Types of Circuit Breaker Based on its Tripping Curve
A circuit breaker is a protection device employed in every electrical circuit to prevent any potential hazard. There are different types of circuit breakers used all over the world due to their various characteristics & applications. It is necessary to have a circuit breaker that offers adequate protection so that one can work safely around it without having fear of any potential hazards. That is why it is best to know about these kinds of circuit breakers & what kinds of protection do they offer before buying one.
What is a Circuit Breaker?
A circuit breaker is an electrical device that provides protection against fault current. It breaks the circuit in case of overloading & short circuit. The fault currents generated due to these fault conditions can damage the electrical devices as well as cause fire in a building that can also pose danger to human life.
The circuit breaker instantly cut off the power supply to reduce further damage. A circuit breaker has two types of tripping unit i.e. thermal and magnetic tripping unit.
Thermal Tripping Unit: the thermal tripping unit is used for protection against overloading. It uses a bi-metallic contact that bends with a change in temperature. The current flowing through the bimetallic strip heats up contact & trip the circuit breaker.
The rate of bending of the bi-metallic strip depends on the amount of current. Therefore, greater the overloading current, faster the circuit breaker trips.
Magnetic Tripping Unit: The magnetic trip unit is used for protection against short circuit current. it includes a solenoid that produced a strong magnetic field due to high short circuit current to instantly trip the circuit breaker.
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What is a Trip Curve?
A trip curve also known as a current time graph is a graphical representation of the response of a circuit breaker. It shows the current relationship with the tripping time of a protection device.
Why We Need Different Tripping Curves?
Circuit breakers are used for tripping the power supply as quickly as possible in case of overcurrent. But it should not trip so fast & unnecessary that it becomes a problem.
The overcurrent can happen under normal conditions such as the inrush current of a motor. Inrush current is the huge current draw during the starting of a motor that causes voltage dips in the main line. The circuit breaker should be able to tolerate the inrush current & it should provide some delay before tripping.
Therefore, the circuit breaker selected should not trip so fast that it creates a nuisance & it should not trip so late that it causes any damage. This is where the tripping characteristics of the circuit breakers come into play.
The tripping curve tells how fast a circuit breaker will trip at a specific current. The different tripping curves classify the circuit breakers into categories where each category is used for specific types of loads. It is essential to select a circuit breaker that provides the necessary overcurrent protection.
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How to read a Trip Curve?
The following figure shows a chart of a trip curve.
The horizontal X-axis represents the multiples of the current flowing through the circuit breaker. While the Y-axis represents the tripping time of the circuit breaker on a logarithmic scale.
The thermal region shows the response of the bimetallic contact trip unit during overcurrent. The curve shows that the circuit breaker’s tripping time reduces with an increase in the current. The first curve in the graph shows the response of a thermal trip unit.
While the magnetic region shows the response of the solenoid to fault current such as a short circuit current.
As seen from the graph, a circuit breaker does not have a fixed tripping time and we cannot predict an exact tripping point. It is because the tripping is affected by ambient conditions such as temperature. Think of it as a Schrödinger’s Cat area, we do not know when the tripping will occur unless the event happens.
Types of Circuit Breaker Based on Tripping Curves
The circuit breakers are classified into the following five types based on their tripping curves.
Such type of circuit breaker is designed to instantly trip when the operating current is 3 to 5 times its rated current. Their tripping time falls between 0.04 to 13 seconds. They are suitable for domestic applications where surges are very low such as lighting & resistive loads.
They are sensitive and must not be used in places where the normal surges keep on tripping it unnecessarily.
Type C circuit breaker trips instantly at current surges 5 to 10 times its rated current. its tripping time lies between 0.04 to 5 seconds. As they can tolerate higher surge currents, they are used in commercial applications such as the protection of small motors, transformers, etc.
Type D circuit breaker trips instantly when operating current reaches 10 to 20 times its rated current. Its tripping time is 0.04 to 3 seconds. Such circuit breakers can tolerate the high inrush current of large motors. Therefore, they are suitable for running heavy loads in industrial applications.
Such type of circuit breakers trips at 10 to 12 times its rated current with a tripping time of 0.04 to 5 seconds. These circuit breakers are also used for heavy inductive loads in industrial applications.
Type Z circuit breakers are the most sensitive circuit breaker that instantly trips when the operating current reaches 2 to 3 times its rated current. They are used for sensitive equipment that requires very low short circuit trip settings.
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