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Most failures of composite insulators originate from within the various interfaces.

These

interfaces could either be between different components (e.g. housing and hardware)

which are macroscopic in nature and often visible to the unaided eye, or microscopic,

i.e. within a particular component, such as internal to the rod or housing. Given the

critical role played by interfaces in the long-term performance of composite insulators,

it makes sense to study this subject in greater detail. At the same time, both users and

manufacturers must know how effective existing standards are in screening out

insulators which are likely to fail in service due to problems with design or

manufacturing of their interfaces. This past INMR article from 2004, by Prof. Ravi S.

Gorur, reviewed this topic.

The basic construction of composite insulators for lines and apparatus essentially

involves three main components: a fiberglass core, a polymeric housing and metallic

hardware. Perhaps this is an oversimplified description since it masks the numerous

variations which exist in formulation as well as in processing and production techniques

among the many different suppliers. Service experience has shown clearly that the

various interfaces between the components of such insulators are the principal locations

where problems tend to originate. This has already been recognized and there are steps

outlined in the standards (such as IEC 61109) to ensure certain minimum requirements

are satisfied. Incidentally, this particular Standard has de facto become the universal

one being used today by insulator users who specify it as the basic requirement in their

specifications for composite insulators.

As part of IEC 61109, some tests are to be performed on complete insulator assemblies

while others are performed only on the various individual components. For example,

there is a water immersion test conducted on the complete insulator and which is

followed by a steep front impulse test as well as power frequency test. If there is a

significant defect in the rod to housing interface, the insulator can be expected to fail
internally in the steep front impulse test. Also, if there are major problems within the

rod itself, the insulator could fail internally. Power frequency tests are performed to

determine if there is any dramatic reduction in flashover voltage or if there are any

punctures. Basically, this test evaluates the numerous microscopic interfaces in the

housing and rod materials. It is quite likely that a diagnostic test such as power factor

or tan delta would provide additional useful information. At the component level, there

are tests for water absorption of the core material to ensure that there is no excessive

intake of water through its constituents and the numerous interfaces within.

Figure 1: Illustration of variation in the details of hardware/housing/rod attachment of

two composite insulators presently used for the same application. Significant

differences in end-fitting thickness, shape of the hardware-housing-rod interface and

housing thickness over the rod are clearly visible. The insulator on the right is a far

more robust design than the one on the left.

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All these are type tests and design tests. They are performed on a limited number of

samples and they need to be repeated only should there be a major change in

materials, design or manufacturing process. The criteria for acceptance or rejection are

clearly stated in the Standard, whose intent, incidentally, is not to provide a ranking

based on the data measured from the various tests. Fig. 1 shows details of the

hardware-rod-housing interface for two different composite insulators intended for the

same application. This region is probably the most critical part of a composite insulator
and the photo clearly illustrates the potentially large differences in how some suppliers

design their products.

Both insulator types shown are presently being used by utilities, which means that they

have both passed the relevant IEC 61109 tests. At the same time, however, it is clear

that one has a more robust construction than the other, thereby providing a greater

margin of safety (and comfort) for the user. Therefore, a more discriminating test than

presently provided by 61109 would be useful so as to enable ranking important

interfacial properties and assisting the process of insulator selection.

A past research project at Arizona State University evaluated the interfaces in the rod

and housing materials used in composite insulators. Rods with variation in the type of

glass (E glass versus ECR glass) and resin (epoxy, polyester and vinyl ester) were

evaluated. Also included were silicone housings with variations in formulation (typically

in the type and amount of inorganic filler as well as in the curing chemistry). One of the

goals of this project was to establish a ranking of the various interfaces in these

insulators.
Experiments Performed & Results

Samples of the fiberglass core were subjected to the dye penetration test as well as the

water diffusion test as per IEC 61109. All samples passed the dye penetration test. In

the case of the water diffusion test, the samples were individually sealed in glass tubes

and placed into an oven. Fig. 2 shows the results from which it can be seen that there

was a noticeable variation in the amount of moisture absorbed.


Figure 2: Moisture absorption tests on fiberglass samples as per IEC 61109. Samples 1-

6 have higher moisture absorption than do samples 7-9.

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Figure 3: Typical scanning electron microscope (SEM) photos of rod with (a) low

moisture intake and (b) high moisture intake. Both photos are taken with identical

magnification and sample preparation.

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One group (samples 1 to 6) all had higher moisture absorption than did the other group

(samples 7 to 9). The weight gain from this effect was highest immediately after

completion of the test and then gradually reduced with time.

A voltage test was also performed in the manner described in IEC 61109. The current

for all samples was less than 1 mA and therefore well within the specified limit. Fig. 3

shows scanning electron microscope photos of one sample taken from each of the two

main groups exhibiting different levels of water absorption. The samples had been cut

and polished in an identical manner. These photos revealed clear differences in

interface quality. The micrograph depicting the rod with lower moisture absorption was

characterized by relatively smooth interfaces between the glass fibers and the resin.

The rod with higher moisture absorption, by contrast, displayed obvious shortcomings

in quality, such as rough fibers, cracks in the resin and voids in the fiber-resin interface.

Figure 4: Moisture absorption test results on silicone rubber samples of different

formulations. Except for sample A, the rest of the samples all have low moisture
absorption.

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Samples of the silicone rubber housing material were then subjected to the water

immersion test (boiling in 0.1 per cent NaCl solution for 42 hours) as prescribed in

Section 5.1.3.3 of the Standard. Fig. 4 provides the results. While most materials

displayed little moisture intake, there was one sample which showed a significant

deviation from the rest. Nonetheless, all these materials would still be equally

acceptable for housings.

The tests described above are fairly simple to perform and show significant differences

in material properties which were not identified by the applicable Standard at the time.

For applications on critical transmission lines, attention to such details in design and

materials used in manufacturing composite insulators could make a significant

difference in service experience.

Development of cost-effective diagnostic tools which can identify problematic interfaces

in insulators both during production and later after being placed in service would

probably contribute greatly to even wider application of composite insulators. While

achieving this soon is perhaps still only a possibility, researchers must start by

examining methods which can at least provide useful information in the laboratory.

Candidates for consideration in this regard are methods employing ultrasonic devices,

acoustics, vibration analysis, X-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and possibly

others.