Streamlining panel design

Streamlining panel design equals higher SCCR

Sean Ghoddoucy, Segment Manager, National Alliance Accounts, ABB
Daniel Lightsey, ABB Ability(TM), Smart Power

Panels with higher AIC / SCCR ratings provide superior safety, helping protect employees and equipment while avoiding production losses and scrap. OEM machine builders and panel builders can pursue several paths to achieve those higher ratings.

Streamlining panel design equals higher SCCR
“Safety first” is a slogan prominently posted in many industrial facilities. But increasing safety usually comes at a cost. The cost/benefit equation must therefore always be considered to determine what safety investments will provide the greatest payoff.

One of the ways electrical power distribution and control panel builders seek to increase safety – both for connected equipment and operators – is to increase the Ampere Interrupting Capacity (AIC) or Short Circuit Current Rating (SCCR) of the panels. This can be an excellent approach to helping enhance safety with a favorable cost/benefit ratio.

Creating enhanced panel safety through higher fault withstand ratings is particularly important in a variety of applications, including facilities where even a brief power loss due to an irreversible damage caused by a high current fault, would result in high scrap production. The loss of a power distribution panel in a semiconductor production facility, for example, would be extremely expensive.

AIC versus SCCR
Before exploring options for increasing these ratings, it’s worthwhile to clarify the difference between them. AIC (expressed in kA) relates to individual current-interrupting devices, including protective devices like circuit breakers and fuses. Components are rated for a maximum fault current and what the protective device can handle on the load side without being damaged or destroyed, or creating a safety risk for personnel or equipment. Devices like relays aren’t AIC rated because they don’t provide overcurrent protection.

SCCR, on the other hand, is a rating of components or combination of components in a protective sub-unit or system. This rating, also expressed in kA, indicates the ability to safely handle a specific current for a specific time, or until a protective device opens the circuit and clears the fault. It’s more than withstand, which means the breaker can see the fault, open the circuit, and not cause a catastrophic event. It’s the ability to safely interrupt the fault to reduce the energy flowing downstream. This rating is a case of the chain only being as strong as the weakest link; the panel rating is equal to the lowest-rated overcurrent protective device in the power distribution circuit of the panel.

Design for higher ratings
Too many panel builders rely on past designs as the starting point for current panels, an approach that works against increased ratings. Instead, a better approach is to begin with a blank slate with an eye to achieving the highest rating possible. Review the power distribution scheme to identify and eliminate components that limit your ratings.

Remove weak links
As part of your refocused design efforts, root out the weakest links. It’s often convenient to add terminal blocks or multi-connections to a panel to simplify wiring. But that untested, unrated connection point becomes the weak point in the panel design, and could result in a panel rated at a mere 1 kA. Eliminating these terminal blocks, and directly wiring from component to component, can provide a significant, and easily attained, ratings boost.

Select tested combinations
The best approach when specifying components is to rely on series tested breakers and contactors, and main breakers and feeder breakers. These combinations have been evaluated and certified by standards organizations to provide a proven level of protection. It’s possible for panel builders to have their custom designed panel combinations tested and certified, but this is a very costly and time consuming approach. An additional disadvantage is that if any of the components in the system is changed, the test data is invalidated.

Select higher-rated components
Manufacturers are striving mightily to provide higher-rated components to meet customer expectations. Twenty years ago, 22 kA was an acceptable rating. Today, panel builders who design for machine builders are typically working in the 35 kA and 65 kA range, and sometimes as high as 100 kA. Some devices, like current-limiting circuit breakers, can provide higher ratings as well as added protective features. After sensing the fault, they open in as little as one quarter of a cycle, drastically reducing the overcurrent downstream.

Control circuits
Streamlining the panel design where the power distribution circuits are separated from the control circuits in the panel is another way to reach higher SCCR ratings. The lowest-rated and/or untested devices are typically on the control side. If those components rely on power from the power distribution side, then the rating of the panel can be no higher than the lowest-rated protective device on the control side. Control panel transformers (CPTs), can help resolve this issue by separating the control portion from the power distribution side of the panel.

Add Fuses
Additional fuses are a simple way to increase ratings, and may be the best solution in some applications. The drawback is that they require additional space, cost, and an inventory for spare fuses. In heavy industrial applications, that’s not an issue, but when panel space is tight, finding room for fuse blocks can be a problem.

Build competitive advantage
Higher panel ratings will help enhance safety for both employees and production assets, and help avoid production delays and waste. Increased SCCR provides benefits in every application, although the cost/benefit ratio is higher in some than others.

To increase ratings, panel builders should reevaluate their panel design approach. Doing so can increase SCCR, providing a benefit to customers and end users, consulting engineers and inspectors at a minimal cost. Streamlining panel designs whenever possible by removing low or unrated components and selecting higher-rated devices, including current-limiting circuit-protection devices. Rely on your electrical component providers to provide you with product information and design guidance, including recommendations for series-tested component combinations.

Streamlining panel design and component selection enables creative panel builders to achieve the competitive advantage of higher SCCR in every panel they design and manufacture.

Digital tools for finding and buying panel components

Digital tools for finding and buying panel components

Molly Hannigan
OEM Sales Manager
ABB Electrification Business

The pandemic greatly increased the use by manufacturers and distributors of digital and online tools to stay in touch with customers. Panel builders are using these digital tools for finding and buying panel components needed to keep production on track.

GoToMeeting™. Skype. Zoom. Everyone knows the names of these popular video meeting platforms. All had their genesis at the 1968 New York World’s Fair where AT&T® introduced their Picturephone. It offered the promise of video chatting with far off friends and business associates, but actually did little more than demonstrate a concept. The device was incredibly expensive, clunky to set up, and difficult to use.

More than a decade later, the technology improved to the point where video conferencing became a practical possibility, but even in the early 90s the per-system price was still $250,000. Today, the ubiquitous availability of reliable networks combined with huge leaps in compression technology have finally made video conferencing no more expensive or difficult than a phone call.

And that happened just in time.

The coronavirus pandemic made in person, face-to-face business interactions a dangerous proposition. But on the commercial side of most industrial organizations, functions like sales and engineering largely maintained business-as-usual thanks to the increased use of video chat and other online collaboration tools.

Beyond a range of online communication options like Zoom and the ability to easily exchange digital documents, power-control-device manufacturers and distributors rapidly ramped up the use of an array of tools that enable panel builders to investigate, specify, and buy their products remotely.

Seeing is believing
Anyone who’s shopped online for a consumer product has experienced the ability to manipulate a virtual version of the item via a 3D image or model, or to view a collection of photos from a variety of angles, enabling buyers to visually examine the product.

Industrial online marketing is following suit, vastly expanding the already massive libraries of online product-related videos. Whether to showcase their products, show examples of customer successes, help with setup and use, or provide troubleshooting tips, organizations are cranking out more and more videos.

While the ability to touch and feel a product provides a richer experience, a solid collection of still and video images is often an acceptable substitute.

Product selection
When a panel builder is ready make a purchase, a second category of online tools comes into play, including online catalogs and configurators.

In the past, online catalogs were, too often, the source of more irritation than insight. They were typically just a direct conversion of the hardcopy into a digital format. Navigating them was cumbersome and searching them frustrating.

The best examples of current online catalogs make finding the desired product incredibly easy. Most offer clickable links that let a buyer quickly navigate to the product that meets their needs. Some offer a clickable table of characteristics or features, letting the buyer create an ever-tighter filter. This enables narrowing a catalog of thousands of items down to only those that match the panel builder’s requirements.

For products that require customization, configurators provide the ability for customers to select the required options. Configurators reduce the need for the time-consuming spec-and-quote process, thereby speeding the buying process. Based on rules and logic, configurators intelligently guide buyers through the process and, in some cases, provide immediate feedback on the appearance and/or function of the product via 3D visualization.

Some tools, like ABB’s empower™, combine product selection and configuration functions with quote management, order tracking, and invoice management, providing panel builders with a complete digital customer experience suite.

Intuitive, accurate, user-friendly catalogs and configurators require costly development and coding, making them primarily the domain of larger manufactures and distributors. Manufacturers with the biggest commitment to supporting their customers are typically the organizations making the investments in these valuable resources.

Personal support at a distance
While the tools described above offer tremendous support to panel builders in exploring products and making buying decisions, they sometimes don’t provide a complete substitute for live interaction with a product expert. When this is the case, smart online marketers make it possible to also easily connect with those experts.

Probably the most-common solution is to include a link on every website page that lets customers request help from a product expert – help delivered through various channels.

Expanding online tools
In some cases, in-person interactions remain essential. Panel builders sometimes need to get hands-on with a product to make an informed decision, or require face-to-face dialogue with the component manufacturer to ensure their needs are understood and met. In most cases, though, the bulk of those interactions are being effectively done online.

Some manufacturers are making a special effort to support customers and encourage use of the available online tools. (Click to see an example.)

Most industrial manufacturers have been expanding their online, self-service resources available to customers. They did so to meet customer expectations for product information they could access on their terms and timetable. Panel builders who work with these manufacturers are now seeing a big pandemic-related payoff. These tools, combined with easily accessible video-chat apps for virtual face-to-face interactions, provide the framework to conduct much of their business uninterrupted.

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