What Are Air Circuit Breakers? 5 Things You Need to Know

To many people, one circuit breaker is as good as the next.

This is a big mistake.

For example, some applications simply demand the reliability of air circuit breakers.

5 Things You Need to Know About Air Circuit Breakers

If you run a plant or some other industrial building, it obviously needs plenty of power.

While you may be considering a number of different options, air circuit breakers deserve some attention. Here are five things you should know about them.

1. They Use Air Instead of Oil

As you probably guessed by the name, air circuit breakers don’t run on oil. Instead, they utilize significantly static air to initiate and extinguish arcs.

These breakers usually have two pairs of contacts.

The main ones are for carrying the current at the normal load. They’re made of copper. The second pair is made of carbon and is the arcing contact.

When an air circuit breaker is opened, its main contacts follow suit.

At this point, the arcing contacts are still connected with one another.

The arc is initiated once they are disconnected. Electromagnetic and thermal effects move the arc discharge upward until it eventually enters the arc chute. This is where it will be cooled and, finally, extinguished.

2. This Means Lower Voltages

The choice of air means that these circuit breakers are designed for handling low voltages.

Generally speaking, they can be used for anything under 15KV and 500MVA rupturing capacities. Still, they are consistently used to replace high-voltage oil circuit breakers.

3. It Also Means Fewer Risks

One of the reasons people choose air circuit breakers is because they don’t share some of the risks associated with those that use oil.

Namely, if failure were to occur, the oil could start a fire and spread it quickly.

While it’s worth pointing out that these circuit breakers tend to be very reliable, problems like overstressing the switchgear could still increase the risk of failure.

In a factory setting, the devastation that an oil-fed fire could produce cannot be underestimated.

4. Maintenance Is Much Easier

Speaking of stress, another big benefit of air circuit breakers is that they require a lot less maintenance than those that run on oil. That’s because there isn’t the same amount of mechanical stress.

Oil movement and gas pressure can be tough on these machines, but neither is a factor when you opt for an air circuit breaker instead.

5. Air Circuit Breakers Are Cheaper

Less maintenance is always going to mean less overhead.

You could even argue that the minimized risk could lead to lower costs over time, as well.

However, one reduced cost that isn’t up for debate is that air circuit breakers don’t require the purchase of oil over and over.

With every breaking operation, the oil that is being used in circuit breakers deteriorates and, eventually, must be replaced. The same can’t be said for air.

Air Circuit Breakers Are a Low-Risk Solution

If you run a plant and worry that your circuit breaker could one day cause a serious problem, you now know about a potential solution.

Air circuit breakers can support low levels of voltage but also don’t come with the same risks of traditional options, meaning you get both electricity and peace of mind.

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