Two weeks ago we posted a blog on the selection process for circuit protection/wire pairs. Today, we produce a grid to help you understand common aircraft circuit protection types that can be found on aircraft.
The five device types talked about here are the thermal circuit protection, fuse, magnetic circuit protection, Arc Fault Circuit Breaker (AFCB), and distributed power. There may be other unique protection devices that are actively used.
Before assessing the pros and cons of each, it is important to understand what fault conditions circuit protection devices can interrupt. Here we identify five conditions under which circuit protection devices may activate. Note: not all devices will activate under each of these conditions.
1. Short Circuit
A short circuit occurs when there is a hard short between the high voltage side and the ground or different voltage potential. Potential hazards resulting from this include overheating of wires and subsequent faults as well as damage to equipment if not properly grounded (equipment bonding). All protective devices are designed to respond to a shorting event.
This is where the devices in the circuit are pulling more current than the system is designed to handle (e.g. drawing 20A on a 15A circuit). Circuit protection devices, particularly analog devices, may not catch overload conditions less than 130% of the rated current. Sustained periods of overloading a circuit can lead to wire system heating and degradation of associated components.
3. Parallel Arcing
This is the most dramatic failure event and can damage the harness, nearby systems, and affect equipment functionality. With thermal or analog circuit protection, these events can last for a long time and may not event be detected.
4. Series Arcing
Series arcing is a harder event to detect because the signature from series arcing is far more subtle than parallel arcing. It can cause thermal heating and damage as well as inconsistent equipment operation.
5. Faulty Operation
This may only be detected by software-assisted circuit protection in coordination with a health monitoring system. In this fault condition, an expected set of operational characteristics are stored in the protective device system. If the powered equipment begins to operate outside of these conditions, the circuit protection may trip to protect the device from causing damage to itself or other parts of the system.
The pros and cons outlined here are based on the performance of circuit protection devices when used properly (e.g. not placing two circuit protection devices in parallel to achieve a higher rating).
|Thermal Circuit Protection||
|Magnetic Circuit Breaker||
|Arc Fault Circuit Protection (AFCB), Software Controlled protection||
It is anticipated that the newest aircraft designs will continue to capitalize on the benefits of distributed power technology. This does place a new set of challenges such as determining the Electrical Wire Interconnection Systems’ (EWIS) safety and collocation of redundant/critical systems.
If you are interested in finding out more about arc damage evaluations, EWIS risk assessments, or need help for an upcoming EWIS Service Life Assessment Project (SLEP), contact Lectromec.