The cost of production downtime alone could reach US$46,000 within 24 hours of an arc fault, according to a research by power management company Eaton
The study noted that there is the threat to life safety posed by the initial explosion, the potential for reputational damage and the cost of replacement assemblies, particularly in power-critical environments such as process plants and hospitals.
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 whitepaper, written by European electrical safety expert Alfred Mörx. He points out that even organisations meeting the minimum requirements of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC 61439 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 IEC 61439 in order to minimise the risk to personnel, production schedules and building infrastructure.
Mörx commented, “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.”
Frank Ackland, managing director, Eaton Middle East, said, “The impact of arc flash incidents can be truly devastating for commercial buildings where the 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 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,” added Ackland.
Low-voltage distribution panels play a decisive role in supplying electrical power but even if the 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.