133. Idea – Understanding Power Terminology Transcript

Jonathan: 00:00 

Well, I mean, it’s always important to know what you’re working on, what you’re working with. If you’ve got a call in to have somebody come out and look at it, a maintenance technician or a third party services to come look at a piece of gear. You don’t want to call up somebody and say, “Hey, I need you to come out and look at my piece of switchgear or work on my piece of switchgear.” And you really mean a panelboard. You might be calling the wrong people.

Chris: 00:22 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why today we’re going to be talking about a fun topic of power terminology. There’s a lot of words floating around out there in the industry. You know, we hear panelboards, switchboards, switchgear, motor control senators, all different types of topics and ways that people identify this equipment. So with us today to kind of walk through this as Mr. Jonathan Fuller, a product manager with EECO. Welcome, Jonathan. 

Jonathan: 01:18 

Hey, thanks for having me. 

Chris: 01:19 

How are you doing today, man? 

Jonathan: 01:21 

Not too bad. And yourself? 

Chris: 01:22 

Oh, just loving life. Getting to talk to you so it’s good day, you know?

Jonathan: 01:25 

I hear ya. 

Chris: 01:27 

Man, this is a fun topic. It’s one kind of you brought up and I really appreciate that you did this.

So kind of let’s walk through a one-line and we’ll call it a one-line. Cause you, you hung on the rim when you wrote that one-line blog episode would, it really has gotten a lot of people interested. So maybe a one-line is a good place to start to identify the different items inside of a distribution scheme. So could you kind of start us off by pulling out some of those topics? 

Jonathan: 01:58 

Yeah, sure. If we look at a one-line you’re going to see all the different types of power distribution equipment and meters and relays and transformers that are going to be on that, that one line. So when you kind of, you first start, you should start near the top and see kind of the way the power comes into your facility.

So you’ll see like it’ll usually say, provided by the utility or things like that, and that’s going to be usually your transformer. Medium voltage transformer that’s going to be sitting there and that’s going to take your power and transform it from the medium voltage is down into a, usually a lower voltage something like 480 volt which is where we’re going to get into things like our switchboard or switchgear or panelboards.

So you’ll see. Typically the next step on that one line is going to be like a piece of main switchgear if it’s a larger facility. And that’s what’s going to take that power and kind of send it off to different areas of the plant to smaller switchboards or panelboards. 

Chris: 02:54 

Okay. Inside that one line too, I guess you’d also have like your transformers, your motor control centers, things like that, correct? 

Jonathan: 03:02 

Yeah, absolutely. Depending on the facility and where you are and what you do, and like a, school’s not necessarily going to have a motor control center. They’re probably going to have some switchboards and transformers and panelboards, whereas, a big chemical plant or a tire plant or things like that they’re definitely going to have some motor control centers there to run their drives and most, every facility is going to have transformers. Just because utility company doesn’t transmit voltage at 208 volts or 480 volts, they’re going to transmit several thousand volts across their lines.

So you’re definitely going to need that transformer. And just again, depending on your facility and where you are and what you do, you’re going to have different kinds of power distribution equipment. 

Chris: 03:43 

So what are the main primary different ways to just to distribute power? 

Jonathan: 03:48 

So pretty much every single facility depending on size, some of the much smaller, little shops might not, but pretty much every other facility is going to have a piece of main switchgear.

So that switched gear is what’s going to be fed by that transformer. And that’s going to, like I said, it’s going to be distributing your power across your facility and it’s the main piece of gear for your shop or your plant. If you need to go shut down power to the entire facility, that’s typically where you’re going to go is that main piece of switchgear.

There’s also switchboards. And that’s one thing that a lot of people get confused and switchboard and switchgear, but the switchboard, is a smaller version of a piece of switchgear, there’s some differences obviously between the two that we’ll get into, but switchboard is also used to distribute power to multiple different loads. There again, typically smaller and less costly than a piece of switchgear. And then you’re going to have your panelboards and most people relate a panelboard to like what you have in your house. Your panel for your house is going to have a bunch of smaller little 15, 20, 30 amp breakers in it.

And that’s going to distribute loads to things like your receptacles, your lights. The same thing within a facility, a hospital or a school or a plant. They’re going to have lighting panelboards that are going to distribute with 10, 20, 30 amp breakers that are going to distribute to the end load, like your end, light, your end, receptacle. There are also mechanical panelboards that are usually three-phase panelboards that are going to distribute again, power at the end of the line. Things like that. The panelboard they’re usually fed by a switchboard or switchgear. 

Chris: 05:21 

Okay. Very good. So how can you tell the difference between them and if you’re just walking through a plant and looking at switchgear, panelboards, switchboards? What are the things that really stand out to you as the differentiators between them?

Jonathan: 05:34 

Yeah. Think of a panelboard in your house. That’s going to be something small and they can get larger, but typically panelboards don’t go over 1200 amps. So you’re going to have something significantly smaller. And that’s going to be your panelboard.

They’re usually a door-in-door design. So that way you don’t actually see the breakers right in front of you. You have to open up a door to be able to see the breakers and then there’s another door hence the door indoor that you can open up to be able to access the wiring and things like that.

Switchboard and switchgear can be a little bit more difficult to identify. And one of the biggest things that I always hear, if I’m out at a customer and there might be somebody that’s not very well versed in the differences between the two or, somebody that doesn’t deal with it every day. They’ll just call you know, their room oh yeah there’s a piece of switchgear in there. There’s a piece of switchboard in there when it could just be a panelboard that’s sitting there. 

So it gets confused a lot, but a switchboard they typically only ever go up to 600 volts and they can go up to three, four or 5,000 amps, but they’re not going to typically have draw-out circuit breakers in them. It’s going to usually be fixed mounted group mounted breakers that are going to be in a piece of switchboard. As well as within a switchboard it’s not going to be compartmentalized like a piece of switchgear is, so it’s just going to be one front on that piece of equipment with the breakers in it. If you were to open it up, there’s not going to be a lot of compartmentalization in the rear, so everything’s just going to be open in the rear. You typically only need front access on a switchboard. So if it’s right up against the wall, chances are it’s going to be a switchboard. 

Now switchgear, that’s going to be much larger. Typically they go there’s low voltage, medium voltage, high voltage switchgear. They can go up to 6,000 amps on the low voltage side, but the defining thing with a piece of switchgear that you can easily identify as it’s going to be compartmentalized. So if you know, and are familiar with what a motor control center is with the different buckets and the different doors, that’s going to be like a piece of switchgear.

So it’s going to typically be for high construction. There’s going to be four breakers in a line, and you’re going to have four separate doors on that piece of switchgear. Most all switchgear there have been some recent developments with front access, switchgear, but most all switched gear, I’d say 99% of what’s out there is going to need front and rear access.

So that’s going to be the piece of equipment that you see in the middle of a room, on a concrete pad that you can get into the front and the rear of the piece of switchgear, but everything is compartmentalized. So there’s going to be four different compartments in one structure and each compartment can have a breaker in it, and it’s going to be all isolated from the compartment above or below it.

Chris: 08:05

Okay. Now you mentioned something there. I think we want to back up and unpack it real quickly. You said draw out. So let’s just for our listeners. They may not understand that terminology. So let’s walkthrough. Okay. When you said draw out, what are you referring to there? 

Jonathan: 08:20 Yeah, absolutely. You’re going to have either draw-out or fixed mounted. So, fixed mountain is exactly what it says. It’s fixed once it’s mounted in there. It’s going to take a lot of work to remove that breaker. It’s not easily removable and it’s not meant to be, whereas with the draw-out breaker. 

It’s purpose is it’s going to have the bus in the back of the piece of equipment. And then that breaker is going to have the clusters on it that are going to go onto the stabs of the bus bar, but it’s draw, you can remove that breaker by using a remote racking tool or, just a regular racking tool. It’s going to slowly remove that breaker from the bus and a couple of different positions. Usually, they’re referred to as connected, disconnected, and test and then fully removed. So you can actually draw that breaker off the bus to be able to do testing to it, to be able to do work on it even to, replace it if need be, or remove it to have it cleaned and serviced.

Chris: 09:14 

You know, you kind of walked through the differences between them or rather what they individually do when the selection process of picking the right equipment. What should be considered to say, okay, I need a switchboard here versus a switchgear, or I need a panelboard instead of a switchboard? 

Jonathan: 09:32 

So, I mean, there’s a lot of factors that can apply to that. One important factor is size and how much room does it take up? So a switchgear is going to be larger than a switchboard, which is definitely going to be larger than a panelboard. So size is one factor. Switchgear, usually can’t be placed right up against a wall, whereas a switchboard can. The depth of the equipment is going to be different as well as where you can put it in your room.

Price is another huge factor with almost everybody is going to be concerned about price. Panelboards are going to be on the low end of the price scale. Switchgear is going to be on a much higher-end and switchboards are there in the middle. So price is one thing but then again the application, panelboards only usually go up to 1200 amps. So if you need more than 1200 amps, you’re going to either need multiple panelboards, which have to be fed by something or you can go to a piece of switchgear or switchboard. So that’s one kind of determining factor for panelboards versus switchgear or switchboards.

 Switchgear typically is going to have things like a PLC auto-transfer in it. It’s going to have multiple breakers in it, and it’s generally defined as something that’s more intricate and more reliable than a piece of switchboard.

If you just need a basic distribution and a lot of schools use switchboards again because of price and size and they don’t need a ton of features. So those are some big factors as to when you use a switchboard. So a lot of schools are going to use a switchboard to distribute that power throughout the facility because they don’t need all the protective relaying or the PLCs and things in there that some of the more like data centers and things like that need that they’re going to use a piece of switchgear.

And that’s not to say that you can’t use relays and meters and switchgear because you definitely can, but switchgear is usually just more robust, more expensive, more reliable than switchboards are. 

Chris: 11:20 

Right man. That was a great, great explanation. I think you really connected with a lot of dots there for us. So can you give us any examples, maybe were potential end-users or owners of this equipment make mistakes or things that you’ve seen in the past where you went, “I probably wouldn’t have went that way,” just to help our listeners learn here? 

Jonathan: 11:40 

I’ve gone to several different customer sites and helped walk through some of their rooms before and, I’ll see some customers and they’ve got four or 5, 6, 7 panelboards on a wall that are feeding loads everywhere. And while, yes, that’s fine. That works. If it were me and I could do what I want to do and had the money to do it. I definitely probably would have used a switchboard in that instance to feed different loads.

And then if I needed to, I could go down to a panelboard. I mean they had large panelboards that had, 400, 500, 600 amp breakers in it. And that was it. In that instance, I definitely would have used a switchboard to feed those loads. And then I would have used a breaker to feed a panelboard to feed those smaller lighting and receptacle loads.

A lot of times people use them in the wrong way or not the way that they’re intended, but it works for them because of just their size constraints or their budget constraints. And to a certain regard, they can be interchangeable, but not always. 

Chris: 12:34 

Now you said budget constraints there. And that, triggered something in my brain and maybe for our listeners as well, so far it’s picking the right devices and the right applications, whether it be opportunities where instead of multiple panelboards, like you mentioned, you would go with a single switchboard, potentially, maybe it’s a bigger switchboard, but I’m thinking through cost-saving opportunities here. Instead of having these panelboards that you’re trying to work together, would there be an advantage of centralizing with a switchboard? I’m just thinking from a conduit from a wire costs. Although the equipment itself would be more expensive upfront, a switchboard versus the panelboard. There may be some ancillary costs that go down by doing this. And I just didn’t know if there is that something that should be considered. 

Jonathan: 13:24 

Yeah. There’s always going to be kind of that upfront cost for equipment versus maintenance costs down the road and, always the, what if costs, what if I want to expand, how am I going to do that? Where am I going to put it? What’s that going to cost? Again, you bring up a great point with the piece of switchboard, everything’s going to be centralized, right there. You’re going to have all of those breakers in the one place.

 If you’ve got somebody that at two o’clock in the morning trying to go find where do I need to go shut this down? Where do I need to do my Lockout Tagout? So I can safely work on a piece of equipment. If you’ve got five or six panelboards doing the job of what one switchboard does, they could be searching for an hour or two to go find the right device whereas with the switchboard, it’s all going to be right there together. Easier to identify. 

But then with switchboards generally if you size them correctly and plan ahead, you’re going to have some empty spaces, some empty room to be able to upgrade in the future or put in more breakers. You can do that with panelboards too, but it’s not usually as common trying to get some replacement breakers or future provisions is usually easier in a switchboard than it is in a panelboard. 

Chris: 14:31 

Gotcha. Okay. Now, one thing before we wrap this up, I think we always like to talk about the people that work on it and the so there’s maintenance required with any piece of electrical distribution equipment.

Now you’ve mentioned the switchgear typically needs to have that rear access. It is draw out. So can you walk through the different levels of maintenance that are required for a panelboard versus a switchboard versus the switchgear? Cause that may, have some factor into decisions that are, that our listeners make, selecting the right equipment here, right?

Jonathan: 15:06 

Right. Sure. So, I mean, you know with a panelboard, just like the panelboard in your house, there’s typically not a lot of maintenance that’s needed on a panelboard. You might open it up and dust it off to make sure everything looks nice and neat and clean on it, but there’s typically not a lot of maintenance that’s needed on a panelboard.

When you start getting into switchboard and switchgear, those are typically much larger breakers more than a hundred amps So some of those breakers are going to need to be inspected. They’re going to need to be tested and cleaned with your switchboard, it can be mounted up against a wall.

So you don’t necessarily need to go into the back of the gear and inspect everything, but you will want to have regular inspections done on that piece of equipment. You’ve got to have your arc flash study and assessment done, even on panelboards. That’s a typically a whole facility thing that’s always required by insurance every five years. So you’re going to want to come in and have somebody do some testing and cleaning on it. 

Same with switchgear. So somebody is going to need to come in and inspect the bus and make sure everything’s proper the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no animals inside of your equipment. Definitely seen that before, snakes and opossums and other things is getting inside of a, nice piece of warm equipment and causing issues. So you need to have that inspected. You need to have the breakers usually the contacts and mechanisms inside the breaker are going to need to be lubricated and cleaned, possibly replaced or renewed by services division. And once you start getting into some of those protective relays or the meters and things like that. You’re going to need to have those calibrated and tested regularly to make sure that they’re accurately showing you the information that you need.

And if it’s something like a ground fault, 50-51 relay or an overvoltage undervoltage relay, you know, those are there for protection reasons that if you have a certain event, it’s going to trigger that relay and be able to shut down the piece of equipment or safely, do what it needs to do to keep everybody safe. So you’re going to want to make sure you have those tested and calibrated as well. And those are usually found in a piece of switchgear and sometimes found in switchboards. 

Chris: 17:03 

Well, Thank you for that, Jonathan, definitely a lot of different things to consider from a maintenance standpoint when it comes to these different pieces of equipment. I think the bottom line they all serve their purpose, obviously. They’re all well-designed. Just making sure we’re picking the right, applications for our equipment is important. So before we go EECO Asks Why let’s get to the why. So why is it important for our listeners to know this terminology? 

Jonathan: 17:28 

Well, I mean, it’s, always important to know what you’re working on, what you’re working with. If you’ve got a call in to somebody to have somebody come out and look at it, a maintenance technician or a third party services to come look at a piece of gear you don’t want to call up somebody and say, “Hey, I need you to come out and look at my piece of switchgear or work on my piece of switchgear.” And you really mean a panelboard. You might be calling the wrong people.

You might be calling somebody to come out to do breaker remanufacturing or certification, and really just wanted them to come look at a panelboard with some 10 20 and 30 amp breakers in it. So it’s always good to know that as well as if you need to talk to somebody and say, “Oh yeah, it’s in the switchgear room,” or, “it’s in the panelboard.”

You could be sending someone down a rabbit hole, looking at the wrong piece of equipment. When in reality, they need to be going over there and looking at the breaker and the panelboard to shut that off, to be able to work on something instead of something that might be located in the switchgear. You know, it’s always good to know the proper terminology and know what you’re working on and talking about. 

Chris: 18:27 

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well Jonathan, thank you so much. You really helped us. These are often confused terms, panelboards, switchboards, switchgear. I think you did a really good job of opening that up and explaining it and really a good fundamental groundwork here for this terminology. So thank you again for your time and the expertise she brought today. 

Jonathan: 18:48 

Yeah. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.