Panelboards and the Industrial Circuit Breaker

The term panelboards covers two types of electrical panels: distribution and lighting/appliance. Distribution panels divide electrical power into subsidiary circuits. Lighting Control Panels do much the same thing but are usually dedicated to providing the power for a building’s lighting system. In most industrial applications they are three-phase although single-phase lighting panels are used occasionally. Lighting panels generally carry less current than other panelboard because lighting systems do not require high currents, especially fluorescent lights. There is normally a main industrial circuit breaker and a few dozen smaller breakers. These smaller breakers may be single-pole, double-pole or three-pole configuration depending on the application.

Lighting control panels are covered under the NEMA standards for panelboards. This allows the use of several NEMA enclosure types depending on the environment where they will be used. Most lighting panels are found in dry indoor environments where NEMA type 1 enclosures are appropriate. The other NEMA types are for more harsh environmental conditions.

Industrial Lighting Systems and the Industrial circuit breaker

Industrial lighting systems are commonly 277V which uses one of the three-phase 480V lines and a system neutral. (There are some 208Y/120V systems as well.) There are many 480V systems where two-pole breakers provide phase-to-phase voltage to the lights (single-phase). Rarely are lighting systems wired as straight three-phase unless there is a separate lighting console with relays tied into the system. The relays in lighting consoles distribute the power to the lights as phase-to-neutral or phase-to-phase as required.

Eliminating Wear and Tear on the Industrial Circuit Breaker

Lighting consoles are used to manage the lighting in a facility, They incorporate switches, relays, timers and programmable controllers to get their job done. They can be as simple as a couple of switches and a relay or two and as complex as some engineer’s imagination. Lighting consoles may be adjacent to the lighting control panel or located in some centralized location away from the control panel. They serve several functions, not the least of which is eliminating wear and tear on an industrial circuit breaker. (An industrial circuit breaker should not be used as a light switch.) They can aid in energy conservation by automatically reducing lighting according to timers or programmers. It is even possible to use sunlight sensors to turn off lights when outside lighting is adequate.

A couple of modern manufacturers are producing lighting control panels that include distribution breakers, relays and a programmable controller in one enclosure. This combines the function of the lighting control panel and the lighting console into one space saving unit.

The various manufacturers are the best sources of information when designing a new or retrofit lighting system. Almost all will gladly assist in the design and specifications for any project and will custom build a panel to meet any need.

Whether for a small or large office building or a large manufacturing facility, the lights will be controlled by at least one lighting control panel and often several throughout the building. Most of these do their work with little personnel involvement. It is a good idea to regularly inspect the panels for damage and to use a laser temp probe to detect overheating breakers before the lights go out.