Research by Eaton estimates the cost of production downtime alone in an average factory could reach £31,900 within 24 hours of an arc fault. Then there is the threat to life safety posed by the initial explosion, the potential for reputational damage and the cost of replacement assemblies and parts to consider.
These can be catastrophic consequences, particularly in power critical environments such as process plants and hospitals. As such, the power management company has launched a campaign to highlight the risk of arc faults arising from low voltage electrical distribution panels in commercial and industrial buildings.
The estimated costs of downtime are contained in an Eaton white paper, written by European electrical safety expert Alfred Mörx and available at Eaton WorkSafe. He points out that even organisations meeting the minimum requirements of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC61439 standard remain vulnerable to arc faults. The whitepaper, ‘Safety and Risk in Electrical Low Voltage Installations’, recommends that power critical operations apply higher standards of safety than those outlined in IEC61439 in order to minimise the risk to personnel, production schedules and building infrastructure.
According to Mörx: “When planning and implementing low voltage switchgear assemblies and the low voltage installations supplied from them, it is in many cases necessary from a technical protection point of view to examine whether the minimum requirements specified in the generally accepted technical standards are sufficient for actual operation.”
In the event of an extreme incident, a power outage can last days or even weeks, leaving businesses facing mounting recovery costs. Eaton’s white paper provides a detailed economic assessment of the damage that can be caused, including shutdown, downtime and restart costs as well as additional costs such as any penalties imposed for failing to meet client delivery dates. In some countries, companies could even face legal action despite meeting regulatory requirements.
Chris Pack, product field manager at Eaton, comments: “The impact of arc flash incidents can be truly devastating for commercial buildings where power supply is critical to daily operations. In extreme cases, they can significantly disrupt the security of electricity supply, leading to an outage that can last days or weeks if not longer. Switchgear can be damaged beyond repair and businesses will soon find themselves facing substantial costs. Eaton has carried out extensive research to develop solutions that not only can reduce the risk of arc faults but can also minimise the damage to switchgear in an incident so that businesses can protect employees and resume normal service quickly without escalating costs.”
Low voltage distribution panels play a decisive role in supplying electrical power but even if equipment is planned, built and tested to meet the standard, they are frequently modified and added to over time. Eaton contends that this can result in an arc flash incident. These hazardous events can also be triggered as a result of human error while working on the switchgear, through contamination, condensation or even by small rodents or insects damaging the electrical system.