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WHAT IS A SWITCHBOARD?

Explore Switchboards & the Value of A Custom Switchboard Manufacturer

The Critical Role of Switchboards in Electrical Systems

In the complex network of modern electrical systems, the switchboard stands as a pivotal component, orchestrating the efficient distribution and management of electricity. Whether it’s in bustling commercial centers or heavy-duty industrial settings, the presence of a switchboard is integral for the safe and effective operation of electrical infrastructures. This detailed guide aims to unravel the complexities of switchboards, offering insights into their functionality, significance, and varied applications in our contemporary electrical landscapes.

Understanding Electrical Switchboards

A switchboard is an assembly that plays a critical role in an electrical distribution system. It’s responsible for dividing an electrical power feed into multiple branch circuits, ensuring each circuit is safeguarded with a protective circuit breaker or fuse within a common enclosure. This systematic distribution and protection are vital in preventing electrical overloads and ensuring the safety of electrical networks.

The historical evolution of switchboards is a testament to the advancements in electrical technology. From rudimentary designs in the early days of electricity to today’s sophisticated, digitally integrated systems, switchboards have undergone significant transformation. This evolution reflects the increasing complexity and demands of electrical distribution in various sectors.

Technical Specifications and Standards

Switchboards are designed with specific technical specifications to meet diverse needs. Typically, they have a maximum voltage rating of up to 600 Vac/Vdc and can accommodate a bus rating of up to 6000 A. These specifications are crucial in determining the capacity and suitability of a switchboard for a particular application.

Compliance with safety and operational standards, such as UL891 and NEMA Standard PB2, is paramount in the design and manufacture of switchboards. These standards ensure that switchboards are reliable, safe, and capable of handling the demands of modern electrical distribution systems. They set the benchmark for quality and safety, providing guidelines for manufacturers and reassurance for end-users.

Types of

Switchboards

General Purpose Switchboards

These are the most versatile and widely used types of switchboards. They often integrate features like molded case circuit breakers, metering, and surge protection, making them suitable for a broad range of applications. The functionality of general purpose switchboards extends from basic power distribution to complex control and monitoring of electrical circuits.

Fusible Switchboards

Designed primarily for commercial and industrial applications, fusible switchboards are robust and reliable. They feature a switching contact structure with an instantaneous trip element, providing enhanced protection for feeder and branch circuits. These switchboards are particularly valued in settings where circuit isolation and protection are critical. For a Fused Switchboard it is common to see fuses on the load side of a main breaker to increase the overall protection of the system while also making it easy to isolate the bus so you can lock out the main breaker then safely disconnect and replace the fuses when needed.

Commercial Metering Switchboards

These switchboards combine circuit breakers, chassis, and surge protection in a single assembly for efficient multi-metering. They are essential in commercial settings like shopping centers and office buildings, where individual metering is necessary for accurate billing and energy management.

Service Entrance Switchboards: A Closer Look

Service entrance switchboards are the primary point of power entry in smaller facilities. They play a crucial role in managing the initial distribution of power from the electrical utility. Compliance with local utility requirements is a key aspect of their design, as they need to meet specific standards for safety and functionality.

Comparative Analysis: Switchboards vs. Panelboards

While switchboards and panelboards serve similar functions in an electrical distribution system, there are notable differences. Panelboards are typically limited to a maximum incoming current of 1200 A and are designed for either wall-mounting or flush-mounting. Switchboards, in contrast, are freestanding units with a higher capacity, accommodating up to 6000 A bussing and offering more flexibility in terms of access.

Advanced Switchboard Technologies and Solutions

The field of switchboard technology is continuously evolving, with innovations aimed at enhancing functionality and user experience. Draw-out molded case switchboards, for instance, are a boon in critical applications like healthcare and data centers. Their draw-out capability allows for quick breaker replacement, significantly reducing system downtime.

Integrated Facility System (IFS) switchboards represent another leap forward. By integrating switchboards with other electrical systems such as transformers and power supplies, IFS solutions optimize space and installation time. This integration is particularly beneficial in sectors like retail and construction, where efficiency and space utilization are key.

Installation Guidelines and Safety Protocols

Proper installation and adherence to safety protocols are crucial for the optimal functioning of switchboards. Installation best practices include strategic placement for easy access and maintenance, along with adherence to local electrical codes and standards. Safety features in modern switchboards, like surge protection and metering equipment, play a vital role in preventing electrical hazards and ensuring the longevity of the electrical system.

Custom Solutions and Emerging Trends in Switchboard Technology

The ability to customize switchboards to meet specific industrial and commercial needs is a significant advantage. This customization extends from the physical dimensions and capacity of the switchboard to the integration of advanced control and monitoring systems.

Looking ahead, the future of switchboard technology is intertwined with the broader trends in electrical distribution and smart grid systems. Innovations are likely to focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and integration with renewable energy sources. The increasing use of digital technologies and IoT (Internet of Things) in switchboards is set to revolutionize how power distribution is managed and monitored.

Importance of Switchboards

Electrical switchboards are indispensable components in modern power distribution networks. Their ability to manage and distribute electricity safely and efficiently is crucial across various commercial and industrial settings. This guide underscores the significance of understanding switchboard functionality, types, and installation considerations, highlighting their pivotal role in the efficient and safe distribution of electrical power.

Switchboard Protection with Protection Relays

Switchboards play a crucial role in power distribution, managing the flow of electricity from the main feeder to branch circuits. To ensure the safety and reliability of this critical infrastructure, protection relays are often incorporated into switchboards. These intelligent devices serve as guardians, monitoring and responding to potential hazards, safeguarding both equipment and personnel.

Types of Protection Relays

Protection relays come in various forms, each tailored to address specific threats:

  • Overcurrent Protection Relays: These relays detect and respond to excessive current flow, preventing damage to cables and equipment caused by overloads or short circuits.
  • Short-Circuit Protection Relays: Reacting with lightning speed, these relays isolate short circuits, minimizing the damage caused by these sudden surges of current.
  • Ground Fault Protection Relays: Vigilantly monitoring for imbalances between the hot conductor and the ground, these relays safeguard against ground faults, preventing electrical shocks and potential fires.
  • Arc Flash Protection Relays: These relays act swiftly to extinguish arc flashes, preventing severe burns and potential explosions caused by these intense electrical discharges.

Benefits of Protection Relays

Integrating protection relays into switchboards offers a multitude of benefits:

  • Enhanced Safety: Protection relays provide an extra layer of defense against electrical hazards, safeguarding personnel and equipment from harm.
  • Improved Reliability: By promptly detecting and isolating faults, protection relays minimize downtime and maintain the uninterrupted flow of electricity.
  • Reduced Maintenance Costs: By preventing equipment damage, protection relays lower maintenance costs and extend the lifespan of switchboard components.

In conclusion, protection relays serve as indispensable guardians for switchboards, ensuring the safety, reliability, and longevity of this essential power distribution infrastructure.

Choosing a Switchboard Manufacturer

Warranty & Liability

When choosing a switchboard manufacturer, it’s essential to consider their approach to warranties and liability. Look for manufacturers who establish direct relationships with reputable circuit breaker manufacturers. This is crucial to avoid any gray market components, which can be unreliable and unsafe.  Most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of switchboards source their circuit breakers from leading companies such as ABB, Eaton, Square D, or Siemens, integrating these high-quality components into their systems. 

A credible manufacturer should offer a warranty on the entire assembly, assuring the quality and safety of their product. Moreover, they should provide evidence that the breakers are directly sourced from major manufacturers, ensuring a valid pass-through warranty. This not only guarantees the quality of the components but also protects you from potential legal and safety issues arising from substandard parts.

UL 891 Certification

The UL 891 standard is a critical benchmark for safety in switchboard manufacturing. When a manufacturer is UL 891 certified, it means they have undergone rigorous testing and evaluation by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to ensure their switchboards meet stringent safety requirements. However, be cautious of manufacturers who have obtained this certification solely for marketing purposes without having a history of UL-listing their products.

Choosing a manufacturer with UL 891 certification who actively lists their panels under this standard ensures that you are getting a product that meets high safety and performance criteria. This certification is not just a badge of honor but a testament to the manufacturer’s commitment to safety and reliability.

ISO 9001 Certification

ISO 9001 certification is a testament to a manufacturer’s commitment to quality management. This internationally recognized standard ensures that the company adheres to a systematic approach to quality management and continuous improvement. A switchboard manufacturer with ISO 9001 certification is likely to have well-established procedures for ensuring the quality and consistency of their products. This certification is a strong indicator of a manufacturer’s dedication to delivering high-quality, reliable switchboards that meet customer requirements consistently.

In-house Fabrication Capabilities

Opt for a switchboard manufacturer with in-house metal fabrication and copper manufacturing capabilities. Manufacturers who manage these processes internally have better control over the quality and timeliness of their products. Outsourcing these critical components can lead to potential delays and quality issues, especially in the event of warranty or replacement needs. Manufacturers with comprehensive in-house capabilities are better equipped to ensure the integrity and longevity of their switchboards, providing you with a more reliable and consistent product.

Engineering Expertise

The presence of a well-qualified, in-house engineering team is a significant factor in choosing a switchboard manufacturer. A team of degree-holding engineers demonstrates the manufacturer’s commitment to technical excellence and innovation. This expertise is not just about creating a product; it’s about ensuring that the switchboard is designed to meet specific needs and challenges. An experienced engineering team can provide valuable assistance and support, from design customization to post-installation troubleshooting, ensuring a seamless and satisfactory experience for the customer.

UL 891 Switchboards

UL 891 Switchboards are essential electrical devices designed to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of power within commercial and industrial settings. Adhering to the UL 891 standard, these switchboards are known for their high safety and quality standards, making them a reliable choice for managing electrical circuits.

These switchboards typically feature a robust construction that can handle various electrical capacities, often up to 6000 Amps. They are suitable for circuits up to 600V and are designed to withstand short circuit currents up to 2000A. This makes them highly versatile and capable of meeting the demands of diverse electrical systems.

The design of UL 891 Switchboards focuses on user safety and ease of maintenance. They usually include features like circuit breakers and fusible switches for effective circuit protection. The adherence to UL standards, which are ratified by OSHA and the U.S. federal government, guarantees the safety of these switchboards, making them a preferred choice in environments where electrical safety is paramount.

UL 891 Switchboards often undergo rigorous testing, including tests against fault currents, to ensure they can withstand intense physical stress. This testing reassures users of their durability and reliability in various operating conditions.

In addition to their technical capabilities, these switchboards often come with design flexibility. They can be customized to fit specific needs, offering options in NEMA configurations and integrated components like transfer switches, metering, and surge protection devices. This customization ability allows for a wide range of applications, from basic power distribution to complex control and monitoring of electrical circuits.

Overall, UL 891 Switchboards represent a blend of safety, reliability, and adaptability, making them a critical component in modern electrical distribution systems. Their compliance with stringent standards and versatile design options make them suitable for a wide array of industrial, utility, and commercial applications.

Industry Confusion & Terminology Differences when Describing a Switchboard

At times we are asked for a Switchboard when they may mean a different type of power distribution equipment. Below we have defined some of these key differences to help you decide which system fits your needs.

 

Feature Residential Load Centers Panelboards Switchboards Switchgear
Application Single-family homes, apartments, small commercial buildings Commercial buildings, industrial facilities Large commercial and industrial facilities, power distribution substations Power distribution and control in power plants, substations, and industrial facilities
Voltage Up to 240V Up to 600V Up to 1000V Up to 600V
Current Up to 100A Up to 6,000A Up to 6,000A Up to 10,000A
Enclosure NEMA 1 or 3R NEMA 1 or 3R Indoor or outdoor Indoor or outdoor
Construction Metal or plastic Metal Metal Metal
Size Small Medium Large Extra Large
Components Circuit breakers, fuses, ground bars Circuit breakers, fuses, ground bars, metering devices Circuit breakers, fuses, ground bars, metering devices, busbars Circuit breakers, fuses, ground bars, metering devices, busbars, protective relays
Protection Overcurrent protection, short-circuit protection Overcurrent protection, short-circuit protection, ground fault protection Overcurrent protection, short-circuit protection, ground fault protection, arc flash protection Overcurrent protection, short-circuit protection, ground fault protection, arc flash protection, differential protection
Ul Listing Ul 67 UL 67 UL 891 UL 1558
UL Listing Circuit Breaker UL 489A or uL 1077 UL 489 UL 489 UL 1066
Cost Least expensive More expensive than residential load centers More expensive than panelboards Most expensive
Maintenance Easy to maintain Easy to maintain Requires regular maintenance Requires specialized maintenance
Mounting Wall Mounted Wall Mounted Floor Mounted Floor Mounted
Access Front Access Front Acess Front & Rear Access Front & Rear Access

 

Additional notes:

  • Residential load centers are typically used to distribute power to individual branch circuits in a home.
  • Panelboards are typically used to distribute power to multiple branch circuits in a commercial or industrial building.
  • Switchboards are typically used to control and protect main feeders and branch feeders in a commercial or industrial building.
  • Switchgear is typically used to control and protect high-voltage power circuits in power plants, substations, and industrial facilities.

Do Switchboards use Copper or Aluminum Bus Bars?

UL 891 Switchboards can use either copper or aluminum bus bars. The choice of material depends on the specific requirements of the application.

  • Copper bus bars are more expensive than aluminum bus bars, but they offer several advantages. Copper has a higher conductivity than aluminum, so copper bus bars can carry more current for a given size. Copper is also more resistant to corrosion than aluminum, so copper bus bars are better suited for applications where there is a risk of exposure to moisture or chemicals.
  • Aluminum bus bars are less expensive than copper bus bars, but they also have some disadvantages. Aluminum has a lower conductivity than copper, so aluminum bus bars must be larger than copper bus bars to carry the same amount of current. Aluminum is also more susceptible to corrosion than copper, so aluminum bus bars may require additional protection in applications where there is a risk of exposure to moisture or chemicals.

Regardless of the material used, the bus bar joints in a UL 891 Switchboard must be plated with either silver or tin to ensure corrosion resistance. Silver plating is the most common choice, as it provides excellent corrosion protection and also helps to improve the conductivity of the joint. Tin plating is a less expensive option, but it is not as corrosion-resistant as silver plating.

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between copper and aluminum bus bars, including the importance of plating for corrosion resistance:

    Feature Copper Aluminum
    Cost More expensive Less expensive
    Conductivity Higher Lower
    Corrosion resistance Higher Lower
    Weight Heavier Lighter
    Application High currents, corrosion resistance Cost, weight
    Joint plating Silver or tin plating required Silver or tin plating required

    Switchboards From Spike

    ABB Reliagear™ Switchboard

    GE Spectra Series Switchboard

    The GE Spectra Series Switchboards

    All Spike UL 891 Switchboards

    Cole Attaway - Spike Electric

    Cole Attaway

    CEO

    Robert Hodson Headshot - Spike Electric

    Robert Hudson

    President

    About Spike Electric Controls

    Spike Electric Controls, based in the vibrant city of Houston, Texas, is a globally recognized custom engineering manufacturer, dedicated to providing exceptional electrical gear for the energy sector. Our specialty lies in the rapid production of complex and integrated systems for power distribution and control assemblies, designed to address the critical needs of our clients. Our product range, from the straightforward “Switchrack” to the more intricate “Medium Voltage Switchgear”, is crafted by our team of seasoned and expert professionals, who are committed to meeting your specific application and design requisites. 

    At the core of our operations, safety takes precedence. By relocating assembly processes from busy job sites to our secure, controlled facility, we substantially reduce the risk of injury for our clients. This move also contributes to the heightened quality of our quick ship products, which are delivered complete and accompanied by comprehensive quality assurance documentation. The advantages of our rapid delivery service are numerous, leading to decreased downtime and increased operational efficiencies.

    Clients benefit from our all-encompassing, integrated service approach. This approach encompasses consulting, solving technical issues, innovating solutions for outdated equipment, meticulous management of your custom-engineered solutions, field startup support, and constant emergency assistance.

    Spike solutions are known for minimizing unplanned downtime, decreasing the necessity for overtime, and boosting operational efficiencies. With a vast array of facilities and expertise, Spike Electric Controls is well-equipped to manage your electrical product needs. We take pride in our in-house full metal fabrication shop, which allows us to make any necessary modifications or engineer structures needed for your orders. Our climate-controlled, ISO 9001 Certified panel wiring facility is where our team focuses on building quality products. We are committed to delivering optimal value to our customers by producing products and systems that operate with the highest safety standards and provide the utmost efficiency in operation and design. Our track record of repeat customers and longstanding relationships is a testament to our commitment to quality and service. We pride ourselves on being more than a supplier — we are a trusted partner in our clients' success.

    Spike Electric operates 24 hours a day, six days a week. In 2021, we chose to close on Sundays to give our team a day for rest and worship. Nonetheless, we are always prepared to assist our customers with any urgent needs, offering support whenever it's most crucial.

    The team at Spike Electric has been on point with all documentation, equipment turnarounds and schedule delivery dates within our fast-paced and tight schedule. I’m looking forward to working with this great team again on future projects around the Houston area and possibly nationwide.

    – Clyde (Buster) Kellar, MMR Constructors, Inc.

    In 41 years in the electrical industry I have never see a company deliver fully built equipment as quickly as Spike Electric. 20 sections of motor control, 114 fully wired buckets, & the switchboards delivered in less than 5 days. With their support we got the Seabrook Odfjell tank farm back up and running ahead of schedule.

    – Jason Redmon, Project Manager MMR Constructors, Inc.

    Spike engineered and delivered a complete hazardous location switch rack in less than 3 weeks for a urgent project. Their team offered a wealth of knowledge and always react with a sense of urgency.

    – Kodey Henderson EE PE, Mangan Engineering

    Spike’s team recently helped me deliver 26 explosion proof switch racks for Exxon in 6 weeks. The quality of engineering and the product delivered was far superior to any other manufacturer I have worked with in the past. I always enjoy working with this group, they always have integrity when they tell me something’s going to get done I can trust it will happen.

    – Allen Moravits, West Texas Area Manager, Saber Power Systems