UL845 motor control centers panel

Could you get into the UL 845 motor control center panel market?

Rebecca Stamps, Product Marketing Manager LV & MV Motor Control, ABB

Providing UL 845 motor control centers represents a step up the value chain for UL 508A panel shops. But that step up into a new and potentially profitable market requires a smaller step than you might think.

Most panel builders are constantly on the lookout for new ways to grow their business. One opportunity is providing basic panels for motor control center (MCC) applications. Panel builders have shied away from offering motor control centers for a variety of reasons. The big barrier to entry is the requirement for UL 845 Certification. As it turns out, that barrier is easier to overcome than you may have thought.

Earning the UL 845 Label
Many panel-building shops have the capability to create UL 508A Listed panels. Only very large shops can afford the investment required to design UL 845 Certified panels. The UL 845 Standard establishes criteria for wiring and spacing between components. More importantly, and more challenging for panel builders, is that the UL 845 Standard also requires all of the breakers and other components on the power side be tested together in various configurations for safety, what’s referred to as type testing. However, not every breaker and component needs to be tested, as typically there is a test representation.

The cost of these tests depends on the number of designs, how much representative testing can be conducted, ratings, etc. and can go up to $10,000 per panel configuration. The panel builder has to provide the testing organization with a demo or prototype. It’s subjected to electrical tests like short circuit and overcurrent to help ensure safety. If the prototype fails, a new, modified version must be submitted and tested. That process is repeated until the panel successfully passes the test and earns the certification.

But the certification is only valid for the components represented by the as-tested panel. Let’s say that a customer requests breaker B instead of breaker A. Panel builders are smart enough to see that breaker A and breaker B have the same specs, are about the same size, and have the same venting. Based on that, they assume breaker B will perform just as well as breaker A. Even though they could be right, since this is a different product than the one submitted they can no longer label the panel as UL 845 with breaker B and additional testing may be needed.

If any power components are different than what were used in the tested combination, no matter how close their specs, that configuration must also be tested. The cost of these tests depends on the number of designs, how much representative testing can be conducted, ratings, etc. and can go up to an additional $10,000 or so.

Large panel shops and panel-component suppliers can afford to test a range of component combinations, developing a file of UL 845 Listed combinations or configurations. Some suppliers rely on this file as the brains behind their online configurators. A panel builder enters their requirements, which could include preferred devices like a specific breaker, and the configurator will return a list of all the UL 845 Compliant products meeting their specs.

Small shops can’t afford to do the testing required to build these files, and the large shops and component suppliers aren’t about to share their files with them. But there’s a workaround for smaller UL508A shops that want to provide UL 845 panels.

Add value on the control side
The UL 845 Standard focuses on the power side of the panel and tightly constrains what panel builders can do. That limits your freedom and ability to add profitability by incorporating lower-cost components. But on the control side, there’s plenty of opportunity to optimize component selection and add value.

You can’t alter the bones on the power side by cutting bus or moving components, but on the control side you can add all the UL and/or NEC compliant devices you want: main metering, relays, custom controls, PLCs, smart gateways, communication capabilities, etc.

The simple solution to accessing the UL 845 MCC market is to first be part of the UL 845 assembler program. Then, start with an approved, basic UL 845 Certified MCC. Purchase the simple gray box with all of the compliant power-side components mounted on plates and then configure the control side to meet customer requirements. Keep in mind that unless the modification is part of the assembler program, and modification made by a UL 508A ICP manufacturer on an MCC would not be covered by the UL 845 Listing.

Taking that approach greatly shortens the panel-production cycle. You can find suppliers able to deliver within two weeks a basic MCC, ready for customization. That gives the panel shop plenty of time to acquire and customize the panel within their customer’s delivery timeframe.

New business opportunity
While the UL 508A and UL 845 Standards are related, products conforming to UL 508 (and 508A) can’t necessarily be used in a UL 845 application. Some may meet the criteria, others will need to be further tested for suitability in the combination used. Meeting the UL 845 Standard includes extensive testing for short-circuit and heat rise not specified in UL 508A. Many believe that UL 845 evolved out of UL 508A, shifting focus from individual panels to provide standards for common bus systems across multiple enclosures and taps. UL 845 additional type testing was created to make sure the density of a group mounted line up of controls goes through all the safety testing necessary to prolong the life of the equipment and protect people and property.

UL 508 shops can also evolve, moving higher up the value chain by offering UL 845 Certified control panels. The simple solution to entering this market is to be part of the UL 845 assembler program and partner with a supplier able to provide certified units with the power components and wiring already in place. From that base unit, panel builders can profitably add value to your UL 845 labeled unit and not jeopardize the UL 845 certification while maintaining safe and reliable equipment to customers.