In life and in ITE K1600 Breakers, we have many choices.
It was hotter than hell on the dimly lit mechanical/electrical mezzanine. The whine from the compressor at the far end of the mezzanine had faded into background noise, at least until you needed to talk to your assisting technician. The Power & Generation Testing, Inc. (PGTI) team was testing ITE breakers and while we know that there would be challenges, we definitely got more than we bargained for this day.
Overall, the project had proceeded well (if you don’t count the half dozen hikes to the truck to get “one more” thing). We had tested roughly a dozen breakers before the electricians brought us six ITE K-1600 circuit breakers. As with all of these types of breakers, we inspected contacts, manually tripping and closing them. We also did what lubricating we could. Then, came the biggest challenge. We began to high current test the ITE Breakers to verify the operation of the trip units. During the first test, at roughly the expected time during the long time test, we could hear an audible “click” as the trip unit dutifully issues the command to the trip coil to open the breaker and clear the high current fault we were simulating. Noting that the breaker failed to open and following our procedure for testing, we set this breaker to the side and moved on to the next breaker. It too failed to open at the expected time. Then another, then another. In the end, all six of these K-1600 ITE breakers failed to open.
This was both a concerning and enlightening moment for an electrical testing geek. The concerning part, here we have six large breakers powering expensive pieces of equipment that had there been an electrical fault the customer could have experienced:
- Significantly more damage to the equipment
- Higher arc flash energy release; potentially injuring workers
- And, definitely would have been cleared by an upstream breaker creating a large outage to the plant.
The enlightening part is a review of maintenance records indicates that even with regular maintenance these breakers have had recurring issues just like this. Now was the time to make a change to how the customer performed maintenance of these specific breakers.
Your Choices for Upgrading/Gaining Breakers (specifically ITE K-1600s):
- You can struggle to maintain your K1600 Breakers by performing maintenance on them more frequently. Most of you know the challenge of getting maintenance outage time. And even if you could maintain them, you might be like me and worry that they are not going to operate when needed.
- You could begin the process of refurbishing all of your existing breakers. If you are like most plants, this will take some time but can be a great option if you have as little as $10,000 to get started. The process usually starts with taking a spare from your plant (or buying one) and have it completely rebuilt (new bushings, newly plated contacts and a new trip unit). In essence, you will have a new breaker once complete. You place this “new” breaker in service and send out the next one for rebuild until the process is complete.
- A third choice is to completely replace the old breakers with a newly manufactured breaker. These tend to come in two types:
a. Roll-in replacements are designed in such a way that you can literally roll out the old breaker and roll in the new one. These require little to no modification to the existing gear. The drawback is they are not always available.
b. Retro-fill replacements require that the cubicle that houses your current breaker be modified with a new cell that will adapt your old gear to the new breaker. There are some things to consider when looking at this method:
- You get a brand new breaker.
- There are features and benefits that can more easily modernize your monitoring and improved arc flash protection.
- This option is best when option 2 above is not readily available.
- Thanks to ABB for providing us a manual for this installation. Other companies also offer similar products.
- The one potential drawback to this option is the extended outage time that it can take to install the new cradles.
4. Of course, you can completely replace your existing equipment with a totally new switchboard with new breakers. Downtime and cost tend to be the biggest roadblocks to this method of installation. Also, consider that in our particular story the K1600’s are the problematic, high failure rate breakers. There is no urgent need to replace the other breakers like 3000’s or 800’s that operate fine.
So you might ask yourself, “Is it worth putting all this money into old switchgear?” Check out our next blog post where we will begin to answer that question.