Switchgear - a look to the future
Whilst the role of switchgear systems - providing safe protection for circuitry – has changed little over the years, innovation in their design, manufacture and installation is rapid. With technology developments moving at a rapid pace across the spectrum, what’s next in the world of switchgear?
As with many other electrical components, the size of switchgear systems has come into focus. In particular, reductions in the size of individual panels and the length of supporting steelwork and structures, not only lower installation and manufacture costs, but also make systems much more versatile in terms of where they can be sited.
However, whilst pushing for more compact systems is understandable, designers have some larger challenges to navigate. The switchboard itself may be smaller, but the incoming cables it has to accept are unlikely to be and steps taken towards more compact designs must consider the bigger picture. Power losses from the switchgear are a major factor to consider when trying to create a more compact design, generally, the smaller a switchboard becomes, the fewer routes available for heat dissipation. In these cases, it may be necessary to consider more unusual vented cooling systems to channel the hot air away as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Improving efficiency lies at the heart of much of the innovation in this space. As plant systems become more complex in general, the number of drives needing to be controlled is increasing as well. For switchgear, this means that panels are being required to have more and more capacity to manage a greater number of outputs than previously was the case.
This is intertwined with the requirement of performance management solutions and power analysis is now more important than ever before, particularly in terms of load shedding and fault detection. Having smart, cloud-based systems in place which can offer real-time insights into capacity, load and operational status, as well as offering remote control, intelligent motor starting and more accessible predictive maintenance, gives operators and management an enormous amount of data from to glean insights into their systems.
Another example includes situations where plants are generating their own electricity and selling it back to the Grid. Analytics software in the control boards of switchgear systems can show what current power usage levels are, and the number of units which are being fed back into the network. Aside from monitoring site import and export data, systems like this can be useful in identifying any faults on site, discovering specific site power trends as well as understanding reasons for complete power outages.
After the new 18th Edition (BS 76761:2018) regulations were launched last July, from 31 December, businesses in the UK must have considered whether their switchgear infrastructure needs additional arc fault protection. Whilst this has been a consideration for many years in Europe and the US, it has not been addressed thoroughly in the UK until recently. Specifiers for switchgear must assess the likelihood of a catastrophic fault occurring in a given panel, if the risk is deemed to be large, then additional arc fault protection may be required. This could include integrating smart systems which detect where a fault is occurring and disconnect the panels main supply immediately, protecting the wider equipment in the plant as well as all personnel.
Easily forgotten, switchgear forms a vital part of any industrial electrical installation and despite its role remaining unchanged for some time, there’s no reason why innovation should leave it behind. The fourth industrial revolution is coming and will be carrying switchgear along with it.
Rob Jones, Electrical Design Engineer at I.C. Electrical Limited
Nick Brown – firstname.lastname@example.org or 07792 285486
Lucy Blackman – email@example.com or 07792 202941
About I.C. Electrical
I.C. Electrical Ltd are an electrical engineering contractor based centrally in the UK. Capable of providing a complete in-house electrical engineering solution incorporating the design, build and installation of Control panels, HV and LV electrical systems, Communication and Automation systems along with small power and lighting installations.
Committed to working together with our clients from cost analysis and budget stage through to project completion. Tenders are prepared and delivered, such that our clients are completely assured of the solution we offer. Our aim is for you to have complete confidence in our abilities to deliver your project on time and in budget.
Experienced in carrying out electrical installations throughout Europe, Africa and Scandinavia our management team are specialists in process and packaging applications with many projects worth of technical knowledge to call upon. In addition, we have developed a network of suppliers and service providers to enable us to facilitate your project whether it be in the UK or further afield.