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Determination of the Cause of Arcing Faults in Low-Voltage Switchboards

H. Bruce Land, III
AbstractIt is widely recognized that arcing faults in switchboards contain large amounts of power and can create signicant damage, including melting switchboards, destroying substations, disabling ships, and causing human fatalities. While arcing faults occur with a fairly high frequency, electricity is so ubiquitous in our lives that most engineers will not personally be associated with a major arcing fault. The Navy has invested 25 years investigating the causes, behavior, and prevention of arcing failures in low- and medium-voltage switchboards. Laboratory testing used to help understand the behavior of arcs in switchboards is presented. Those data are then used to analyze actual switchboard arcing events and, thus, to determine the root causes of the events. Additional testing used to conrm the cause of each event is discussed. Index TermsArc, arc fault, arc forensics, electric breakdown, res, power-distribution faults, power-system protection, switchgear, switchgear res, voltage breakdown.


more details of the process of conducting a forensic analysis of electrical res. However, these articles focus on procedure rather than the details of the fault analysis. Three electrical res will be discussed to illustrate how an arc behaves in low-voltage switchboards. Two of these sets of switchboards were constructed to stringent Navy switchboard specications and one set to commercial specications, but the results of the arcing failure are independent of the specications used to construct the switchboard. The events were investigated using the experience based upon over 2000 laboratory arcing tests, conducted by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), ranging from a few hundred amperes to 30 000 A. In each of these cases, the presumed cause was recreated in the laboratory to conrm the conclusions, thus this information may prove useful in the investigation of other arcing events. II. I NITIAL I NVESTIGATIONS OF AN A RCING E VENT When one is initially requested to investigate a switchboard re, a request should be made that the scene be secured and left as undisturbed as possible. Generally, there is a conict between the needs of the investigation to retain an uncompromised scene and the safety and economic issues, so completion of the investigation in a short amount of time is imperative. If available, examine the switchboard drawings before examining the switchboards. Ascertain all possible current sources to the affected switchboards, as this will be needed to identify the direction of arc movement. The black coating left on all surfaces from the re will soak up light and make obtaining the proper ash exposure a challenge. Photographs of the scene from many different angles will help to compensate. Photograph, tag, and secure important items so that they will be available for later detailed evaluations. For sketches of the switchboard, it will be useful to tie the damage photographs and the power ow together, helping one to determine the origin of the fault. Interview witnesses and operators and attempt to construct a time line of every electrical and mechanical event which might have had any effect on the switchboards immediately before the event. Be wary of accepting operators opinion of the duration of the arc, as during catastrophic events such as these, a humans view of time becomes very subjective. Obtain drawings of the switchboards, if possible, as they may be helpful in determining the possible origin of loose components. III. A RC M ARKS The results of arc testing and analysis agree that when a highpowered arc strikes between two parallel bus bars, it will be

REAKERS are designed to protect against bolted faults. Arcing faults are high-impedance faults, and their currents frequently fall within the range of normal working loads. Thus, breakers are frequently ineffective against arcing faults. Some arcing events exist for tens of seconds until manually interrupted, while others proceed until entire switchboards are reduced to slag. While the rst concern is the safety of the personnel and the facility, at some point, ascertaining the cause of the event will be desired due to possible liability issues and to use the lessons learned to prevent other possible events from occurring. Unfortunately, it is difcult to learn from most of the investigations of arcing events in the commercial world, as the reports remain hidden behind legal settlements, and thus, the industry looses the lessons learned. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publication [1] contains a very useful section on interpreting damage to electrical systems, but it focuses on wiring rather than bus bars and switchboards. The chapters on recording the scene and on identifying, collecting, and examining the evidence are enlightening and of value to any fault investigator. Magee and Hittel [2] and Alonzo [3] have published articles that discuss procedures beyond the NFPA in investigating electrical res. McClung and Vallejo [4] go into

Paper PID-07-05, presented at the 2005 IEEE Electric Ship Technologies Symposium, Philadelphia, PA, July 2527, and approved for publication in the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INDUSTRY APPLICATIONS by the Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee of the IEEE Industry Applications Society. Manuscript submitted for review August 31, 2005 and released for publication September 5, 2007. This work was supported by D. E. Strawser of NAVSEA 05Z43 under Contract N00024-97-C-8119. The author is with The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD 20723 USA (e-mail: Digital Object Identier 10.1109/TIA.2008.916595

0093-9994/$25.00 2008 IEEE



Fig. 1. Evolution of barbs on bus bars. The top bar is new and shows no barbs. The second bar sustained a fast moving arc and shows small barbs. The next two bars experienced successively slower moving arcs, creating larger barbs. Fig. 3. Top of vertical bus bars showing the erosion of the bus bars and the keyhole cut by the arc through the side of the switchboard.

IV. E ND OF THE B US B AR Given a fast moving arc and no obstructions, the arc will generally blow out once the magnetic eld drives it to the end of the bus bars. However, if there is some obstruction near the front, back, or end of the bus-bar gap, then the arc may persist for tens of seconds. If the bus is mounted adjacent to a side of the switchboard, the plasma from the arc cannot expand in the direction of the side panel. This causes the plasma to concentrate and increases the temperature of the plasma. The increase ion concentration makes the arc more stable. Once reaching the end of the bus, the arc will rst attach to the sharp corners of the bus. Due to the increased concentration of ions on the panel side of the bus, the arc will billow out in that direction. If the side panel is conductive, the arc will split into two pieces. One piece of the arc will pass current from the bus bar to the side panel, and the second piece of the arc will pass current from the side panel back to the second bus bar. Metal will melt, vaporize, and oxidize from the tip of the bus bars and from the panel. Magnetic forces will cause the arc to extend outward from the current source until the gap becomes too long for the available voltage. At this point, the arc will go out and then restrike at the lowest position down the bus that is still within the plasma cloud. Once restruck, the arc will again move to the end of the bus and repeat the process of blowing out and restriking within the plasma cloud. Each time, the plasma cloud becomes a bit larger, and the arc can restrike further down the bus. Since the arc spends more time at the top of the bus than at the strike point, more material vaporizes from the bus bar and the adjacent panel at the top than down in the restrike zone. This will produce a classic keyhole-shaped hole in the panel and a relatively smooth wearing back of the bus bars (Fig. 3). While this may be the area of maximum damage, it is the terminus of the arc and rarely the origin of the arc. Therefore, knowledge of the directions of current ow and checking for arc barbs can assist in tracing the arc back to its initiation point. V. C ASE 1 In 1987, a ship was cruising off of the West Coast. The crew had just completed a training exercise, which involved

Fig. 2.

Close-up of small barbs from rapidly moving arc.

forced away from the source of current due to magnetic forces [5]. The velocity at which the arc moves is proportional to the current and will exceed 1000 ft/s at a current of 7000 A. The arc does not appear to move smoothly along the bus but seems to skip a few tenths of an inch between attachment points. Given that the temperature at the point the arc contacts the metal can exceed 20 000 C [6], the arc will cause some surface damage to the copper bus in spite of its short resonance time. The amount of damage will be related to the amount of time the arc is in contact with any given position on the bus bar. As the arc travels along the bus bar, a small amount of copper is melted at the point the arc contacts the copper. Since the arc is rapidly moving, the bulk of the molten copper does not vaporize or run down the bus but simply solidies in place. The surface tension of the molten copper will cause the formation of small almost-spherical balls attached to the edge of the bus bar as barbs. With high-current rapidly moving arcs, these barbs may be sharp enough to cut your skin but may be small enough to require magnication to be seen. It has been previously reported that insulation on the bus will slow down the arc motion [5]. Tests were conducted with increasing amounts of insulation to slow down the speed at which the arc moves up the bus and to examine the barb formation. Current and bus spacing were held constant for this set of tests. Fig. 1 shows an edge view of four pieces of standard 0.25-in-thick copper bus bar. The top bar is new. Its corners, where the sides meet, are not sharp, as they have a slight radius, and they are quite smooth. The second bar had a single linear strip of berglass insulation applied to the edge of the bar, and the barbs are 0.0200.040 in in diameter. The third bar was tested with a spiral wrap of 0.5-in-wide insulation, and the barbs were 0.0500.100 in. The fourth bar had an overlapping spiral wrap of 1-in-wide insulation and produced globules from 0.1 to 0.2 in. Fig. 2 shows a close up of the 0.0200.040-in barbs.



the remote opening and closing of a number of breakers. They were awaiting an order from the Captain of the ship to begin another exercise when there were several loud noises and bright ashes from both the front and back of a satellite switchboard located approximately 8 ft outside of the electrical plant control room. Flames issued from the switchboard and smoke lled the adjacent areas reducing visibility to less than 6 ft. Since the crew was already poised to react for a training exercise, they quickly determined the affected circuits, opened the appropriate generator breaker, and limited the damage. It should be noted that a trained full crew was present at the electrical control panel. While it may have taken a few seconds for them to identify the nature of the problem and open the proper breakers, manual intervention could not have occurred any more quickly than in this instant, thus this case eloquently makes the argument for the need for automatic arcfault protective equipment. After a brief investigation to identify affected components, power was routed through alternative switchboards and the ship proceeded toward port. A casualty-analysis team was assembled and transferred to the affected ship at sea so that they could complete their work before the ship reached port. The arc-fault scene was left undisturbed, which greatly assisted the analysis. The switchboard sustaining the arcing fault was a typical shallow switchboard containing two columns of push in motor-controller modules. Power entered the bottom of the switchboard via cables that are bolted to three bus bars that ran vertically up the back of the switchboard. Three short horizontal bus bars in the bottom of the switchboard fed power to the set of vertical bus bars behind the second column of motor controllers. The bus bars ended approximately 2/3 of the way up the back of the switchboard. Each of the motor-controller modules contained a breaker of 100 A or less. The cables supplying power to this satellite board were bolted directly to the bus bars in the generator switchboard, and there was no intervening breaker between the generator breaker and the satellite board. This switchboard was a heavy-duty spray-tight switchboard. Examination of the switchboard showed that the pressure pulse from the arc had bent the heavy-duty quarter-turn fasteners and blown the covers off. Centered above the end of the center bus was a 3-in-diameter hole in the rear of the switchboard. Smaller holes existed over the ends of the other two bus bars. The square ends of the bus bars were rounded. This three-hole pattern is the result of the chassis being used as a current path for the arc current traveling from phase to phase. Numerous JHU/APL laboratory tests have duplicated this behavior [5]. An irregular horizontal hole 1.52 in high and 13.5 in wide existed 6 in below the ends of the bus, and the bus bars for all three phases had 1.75-in gaps at this location (Fig. 4). These bus bars are 2.5 in wide by 0.25 in thick and are space 1.75 in apart. The speed of the arc is proportional to the current [5] and, in this case, was estimated to have exceeded 15 in/ms. Due to the rapid motion of the arc, it was expected that arc barbs would be found, but none were present with the unaided eye. Lightly brushing a hand along the edges of the bus bars revealed barbs on back facing edges of the AB and BC bus bars below the gap in the rear of the switchboard. Lower in the switchboard,

Fig. 4. Arc-damaged motor-controller switchboard. Note the three holes above the damaged tips of the bus bars. The horizontal white space is a gash cut through the bus bars and the back of the switchboard by the arc.

Fig. 5. Lower part of switchboard showing the faulty connection where the arc originated.

the barbs only existed between phases BC. Since the source of current was in the bottom of the switchboard, the arc could not initiate in the top of the switchboard and then travel down over 30 in. Therefore, the arc must have initiated near where the arc barbs began in the bottom of the switchboard and then traveled to the top of the bus bars. In the lower portion of the switchboard, it was found that crimp lugs on three conductors had been attached to the bus with a single bolt. While all three conductors were severed from their lugs, only one conductor showed evidence of arcing. One connection fed a spare breaker and another was very lightly loaded. Only one wire was carrying a full load at the time of the fault. The remains of the three lugs were still rmly attached to the screw (Fig. 5). The most likely sequence of events is that a high-resistance point was formed at the interface between the crimp lug and the conductor due to improper crimping or work hardening during installation. With cycling and vibration, the resistance increased until enough heat was generated by the current passing through the load to melt the conductor. Next, an in-line or series arc was formed, but the arc current was limited to the current owing through the load. The addition of pyrolytic products from the wire insulation helped to sustain the arc and allowed the plasma cloud to grow until it spanned the distance between phases B and C. Laboratory testing has shown that if the bolt had been loose, the heat would have been generated at the bolt. The copper bus bar has a lot of mass and conducts heat well, thus it is difcult



to overheat the bus bar. The bolt and the copper lugs have much less mass and thus heat up more rapidly and reach a higher temperature. Since the copper lug has a typical melting point of 1084 C, it will melt before the steel bolt which typically melts at 1370 C. Additionally, since the cross-sectional area of the lug is smallest where it transitions from at to round, the lug will melt here if the heat source is from the bolt. In this case, the cable melted at the end of the lug-to-cable interface, which eliminates the bolt as the heat source. This complete sequence was subsequently duplicated in the laboratory. Once struck between phases BC in the bottom of the switchboard, the arc rapidly rose due to magnetic forces. As it rose, the plasma cloud expanded, and the arc struck between phases BA and the two arcs rose until they reached the end of the bus. Here, the arc lodged and began to consume the corners from the ends of the bus. As the plasma cloud expanded, it removed the paint from the rear of the switchboard, and the current path went from bus to switchboard and back to bus due to the trapped plasma. This caused the typical three holes behind the bus bars. Due to rapid heating of the air and the expansion of the vaporized materials, there was a large pressure rise which blew the covers off and forced large quantities of smoke, sparks, molten metal, and debris out the holes in the switchboard and out the front. Metal splatter was found on cabinets that are 10 ft from the switchboard. At some point, the plasma cloud expanded enough to become lodged under a bus support 2 in below the end of the bus. The plasma trapped below the bus support caused the arc to restrike at those points and to continue at the lower location until the large gash was cut through the bus bars and through the back of the switchboard (Fig. 4). At this point, power was manually removed. While the resistance of the cables tying this satellite switchboard to the main bus helped to limit the current, they experienced a large unexpected magnetic force due to the current. Inspection in the feeder switchboard showed that all three phases of the cable had been secured together to a support with 0.1875-in nylon cable ties with a rated working load of 50 lb and a burst strength of 75 lb. The magnetic forces due to the fault current were large enough to cause the cables to snap the cable ties. One cable moved with such great force against a bolt protruding from a bus bar that the insulation was pierced and arcing began between the cable and the bolt. Fortunately, the breakers were opened before arcing began on the main bus or the damage to the ship would have been much higher. Damage was limited to the replacement of the satellite switchboard, replacement of the feeder cable, and some unexpected time in port. This incident points out that the point of origin of the arc is frequently not the location of most damage. Generally, the point of origin is the damage point closest to the source of the current. It also emphasizes that hidden damage due to the arcing event may be present in switchboards other than the one which actually incurred the arc. Thus, subsequent to an arcing event, all switchboards upstream of the arc should be carefully inspected for collateral damage. If thermal imaging could have been performed on the connection in question, the fault could have been predicted. The Navy has a program of regular thermal imaging, but the connection in question was in an inaccessible location and could

not be viewed during inspection. While thermal imaging is effective and useful, inspections must be performed after the switchboards are brought up to operating temperature, and it is estimated that only half of the connections are visible during the inspection process. While additional inspections during installation might have caught the potential problem, no known routine-inspection technique performed after commissioning the switchboard could have prevented the fault. No event could make a clearer case for automatic arc-fault protection, as even the best trained crew, in place and poised for action, cannot react quickly enough to an arcing event to limit the damage. After this event, the Navy data from over 20 years of shipboard res were collected and analyzed. Analysis of the data by the Johns Hopkins, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and the Navy concluded that the majority of all shipboard arcing failures occur at a faulty connection. Those faults may be caused by improper torque or crimping upon installation. Others are caused by the constant shipboard vibration or the corrosive salt-laden atmosphere. While this failure initiated at the connection, it is difcult to determine if it was due to the crimp connection or due to work hardening of the conductor at the crimp connection. Work hardening of conductors can occur any time the conductor is bent past its acceptable bend radius or bent repetitively. Work hardening can change the local properties of the material, enough to increase its resistance and lead to a fault. Inadequate crimp force raises the local resistance, allows corrosion to occur, and leads to faults. VI. C ASE 2 In 2000, a ship at sea was moving under steady normal power. No loads were being changed or shifted. Two of the three generators were online. A junior engineer and another person were in the switchboard room when there was a sudden bright ash from the switchboard followed by a loud noise described as a roar. Almost immediately, re came out of the switchboard and rolled along the overhead of the compartment (room). The two men quickly exited the switchboard room and saw that the generators were hopping on their mounts. After about 60 s, both generators were manually shut down. The lights ickered several times during the event, as the automatic bus transfer switched back and forth from main to emergency power. The ships crew discharged several CO2 extinguishers into the switchboards and contained the re. By the time the ship had been towed to port, the crew had removed most of the covers and breakers. Most of the debris from the bottom of the switchboards and from the compartment had been swept up and placed in buckets. It was a great disappointment to nd so much of the evidence disturbed, but, fortunately, the Coast Guard had taken many photographs before the cleanup, which help to correlate the remains with their origin. While immediate cleanup is frequently done in an effort to bring the system back online, it disturbs the scene and makes the determination of the cause much more difcult, and yet, due to long lead time for parts for older systems, it may not shorten the time to restore the system. The switchboard was a single lineup of 12 sections of unequal width. The three generator breakers were in sections three through ve at the left end, and the very hefty horizontal bus



Fig. 6. Section 12 of the switchboard. The front cover and the breakers have been removed, revealing the extensive damage inside of the switchboard.

bars traversed the bottoms of all of the sections from left to right. Sections 8, 10, and 12 contain distribution breakers and sections 9 and 11 contain only ventilation louvers. Extensive damage was found in sections 10 and 12 (Fig. 6), and less damage was found in section 8. The compartment was thoroughly covered in thick black soot deposits, and the plastic overhead lighting covers in the compartment were melted. Since the generators were reported to have been jumping on their mounts during the arcing fault, some personnel postulated that they were the cause of the fault. Their reasoning was that the generators created a voltage spike, which jumped the bus-bar gaps and initiated the arc. The closest bus-bar separation was found to be 0.5 in. Paschens law (1) states that the breakdown voltage (V ) of a gap is roughly given as a function of the distance in centimeters (d) and the pressure in atmospheres (p) [7], [8] V = 30 pd + 1.35 kV. (1)

While this equation is affected by many factors, such as surface irregularities, dust, gas, etc., the breakdown voltage in normal atmospheres is generally accepted as approximately 13 kV/cm. Voltage spikes of 12 kV, caused by switching transients, have previously been recorded in shipboard switchboards, but these voltages will not jump the gaps. No switching occurred immediately prior to this incident. Since the voltageregulation circuits of the generators were found in good order, it is unrealistic to expect that the generators produced voltage spikes in excess of 15 kV needed to initiate the arc on this busbar spacing. While rst-hand information can be useful, it must be reconciled with the evidence. One observer reported that, during or immediately after the re, he felt a recently installed T200 cable leaving the switchboard on the opposite side of the bulkhead and found it much warmer than the adjacent cable,

and he concluded that a fault in this load or cable must have caused the re. An investigation showed that if there had been a high-resistance point in this cable that there was a second parallel T200 cable which would have carried the load. No problems were found with the load, the load connections, or the cables. The cooler cable was found to be armored, while the hot cable was not. The larger diameter of the armored cable results in a larger surface over which to dissipate heat, and thus, it will operate cooler. Thus, the arc was not created due to a problem related to this cable. It was postulated that some type of reverse current between the two generators might have caused the fault to occur. Records showed that the reverse-current relays had passed testing three weeks prior to the event. Visual inspection of the relays showed no problems, and the mechanical trip ags were not set. Thus, a reverse-current event did not cause the re. The internal failure of a breaker can expel enough hot gas and plasma from the breaker chutes to create an arc on the adjacent bus. Each breaker was disassembled and inspected and no problems or abnormal discoloration were found with the internals of any of the breakers in the area of the arc. There were no side panels isolating the sections so that the arc was free to move between sections. Using the understanding of arc motion gathered from laboratory testing, it was possible to isolate the origin of the arc to the right most switchboard section 12. It was also concluded that the arc began on the nger bus supplying current to the 400-A breaker. While the bus bars on the source-side of the breaker were severely damaged, portions of all of the connections were present, and there was no evidence of a faulty connection. It appeared that some conductive object had created the arc by shorting out the bus at that point. Several pieces of stainless-steel cable ties were found in the bottom of switchboard section 10. It was postulated that one of these pieces might have fallen down, shorted out the bus, and created the arc. It was found that these metal cable ties are Teon coated and have an insulation value greater than 2 M. Pieces of these cable ties were placed across bare copper bus bars in the laboratory and did not create an arc. The switchboard where the pieces were found was not where the arc originated; the location where the pieces were found was not over bus showing arcing damage; and testing was unable to create arcs by shorting out bus with the ties. Thus, the burnt pieces of cable ties were collateral damage and not the basic cause of the arc. A loose bolt (Fig. 7) with unique arcing damage was found on an angle brace inside the front of the switchboard approximately 1/3 of the way up from the deck and just to one side of the origin of the arc. Reconstruction of the switchboard showed that all other bolts were accounted for, thus this bolt did not vibrate loose from a connection within the switchboard. The bolt in question must have been left inside of the switchboard due to some previous maintenance action. The loose bolt found had a washer welded to it. Arc damage was found at one point on the outer edge of the bolt and on the end of the bolt. It was postulated that the loose bolt had fallen down across the bus behind the breaker and initiated the arc. Some observers stated that such action would have resulted in the bolt welding to the bus or completely vaporizing, and thus, the bolt could not cause the arc.



Fig. 9. Top of the switchboard. The arc damaged the end of two bolts where indicated and left smoke on the top of the switchboard. Fig. 7. Loose bolt found inside of switchboard. Note the arcing damage to the tip of the threads and how the washers are welded together and to the bolt.

Fig. 8. Sketch of bolt showing how it contacted the bus bar and created an arc. Note that the locations of damage shown in the sketch match the actual damage shown in Fig. 7.

Identical bolt and washer combinations were placed across similar bus-bar congurations in the laboratory and power was applied. In each case, an arc was initiated on the bus by the bolt, and the bolt was blown free of the bus. Observe that when the bolt lies on its side, the washer will cock over at an angle as shown. As current ows from one bus to the other through the bolt, the current is forced to ow through the sharp corner of the washer inside diameter (ID). This concentration of current will produce localized overheating that welds the washer ID to the bolt (Fig. 8). With the light weight of the bolt, the gas pressure from the arc generally kicks the bolt up and off of the bus. The bolt tends to rotate around its heaviest point, the head, and ips off of the bus in the direction the head is pointing. Note that the observed damage to the bolt in question and to the test bolts agrees with the postulated damage. Thus, while the immediate cause of the arcing failure was the loose bolt left in the switchboard, the root cause was inadequate maintenance procedures, which allowed a loose bolt to remain in the switchboard and an inspection that did not nd the loose bolt. Testing has shown that automatic arc-detection equipment, in low-voltage switchboards, can detect this type of arcing event quickly enough to limit the damage to the loose bolt and the need to clean the bus where it came into contact with the bolt. VII. C ASE 3 In 1994, a ship was responding to a ank-speed bell (maximum speed) by shifting some electrical loads. Suddenly, a loud bang was heard, and power was lost to a port electrical bus. It was determined that an arc-fault-detector (AFD) system

Fig. 10. Middle of the switchboard where the arc initiated. A drill shaving was found on a ledge behind the bus bar below the arrow. The arc rose up the vertical bus.

had removed power from the bus. Based upon the indicators of the AFD system, it was found that an arc had occurred briey within one section of a switchboard. While the damage was limited to surface smoke damage and the ends of two bolts, which could have been corrected at sea, the ship returned to port for analysis of the cause of the fault. Fig. 9 was taken looking in from the rear of the switchboard and shows the smoke damage to the top of the switchboard. A small amount of arc damage can be seen on the ends of the indicated two bolts. There was also a small amount of damage to the corners of the bus near the damaged bolts. The ow of current was up the bus bars on the left side of the photograph, across the bus bars at the top, and then forward into the supply side of two breakers. Damage was not immediately apparent elsewhere in the switchboard. A search of the switchboard revealed several aluminum drill shavings lodged approximately 1/3 of the way down the switchboard on a bus support at the point indicated in Fig. 10. This photograph was taken looking in from the front of the switchboard so that the vertical supply bus bars are on the right.



One of the shavings was shaped like a coil spring with the coil diameter of 0.5 in and a length of 1.5 in. These shavings were most likely produced by recent drilling into the aluminum switchboard structure just above this point. While no arcing marks were visible on the bus bars in this area, it seemed likely that a shaving lodged on the ledge could vibrate down and short out the bus. Gentle rubbing of ones ngers along the bus bar showed that small arc barbs existed on the right most side of the vertical bus. These barbs began at a point just below where a shaving was found and continued up and onto the horizontal bus bars in the previous gure. The most likely cause of the arc was a drill shaving similar to the ones found. While inspections should have caught the presence of these shavings, sometimes the pressure to return a switchboard to service reduces the time allocated for modications and inspections. There are many ledges and components within a switchboard where objects can hide from inspection, and yet, the object can vibrate lose at a later time and create an arc. VIII. C ONCLUSION Two of these arcing failures resulted in spectacular arcing failures. All three resulted in the loss of power to large portions of the ship, and if they had happened at a more inopportune time, it could have put the ship at risk. With each failure, many different possible causes were presented by the evidence and by other observers. Each possible cause had to be examined in light of the total evidence to coalesce upon the true cause. Lessons learned from many years of laboratory arc testing aided in drawing conclusions that were later veried by testing to be correct. Understanding how the motion of the arc is governed by magnetic and thermal forces and when each takes precedence will assist one in recognizing the end point of the arc. Once the end point is recognized, this understanding can be used to trace the arc back to its origin and help to identify the cause. In some cases, the initiation of the arc may destroy any evidence of the root cause. In some of these cases, it may be possible to identify the most likely cause by ruling out all other possible causes. Therefore, it behooves one to carefully document all evidence of the arcing event immediately after its occurrence, as it may not be clear at rst which pieces of the evidence will be the most important. Recognize that signicant people, who have little background in arcing events and did not see the event, will read the report and second guess any conclusion. Therefore, it is suggested that the report be written to reach its nal conclusion only after presenting and disproving a wide range of other possible causes. One can theorize that each of these events might have been prevented by better maintenance and inspection procedures. However, the complexity of the switchboards and the pressure to restore power make it likely that events such as these will continue to happen. The use of arc-resistant switchboards for new construction and the use of arc-fault detection systems on both old and new construction can signicantly reduce the risk to personnel when such events occur. The need for automatic arc-fault protection led to the American Bureau of Shipping requirement for arc-fault detection systems in the Naval Vessel Rules [9].

ACKNOWLEDGMENT The arc research at JHU/APL began in 1978 and many have contributed to a large team effort. The author would like to thank R. T. Cusick who initiated the program, J. George who was program manager during a portion of this paper, L. R. Gauthier who led portions of the laboratory testing, and H. E. Benden who was the lead test mechanic for the arcing tests. The author has been the Principal Investigator and Program Manager since 1991. R EFERENCES
[1] Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, NFPA, Quincy, MA. NFPA 921. [2] A. H. Magee and M. J. Hittel, Securing and preserving the scene of an electrical accident, in Proc. IEEE Ind. Commercial Power Syst. Tech. Conf., May 1516, 2001, pp. 2730. [3] R. J. Alonzo, Electrical incident investigation procedures, in Proc. IEEE Reg. 5, Annu. Tech. Conf., Apr. 11, 2003, pp. 5963. [4] L. B. McClung and J. M. Vallejo, The process of conducting and communicating forensic analysis of electrical failures, in Proc. IEEE Ind. Appl. Soc. 44th Annu. Petroleum Chem. Ind. Conf., Sep. 1517, 1997, pp. 191198. [5] H. B. Land, III, The behavior of arcing faults in low voltage switchgear, IEEE Trans. Ind. Appl., vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 437444, Mar./Apr. 2008. [6] B. R. Baliga and E. Pfender, Fire safety related testing of electric cable insulation materials, Univ. Minnesota Inst. Technol., Minneapolis, MN, Res. Rep., Sep. 1975. [7] J. M. Meek and J. D. Craggs, Electrical Breakdown of Gases. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1953. [8] [Online]. Available: [9] American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Guide for Building and Classing Naval Vessels, Jul. 15, 2005.

H. Bruce Land, III received the B.E.E. degree from The Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, Baltimore, MD, in 1984. He is currently a member of the Principal Professional Staff with the Milton Eisenhower Research Center, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), Laurel, MD. He is an Instrumentation Engineer with a broad background in sensor development, sensor deployment, program management, and eld-testing. He has managed many sensor programs including the Advanced Flight Vehicle Instrumentation, Landll Energy Recovery, Hit Flash Detection, Arc Fault Detection, and others. He has led instrumentation programs that recorded data from an exploding missile warhead. He has been conducting high-energy arcing tests related to the development of arc-protection equipment and arc-forensics techniques since 1979. He was a Program Manager for the Arc Fault Detection Program, which resulted in the arc-fault detection and continuous thermal monitoring systems currently protecting switchboards in all U.S. Navy submarines and nuclear aircraft carriers. He led over 1000 arcing tests at power levels from 100 kW to over 10 MW to understand arc physics and to design and verify arc-protective systems. Arc-protection systems are required by the 2004 Naval Vessel Rules of the National Shipbuilding Code for all new ships. These systems are credited with saving ten ships and with no false alarms after over 1000 system years of operation. He is recognized by the U.S. Navy as an expert in electrical-re forensics and has investigated numerous electrical res for them. He is the holder of one issued patent in arc fault protection and 12 patents are pending. He supervised instrumentation and controls for the JHU/APL Avery Advanced Technology Laboratory for ten years. He is currently investigating arc-plasma thrusters for use on satellites and steerable munitions. He has 24 technical publications in journals and symposiums of the ISA, IEEE, Journal of Chemical Education, Joint Army Navy NASA Air Force, International Test & Evaluation Association, etc. He is listed in Marquis Whos Who in Science and Engineering 9th Edition (20062007) and Whos Who in America 61st Edition (2007). Mr. Land is an ISA Fellow and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Aerospace Industries Division, ISA.