch mechanism
Figure 10
Three bimetals in a thermal package for the protection of a three-phase motor
In many cases, the thermal protection will have to be reset by hand after having
been activated. If the thermal protection is activated repeatedly, it should not be
continually reset, as this would allow the motor to overheat and burn out after
Due to the fact that the bimetal requires a certain time to heat up and buckle, it is
not suitable for disconnecting a short circuit. In the case of a short circuit,
instantaneous cut-out is required. For this reason, a thermal protection must
always be combined with other protections, such as a safety fuse or an
electromagnetic protection.
Question 3
In which situation are thermal protections often used?
- combined
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
5. Electromagnetic maximum protection
This protection is based on the electromagnetic principle as examined in the
previous lesson.
This involves a coil connected in series with for instance a motor. Depending on
the current, this coil exerts a pull on the cut-out mechanism (see figure 11).
Figure 11
Principle of operation, electromagnetic protection
As soon as the current through the coil exceeds a certain value, the
electromagnet will overcome the tensile force of the spring.
Consequently, the latch will be pulled down, causing the horizontal spring to
pull out the switch at once. This protection therefore works without a time delay
and is consequently highly suitable for cutting out short circuit currents.
Because of the high start-up current of certain motors, this protection too can be
delayed, as with safety fuses.
Question 4
On which principle is electromagnetic maximum protection based?
6. Earth leakage protection
If a motor is earthed, the safety fuse must blow when earth leakage occurs.
With heavy motors, which obviously use heavy safety fuses, there is a
possibility the safety fuse does not blow, or does so only after some considerable
As a result, the motor casing will remain under a dangerous voltage during this
time. To prevent this danger, an earth leakage protection can be used. This
protection operates as follows.
Under normal circumstances, the current to an appliance will be equal to the
return current. If the two currents, there and back (I
and I
), are passed through
two identical coils, they will generate equal but opposite magnetic fields (see
figure 12).
- very fast
- earth leakage
10.06.24 - 030
Figure 12
a. Principle, earth leakage protection
= in supply current
= return current
Figure 12
b. Practical design
These fields will consequently exactly cancel each other out, so no magnetic
field remains.
Consequently, no voltage will be generated in the secondary winding. If,
however, due to an error in the motor, a leakage current starts to flow to earth,
the return current will be smaller than the supply current. As a result, the fields
will no longer cancel each other completely, and a voltage will be generated in
the secondary winding. This voltage can be used to switch off the supply voltage
via a relay.
Earth leak protections are nowadays also often used in household installations
and are then usually set to an earth leakage current of ca. 30 mA.
The purpose of the protection in this case is limitation of the contact hazard. If
you touch a live part, current will flow to earth through the body. If this current
exceeds a certain value, the protection will switch off the supply voltage.
As mentioned above, earth leakage protections are also used in heavy three-
phase motors. In the case of three-phase current too, as long as there is no earth
leakage current, the sum of the inflowing and return currents will be zero.
To simplify the design, in practice, the primary wires will be led through the
core only once (see figure 13). The principle of operation remains exactly the
same, only the sensitivity will be slightly reduced. To prevent this, the secondary
coil is made up with more windings.
If earth leakage occurs in one of the phases, the power supply will be cut off at
once. Such a protection is sometimes called a core-balance protection.
- application in
- core-balance
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Figure 13
Earth leakage protection in three-phase motor
Question 5
What is the purpose of the earth leakage switch in household appliances?
7. Control current blocking switch
With this switch, low-voltage motors can be blocked in such a way that there is
no way of switching them on. This can be done for instance when it is necessary
to carry out work on a driven machine, such as a pump.
These switches can only be switched on and off by means of a special key, held
by the shift supervisor.
The advantage of this switch is that for non-electrical engineering work, the
motor can be switched off without having to wait for an electrician.
For repairs on the motor itself, it is not sufficient to use the control current
blocking switch. The electrician must then also interrupt the main electrical
- low voltage
- special key
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Operating instructions
To block the switching on of an electric motor, the following procedure is
- the shift supervisor in charge or his deputy goes to the electric motor in
question, together with the craftsman who has to carry-out the maintenance
on the motor driven equipment, to check whether the electromotor
concerned is stationary or, if this is not the case, to stop the motor;
- the craftsman notes the motor number and, if it is indicated, the number of
the distribution board the motor is connected to. Subsequently, he goes to
the distribution board in question and looks up the motor number he has
noted down;
- the craftsman opens the blocking switch corresponding to the motor number
using the special key; switch now in off position;
- next, he returns to the motor to try to switch it on using the corresponding
start-stop switch. This is a necessary check. If the blocking switch is in the
off position, it must be impossible to start the motor;
- if the result of this last check is satisfactory, a sign reading 'circuit isolated'
is hung on the local start-stop switch. If the necessary permits have been
obtained, the work can start.
To deblock the switch-on, the following procedure is followed:
- the shift supervisor in charge or his deputy informs the people concerned
that the motor is going to be switched back into operation; he goes and
assesses the situation, accompanied by the craftsman who has worked on the
motor driven machine, and checks whether the local start-stop switch is in
the off position;
- the craftsman notes the motor number and, if indicated, the distribution
board number and removes the sign 'circuit isolated';
- at the distribution board in question, the blocking switch of the motor the
number of which had been noted down is put in the 'on' position; this
operation should not cause the motor to switch on; should this happen
(something that can be heard), the blocking switch must be turned back to
the off position at once and electrical maintenance department be warned;
- after switching on the blocking switch, those concerned return to the motor
to test it with the corresponding local start-stop switch.
On this occasion, the motor must be allowed to reach full speed before it is
turned off again. The sign 'circuit isolated' is kept in the control room.
High voltage motors may only be switched off by electrical staff with a high
voltage qualification. This also applies if for instance work is to be carried out
only on the driven pump.
With these motors, a sign reading 'high voltage motor isolated is hung on the
start-stop switch.
- blocking
- deblocking
- high voltage
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Cables and machines can be protected by:
- safety fuses: quick or delayed operation in the case of excess currents;
- thermal protection: slow operation when excessive heat is generated;
- electromagnetic protection: quick or delayed operation in the case of
excessive currents.
Safety fuses offer protection against short circuit and earth leakage. They must
only be replaced under no current conditions.
Thermal protection protects the motor against small overloads and must be set
very accurately.
Electromagnetic protection has practically the same cut-out behaviour as a safety
Earth leak protection ensures switching off of the supply voltage in the case of
earth leakage and in the case of contact with live parts.
The control current blocking switch enables the motor to be blocked in such a
way that it cannot be switched on in any other way.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Do not send in your answers for correction
1. What is the purpose of safety fuses in an electrical installation?
2. What can be the consequences of fitting too heavy a safety fuse in an
How is this prevented in practice?
3. a. For what purpose is a thermal protection used?
b. Can this protection also cut out a short circuit quickly enough?
4. a. What is meant by a 'thermal package'?
b. Can a thermal protection which is activated repeatedly be reset over and
over again?
5. Explain and make a drawing of the principle of operation of an
electromagnetic maximum protection.
6. a. What is the purpose of an earth leakage protection?
b. Does this protection also protect against short circuit?
Answers to the questions in the lesson
1. To allow the telltale to eject, so in a group box it is immediately clear which
safety fuse has blown.
2. By rolling together two metals with different coefficients of expansion.
3. With electric motors.
4. The generation of a magnetic field by an electric current.
5. Reduction of the contact hazard in the case of inadequate earthing.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Answers to the exercises
1. Safety fuses are used to protect a wire against excessive currents, which
might cause the wire to overheat.
2. This allows the current to become bigger than the wire was designed for.
The wire can then overheat, which in the least worst case causes a short
circuit, with the fuse blowing after all. In the worst case, a fire will be
caused, accompanied by heavy smoke. In practice, it is not possible to
accidentally fit too heavy a safety fuse, as it will not fit into the smaller
collar of the lighter safety fuse.
3. a. A thermal protection is used to prevent overheating of an electrical
machine, which might cause severe damage to the machine (burned-out
b. This protection is not quick enough to cut out a short circuit.
4. a. A thermal package is a package of three thermal protections (bimetals),
one for each phase, for the protection of a three-phase motor.
b. This must not be done in rapid succession, as this would allow the motor
to overheat and burn-out after all.
5. See figure 11, section 5.
If the current through the motor becomes too big, the latch is attracted by the
electromagnet. The tensile force of the spring attached to the latch
determines at which current the latch is pulled down, thus interrupting the
circuit. The situation is not yet safe then, as the other connection of the
motor is still connected to the power supply.
6. a. An earth leakage protection is used to limit the contact hazard of live
parts. This is accomplished by very fast cut-out of the power.
b. This protection does not protect the wire against short circuits. The
operation of the earth leakage switch is based on cutting the voltage in
the case of a (very small) difference between the current going to the
machine (from the phase) and the return current (to the neutral wire). In
the case of short circuit, these currents are admittedly large, but they are
exactly equal.
Theory / 10.06.24 - 030
Problems and assignments
Answer and send in for correction
1. a. What is the purpose of the control current blocking switch?
b. Which check must always be performed after a motor has been switched
off via the control current blocking switch?
2. a. In which cases will the switching off of a low voltage motor via the
control current blocking switch suffice?
b. When must the main circuit of the motor be interrupted too?
3. Give a number of reasons why it is dangerous to bridge a blown fuse with
aluminium foil, a nail or copper wire.
4. If the neutral wire is connected to earth anyway, why is the metal casing
fitted with a separate earth connection? It would be possible to connect it to
the neutral wire as well?
5. If a mains group is fused with a 16A safety fuse, what is the maximum load
for the group?
6. Give an overview of all protections discussed in this lesson, indicating what
they protect against.