Some common mistakes in the field are people referring to switchgear, switchboards, panelboards, and motor control centers as all the same thing. This can be confusing for people coming on site to work on equipment or trying to figure out what equipment needs to be supported.
A good place to see a lot of different types of power distribution equipment is by looking at the facility one line. Technology is evolving in this area and now many industrial facilities utilize virtual one line diagrams for real time analysis. You can see things like your substation transformer which will feed down to distribution gear like switchgear or switchboard. These are the primary areas to focus on to being implementing power monitoring at the site level. The distribution equipment will branch down to other equipment such as panelboards, MCC’s, and other transformers.
Most larger facilities will have a main Switchgear. The main differences between Switchgear and Switchboards are the ratings that they carry such as ANSI or UL.
NOTE – for either design ensure you know the proper distance requirements in place prior to entering the proximity of any power distribution equipment.
Switchboards are typically less expensive than switchgear and do not have drawout breakers as a standard. They can both serve the same purpose in a facility. They can both use relays and meters. Switchboard usually do not go over 600V, whereas switchgear ratings are significantly higher. Switchgear also has compartmentalization throughout; every breaker will be in its own cubicle and the bus and cable sections will be separated as well. Switchgear will have everything open behind the door. Drawout breakers that are normally utilized in switchgear is easily able to be removed on a rail system by racking the breaker in/out. Fixed mounted are just that, they are bolted into the gear and are not meant to be removed for service. Drawout offers those abilities with easy cleaning and access. Switchboards are usually smaller than switchgear, also can be mounted against a wall with only needing front access. Switchgear until recently needed rear access. Several manufacturers now have front access switchgear. Switchgear is also going to be deeper than a switchboard, with the minimum usually starting at 60” deep whereas switchboard can be around 30” deep at a minimum.
Panelboards are much smaller capacity, usually not going over 1200A. They have a single structure with a door-in-door design. They will hold branch breakers that can feed lighting or mechanical loads. Panels are usually mounted to a wall instead of freestanding.
Some common mistakes with distribution equipment are using panels as the main distribution equipment within a facility. This can be more expensive and use up more space in the long run vs using properly designed switchboards up front.
When it comes to maintenance on a panelboard is going to be the lowest on the list, with the least amount of maintenance needed. Typical maintenance is aesthetic and can be as simple as dusting. Switchboard and switchgear are going to need much more maintenance. They require maintenance such as cleaning, testing, verifying torque values, arc flash studies, relay settings, and coordination studies. Visually inspect larger gear to make sure that there is no unwanted debris (such as animals) as these are common areas for these items to occur and can be catastrophic.
Knowing common language is helpful in every area of industry. Power can be complex and having a firm foundation of fundamentals will ensure best practices are upheld.
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