UL845 motor control centers panel

Could you get into the UL845 motor control centers panel market?

Providing UL845 motor control centers represents a step up the value chain for UL508 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 UL845 certification. As it turns out, that barrier is easier to overcome than you may have thought.

Earning the UL845 label
Many panel-building shops have the capability to create UL508-listed panels. Only very large shops can afford the investment required to design UL845-certified panels. The UL845 standard establishes criteria for wiring and spacing between components. More importantly, and more challenging for panel builders, is that the UL845 standard also requires all of the breakers and other components on the power side be tested together for safety, what’s referred to as type testing.

Those tests are expensive, in the neighborhood of $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 ensure safety. It will also need to endure physical tests that include shaking and dropping to ensure the connections and devices will hold up. 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 exact components included in 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. They’re probably right, but they can no longer label the panel as UL845.

If any power components different than what were used in the tested combination are substituted, no matter how close their specs, that configuration must also be tested … for 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 UL845-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 UL845-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 shops that want to provide UL845 panels.

Add value on the control side
The UL845 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, smart overload relays, custom controls, PLCs, smart gateways, communication capabilities, etc.
The simple solution to accessing the UL845 MCC market is to start with an approved, basic UL845-certifed 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.

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 UL508 and UL845 standards are related, products conforming to UL508 (and 508A) can’t be used in an UL845 application. Meeting the UL845 standard includes extensive testing for short-circuit and heat rise not specified in UL508. But many believe that UL845 evolved out of UL508, shifting focus from individual panels to provide standards for common bus systems across multiple enclosures and taps.

UL508 shops can also evolve, moving higher up the value chain by offering UL845-certified panels. The simple solution to entering this market is to 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 UL845-labeled unit