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What are benefits and disadvantages of MCCB or fuse for “in line” protection?

Martijn Imming Rune Olsen Dirk Meyer Harold Handcock

Eaton Electric B.V. Statoil ASA Eaton Industries GmbH Cooper Bussmann
Europalaan 202 TSA system Hein-Moeller-Strasse 7-11 Burton on the Wolds
7559 SC Hengelo Hammerfest 55311Bonn Leics
The Netherlands Norway Germany UK

Abstract – IS-22 I. INTRODUCTION

From the very earliest days of electrical transmission Thomas Alva Edison invented the fuse at Menlo Park
and distribution, there was an obvious need for Laboratories, his so-called invention factory, and, in 1881,
overcurrent and short-circuit protection. As electrical he was granted a British patent for his “lead wire safety
distribution has developed, a large number of protection guard overcurrent protector”. However, British physicist
devices have emerged, starting with the simple rewirable Sir Joseph Swan claimed to have invented the same
fuse. The objective of these devices has, however, basic technology in 1880. The two inventors eventually
remained the same – to disconnect overload or short- chose to combine their efforts and formed the Edison &
circuit currents before cable or equipment damage Swan Electric Light Company in 1883.
occurs. Many more sophisticated protection devices were
developed that offered improved protection against
overloads and earth faults. The necessary protection
characteristics were originally achieved using bimetal and
electromagnetic elements, but these are being replaced in
the latest devices by digital electronic protection elements.
Even today, there is room for further developments – the
concept of the optimum protection method is still
Low-voltage in-line protection devices are a particularly
important group and, at present, fuses and moulded case
circuit breakers (MCCBs) are the two most common types
of device in this group. Figure 1. Diagram of a fuse block taken from Edison’s patent
When MCCBs were introduced, some believed that no. 438,305.
they were the future of LV protection, but recognition of
the risk posed by arc flash energy and concerns about Edison’s fuse quickly proved its worth during a fair
selectivity and co-ordination ultimately made the choice of where electric lighting was demonstrated. Competitors
protection device much less clear. who were supplying gas lighting tried to short out the
This paper focuses on comparisons between the use of electrical supply to prove the vulnerability of electrical
MCCBs and fuses as protection devices. The scope of energy distribution. The fuse limited the effect of the
the paper is limited to their use as in-line protection for overcurrent, however, and only a small part of the lighting
low-voltage distribution and motor control systems installation was affected.
operating at up to 1,000 V. Although Edison used fuses in his commercial power
Some of the key topics examined are: distribution systems, in 1879 he also applied for a patent
• Safety of personnel and equipment for an early form of circuit breaker.
• Protection of cables and loads
• Factors that affect the selection of protection devices,
such as losses, selectivity, short-circuit energy
limiting, coordination, rated withstand capability,
remote signalling, remote control, cost, and reliability
• Recent development in fuses and MCCBs
• When MCCBs should be replaced rather than reset

The aim of this paper is to provide a clear explanation

of current technology so that an informed choice between
MCCBs and fuses can be made, taking into account all of
the factors that influence this choice, including the latest
switchgear and network technologies.
Specifically, the paper addresses two key questions:
• What are the latest developments in protection?
• What would be the best type of protection in a
petrochemical plant?

Index Terms: Figure 2: Circuit breaker. When the current is too high, a
Fuse, MCCB, protection, overload, short-circuit, electrical solenoid trips the breaker.
switchgear. In the early 1900s, Hugo Stolz was working on a
breaker-based protection device, and his design was
patented in 1924 (Deutsches Reichspatent 458329). The A short circuit is the situation that exists when
protection device invented by Stolz was the forerunner of conductors are physically in direct contact with each
the modern thermal-magnetic circuit breaker, which is other, allowing the maximum possible current to flow in
very widely used. By combining bimetal elements having the circuit. This situation results in very high currents and
a thermal response characteristic with an electromagnetic rapid heating, together with large forces generated by the
tripping element, Stolz produced a device capable of strong electromagnetic field that the current produces. In
interrupting circuits in a fraction of a second. addition, short circuits often cause a voltage drop on the
Even visionaries like Edison, Swan and Stolz could electrical distribution system. Short circuits must be
never have imagined the level of complexity that would be disconnected as fast as possible.
required of equipment used for the transmission and
distribution of electrical energy little more than a century B. Technical design
after they made their inventions, nor could they have Although fuses and MCCBs perform essentially the
anticipated the complex issues facing the electrical same functions, they differ fundamentally in their design.
industry as it moves into the 21 century. Despite all the Fuses are protection devices that contain a current
developments, however, both fuses and MCCBs still have interrupting element that is designed to melt as a result of
a role to play as in-line protection devices. the heat generated by an abnormally large current flow.
The melting of the element creates an open circuit that
II. TECHNICAL DESIGN prevents the continued flow of current into a circuit that
may be overloaded because of an excessive demand for
In order to make informed choices about protection power, a short circuit, a power surge or for other reasons.
devices, it is necessary to have some background
information. With that in mind, this section will look at
technical design and recent developments, as well as
safety of personnel and process, including the protection
of cables and loads.

A. Overcurrent and short circuit

Both fuses and MCCBs protect against overcurrent and
short circuits.
Overcurrent is the situation when the current flowing in
a circuit is higher than the nominal or rated current for that
circuit, leading to overheating of the load. The overheating Figure 4: Schematic diagram of a fuse.
promotes deterioration of the insulating materials in the
load, and will eventually damage the load. The protection The current interrupting element consists of a metal
device must ensure that this situation is avoided. The load strip or wire of small cross-section compared with the
is heated by the overcurrent until it reaches a critical conductors in the circuit. The element is mounted
temperature. The time the load takes to reach this between a pair of terminals (end caps) and is usually
temperature depends on its geometry: high thermal inertia enclosed by a non-combustible housing. The fuse is
will slow the heating process, as will the possibility of arranged to carry all of the current passing through the
dissipating heat through radiation. Overcurrent protection circuit it is protecting. Because of its resistance, the fuse
needs to be able to model this behaviour, taking into element generates heat as a result of the current flowing
account that overcurrent has its effect over a relatively through it. The size and construction of the element are
long period of time. arranged so that the heat produced by the normal flow of
current does not cause the element to melt. If a higher
current flows, however, the temperature of the element
increases and either the element itself melts or a solder
joint within the element melts, interrupting the flow of
The fuse element is made of zinc, copper, silver,
aluminium or an alloy, and is designed to provide stable
and predictable characteristics. An ideal fuse element
would carry its rated current indefinitely, but melt quickly
with a small overcurrent. The element must not be
damaged by minor harmless current surges, and should
not oxidize or change its characteristics, even after many
years of service.
Fuse elements may be specially shaped to increase the
heating effect of the current and, in large fuses, the
current may be divided between multiple fuse elements. A
dual-element fuse may contain a metal strip that melts
almost instantly when subjected to short-circuit currents,
as well as a low-melting-point solder joint that responds to
Figure 3: Motor thermal behaviour when subjected to low-value long-term overload currents. Fuse elements
overcurrent may be supported by steel or nichrome wires so that no
strain is placed on them, and a spring may be included to
increase the speed at which the element fragments
separate after melting.
The fuse element may be surrounded by air, or by days, the current breaking arrangement was simply two
material intended to speed up the quenching of the arc – moving contacts. Today’s current breaking arrangements
silica sand or non-conducting liquids are typically used. are much more complex, allowing very high levels of
Silica sand also cools the fuse element during the current to be interrupted by a physically small breaker.
passage of normal currents. A special feature of HRC Every manufacturer has its own patents for arrangements
(high rupturing capacity) fuses is the effect of the silica that will extinguish the arc produced by breaking the
sand on short circuits. When an HRC fuse is subject to a current as quickly as possible, by blowing air into the
short circuit, the fuse element disintegrates almost arcing chamber, by using a magnetic field, or by using
instantly, the current will forms an arc that disperses specially shaped arc chambers. In addition, the speed of
throughout the adjacent silica sand to form a high opening of the breaker main contacts has been increased
resistance material known as a fulgurate. Fulgurate is a by the adoption of smart mechanical designs.
glass like structure. The formation of the fulgurate rapidly In early circuit breakers, the protection component was
forces the current to zero, thereby limiting the fault current just a coil, but in current MCCBs it is far more
and energy let through. It is this feature that gives HRC sophisticated. Hydraulic magnetic trip devices, for
fuses their high breaking capacity and current limiting example, evolved from the simple trip solenoid and are
properties. [3] still used in some MCCBs. More and more, however,
An MCCB comprises a circuit breaker and a release MCCBs are using built-in electronic trip relays. With these,
that is actuated by the MCCB’s protection system. The current transformers monitor the current flowing in each
circuit breaker contacts are held closed by a latch and, phase. The current values are evaluated by a
under fault conditions, the protection system releases the microcomputer that controls the breaker tripping coil.
latch and the contacts open by spring action. The MCCBs using these electronic trip relays are popular
arrangement of the protection system varies from because they are less sensitive to external influences
manufacturer to manufacturer, but the most common such as ambient temperature and mounting orientation.
arrangement has two components: an over-current Furthermore, they offer a wider protection setting range.
protection component and a short-circuit protection For diagnostics, MCCBs with electronic trips can be fitted
component. In most MCCBs, the over-current component with indicators or displays. Some are even equipped with
is based on a bi-metal strip that is heated by the passage a communication interface that allows external devices to
of current through the breaker. As the thermal expansion access information from the on-board microcomputer.
coefficients of the two metals used in the bi-metal strip are Another important development in MCCBs is the
different, heating makes the strip deform. When the provision within the device of additional functions, such as
current reaches the trip value, the heat produced is earth-fault protection and remote operation.
sufficient to make the strip deform to the point where it
releases the latch. D. Protection curves
The short-circuit protection component typically uses a A fuse operates when its element melts as a result of I t
solenoid (electromagnet), the attractive power of which heating. The heat produced increases as the current
increases as the current passing through it increases. through the fuse increases, so the fuse element melts
When the current in the solenoid increases beyond the faster with high fault currents than with low fault currents.
trip setting of the circuit breaker, the pull generated by the The time/current relationship is referred to as the fuse
solenoid releases the latch. The short circuit component protection curve. Figure 5 shows a typical set of
can be reset immediately because, as soon as the protection curves for fuses rated from 10 A to 315 A. The
breaker trips, the current is interrupted and the solenoid’s horizontal axis represents the current, while the vertical
magnetic field collapses. The bi-metal overcurrent axis represents the time at which the fuse interrupts the
component must, however, be allowed to cool before it circuit.
can be reset.

C. Developments
Since the early days of wire fuses, there have been
many developments and improvements in fuse design
and construction. The fuses available today have,
however, changed little over the last ten years.
Nevertheless, developers are always working on ways of
improving fuses and they are, for example, currently
working on so-called self-resetting fuses. Instead of a
metal fuse element, these have an element made of
conductive polymer that increases in resistance and
impedes the flow of current under overcurrent conditions.
When the overcurrent is removed, the conductive polymer
cools and returns to its low resistance state – in effect, it
resets itself. Fuses of this type are already being used in
aerospace and nuclear applications where replacement is
difficult, and in computers so that a shorted keyboard or
mouse does not damage the motherboard.
MCCBs have also undergone major developments
since the early days when the current breaking
arrangement was operated by a simple release. These
developments have affected both the breaking Figure 5: Protection curves for fuses from 10 A to 315 A Figure
arrangement and the protection components. In the early
Circuit breaker protection curves are similar to fuse destruction of the breaker and associated equipment, and
protection curves. Figure 6 shows a typical thermal- the possibility of injury to personnel. In other words, when
magnetic MCCB protection curve with an overload region the fault level exceeds the circuit breaker interrupting
and an instantaneous trip region. Two instantaneous trip capacity, the breaker is no longer a protective device. The
settings are shown. interrupting capacities of circuit breakers depend on the
breaker type and voltage level. The interrupting capacity
marked on an MCCB is a three-pole rating, NOT a single-
pole rating.

E. Safety
As a minimum, fuses and MCCBs should comply with
the relevant international standards, which are IEC 60269
for fuses and IEC 60947-2 for MCCBs.
Fuses. The International Electrotechnical Commission
publishes the IEC 60269 standard for fuses. This
standard comprises four volumes that describe general
requirements, fuses for industrial and commercial
applications, fuses for residential applications, and fuses
to protect semiconductor devices. The IEC standard
unifies several national standards, thereby improving the
interchangeability of fuses in international trade.
Figure 6: Protection curve for a 400 A MCCB Irrespective of the technology they use, all fuses tested to
IEC standards will have similar protection curves, which
With MCCBs, the protection curve has four basic parts.
simplifies the design and maintenance of the systems in
These are:
which they are used.
• Overload MCCBs. The International Electrotechnical
• Instantaneous (short circuit) Commission publishes the IEC 60947-2 standard for
• Unlatching MCCBs. It is important to be aware that MCCBs that are
• Interrupting similar in appearance may have significantly different
electrical properties. These properties are identified by the
Overload region. As can be seen from Figure 6, the markings on the MCCB, which should include, as a
overload region has a wide tolerance band. The breaker minimum, the information listed in Table 1.
trips within this region when it is subjected to an overload
current. TABLE I
Instantaneous region. In this region, the MCCB opens Identification information shown on MCCBs
as quickly as possible. The short circuit protection trip Current rating
setting for MCCBs can usually be adjusted. The Voltage rating
instantaneous region of the protection curve in Figure 6 Protection curve / speed/ characteristic
shows short-circuit protection adjustable between 4x and Breaking capacity
10x the breaker full-load rating. The band between the Manufacturer’s /part number/series
first line and the dotted line represents the area in which it Approvals by national and international standards agencies
is uncertain whether the overload or the short-circuit
protection will trip the breaker. For convenience and ease of use, most fuses have
Unlatching time. The unlatching time is the time it their rating marked either on the body of the fuse or on
takes for the breaker to release its contacts after it senses the end caps. The fuse marking will usually include the
an overcurrent in the short-circuit region. However, the same information shown in Table I, either explicitly as
fault current continues to flow through the breaker and the text, or implicitly in the form of an approval agency
associated circuit until the contacts physically separate marking for a particular type of fuse.
and the arc is extinguished. The final interruption of the Because MCCBs are available in cheaper versions with
current in the instantaneous region of the breaker curve 25 kA interrupting capacity as well as in more expensive
occurs after unlatching but within the maximum versions with interrupting capacity of 80 kA or greater, it
interruption time. The time between unlatching and the can be tempting to use a cheap MCCB that is not able to
actual interruption of the current in the instantaneous handle the short circuit current levels present in an
region is relatively long and uncertain. Consequently, the application. To do so creates a high risk of damage to the
final overcurrent termination can vary over a wide time protective device, and of injury to personnel in the vicinity
range, as indicated by the wide time band between the of the device when a fault occurs.
unlatching curve and the maximum interrupting time Safety of the process that the MCCB should be
curve. This variation in the current interrupting time in the protecting is put at risk when an MCCB fails to clear the
instantaneous region is the reason that MCCBs are very fault because its contacts have welded. This problem will
difficult to coordinate. This is an inherent problem most likely be discovered in a fault situation where
because the current interruption is accomplished by interruption of the current is required, and will cause
mechanical means. damage to the connected loads.
Interrupting capacity. The interrupting capacity of a
breaker is a critical factor for both protection and safety. F. Safety of the device
The interrupting capacity is the maximum fault current the Under short-circuit conditions, both fuses and MCCBs
breaker has been tested to interrupt safely. Fault currents need to interrupt large amounts of energy. During the
in excess of the interrupting capacity can lead to design of these devices, great emphasis has to be given
to ensuring that this energy is handled in a way that TABLE III
eliminates the risk of the device exploding. To achieve Loss in fuses and MCCB’s
this, MCCBs (and some fuses) have arc vents that allow Comparison Ampere 3-Phase Watts
the arc to exit the device. When mounting MCCBs, the Range Losses
amount of free space needed around these vents must be Molded Case Breaker 20–600 A Fuse dissipated, on
versus RK-5 fuses average, 121% higher
taken into account, as failing to provide a free exit path for losses than MCCB of
the arc can mean that large forces are generated during same size and rating
the interruption of short circuits. Molded Case Breaker 20–600 A Fuse dissipated, on
versus Class J fuses average, 91% higher
G. Atmospheric environment losses than MCCB of
same size and rating
Abnormal environmental conditions can affect the Molded Case Breaker 800– Fuse dissipated, on
performance of protective devices. Quality, operation, versus Class L fuses 2500 A average, 226% higher
expected lifetime, insulation and many other factors may losses than MCCB of
be adversely influenced. These effects are most likely to same size and rating
occur when the service conditions differ substantially from Fixed Mounted Air Circuit 800– Fuse dissipated, on
Breaker versus Class L 5000 A average, 434% higher
those given in the device specification. Protection devices fuses losses than MCCB of
are sensitive to ambient temperature, altitude, vibration, same size and rating
dust, and corrosive atmospheres. In general, devices with Draw-out Air Circuit 800– Fuse dissipated, on
moving parts are more sensitive to environmental Breaker versus Class L 5000 A average, 148% higher
influences, which means that fuses are affected less. fuses losses than MCCB of
same size and rating
[4] Evaluating efficiency and losses of various circuit protection devices.
For motor control applications, motor starter
When comparing fuses and MCCBs, there are a combinations that combine motor switching with
number of characteristics that have to be considered. protection can be designed around either fuses or
These include losses, selectivity, short-circuit energy MCCBs. Motor starter combinations, which are
limiting, coordination, rated withstand capability, remote sometimes withdrawable, are often housed in small
signalling, remote control, reliability and cost. compartments. Losses must, therefore, be considered
carefully as they can have a direct influence on the
A. Losses compartment size. In evaluating fused and non-fused
When using fuses or MCCBs, one of the characteristics starters, we have found that for direct-on-line starters up
to consider is losses; the devices produce heat, and this to 15 kW at 400 V 50 Hz, with type 2 coordination and
heat needs to be dealt with. In the early days of fuses, rated at 100 kA, the losses of fused motor starter
little attention was given to their losses, but the negative combinations are less than those for MCCB motor starter
effect of losses on fuse performance and expected life combinations, as shown in Figure 7.
made fuse developers take a closer look at ways of
minimising losses. Some local regulations already specify
the maximum allowable losses, but fuses from most
manufacturers have losses well below these levels, as
shown in Table II.

Loss in fuses
Fuse Rating IEC 269 allowable losses Typical losses
100A 7,5 7,5
160A 16 13
250A 23 18
400A 34 25
630A 48 42
Figure 7: Losses in motor starter combinations operating at
To make a fair comparison between the losses of a 400 V 50 Hz, coordination type 2, rated 100 kA
fuse and those of an MCCB, the losses of a fuse switch
combination need to be considered rather than just the Larger fuses, however, have a higher resistance than
losses of the fuse itself. For larger currents, the losses of an MCCB with the same rating, which means that the
a fuse switch combination are higher than those of an losses and voltage drop are higher in these fuses than in
MCCB with the same current rating. An intensive test a similarly rated MCCB.
programme comparing fuses with MCCBs has revealed
significant differences, as shown in Table III below. B. Selectivity
An important feature of protection devices is selectivity.
There are many cases where a circuit will be protected by
more than one device – typically, an upstream protection
device will feed several smaller downstream protection
devices, each of which feeds an individual load or group
of loads. In these cases, the system usually needs to be
designed so that the downstream protection disconnects
faults before the upstream breaker trips. This is selectivity.
There are differences between fuses and MCCBs in
relation to selectivity.
Fuse selectivity MCCB and a 90 A MCCB. It can be seen that, if these
breakers are connected in series, any fault above 2,000 A
on the load side of the 90 A breaker will trip both
breakers. The 90 A breaker will generally trip before the
400 A breaker but, before the contacts of the 90 A
breaker can separate and clear the fault, the 400 A
breaker will also trip. This is, therefore, a non-selective
system, where a fault of the type described will disconnect
the supply to all loads protected by the 400 A breaker.
Typically circuit breaker manufacturers do not publish
the unlatching times or unlatching curves for their
products. But they do publish selectivity tables, that show
what MCCB combinations are selective. These selectivity
tables also indicate the limits of the selectivity. A very
practical solution to deal with selectivity issues is the
possibility to provide a MCCB with a time delayed short
circuit current protection device. This provides a major
Figure 8: Curves for 100 A and 400 A fuses advantage to accomplish selectivity.
Figure 8 shows the protection curves for two fuses as C. Short-circuit energy limiting
single-line diagrams. The horizontal axis of the graph One of the great advantages of a current limiting
represents current in amperes and the vertical axis overcurrent protection device is that it will literally limit the
represents time in seconds, minutes and hours. The peak magnitude of the fault current that flows through it by
graphs shows, for example, that if a fault current of 1,000 opening within the first half-cycle after fault initiation,
A flows in a circuit protected by both fuses, the 100 A fuse before the fault current has had time to reach its peak
will interrupt the current at t = 0.2 s, whereas the 400 A value. This provides a degree of protection for
fuse would not be affected until t = 1.4 minutes, long after downstream equipment that might otherwise be damaged
the current has been interrupted by the smaller fuse. by the thermal or magnetic effects produced by the full
Selective operation is, therefore, assured at this current fault current. Low-voltage fuses have greater or lesser
level. current limiting properties depending on the type. Highly
The two fuse curves in the figure can be compared at current limiting fuses for special applications, such as
various current levels, and this reveals that these two semiconductor fuses designed to protect electronic
fuses are selective for all of the current levels shown in equipment, are also available. Breakers are also current
the diagram. In other words, when an overcurrent occurs, limiting, but often to a lesser degree than fuses.
the 100 A fuse will always operate before the 400 A fuse Current limiting fuses can provide excellent protection
is affected. To ensure that a protection system is fully and reduce the downstream fault energy to minimal
selective, it is necessary to look at its performance over levels, provided that they are used within their current
the full range of possible overload and fault currents. limiting range. At lower current levels, arc-flash levels may
In addition, the pre-arcing current also needs to be increase. Thermal-magnetic MCCBs can also give
considered. If the load current exceeds this value, the excellent protection provided that they trip
fuse element will become deformed. Over time, this shifts instantaneously, but arc-flash levels can escalate for low-
the protection curve in such a way that the fuse operates level faults that require the overload element to operate to
at a lower current level. Current levels within the pre- clear the arc. For high levels of fault, fuses tend to allow a
arcing range may result from the inrush when motors or lower level of incident energy than similarly sized circuit
other devices are switched on, and should be avoided by breakers.
sizing fuses appropriately. See, for example, Figure 10, which shows incident
energy levels plotted against fault current for a 400 A
MCCB Selectivity MCCB circuit and a 400 A fuse circuit. The MCCB is
assumed to trip instantaneously.

Figure 9: Curves for 90 A and 400 A MCCBs Figure 10: Incident energy for 400 A fuse and 400 A MCCB

Figure 9 shows the protection curves for a 400 A

Current limiting behaviour depends strongly on the breakers are used. Fuses can, however, be equipped with
current rating of the protective device. Above about 400 a striker pin that extends automatically when the fuse
A, MCCBs are at less of a disadvantage and, with special operates. The striker pin actuates a switch to provide
current-limiting types, the let through energy can be even remote indication that the fuse has operated.
lower than with a fuse of the same rating, as shown in
Figure 11 below. H. Cost
The initial cost of a set of fuses, fuseholders and a
switch is lower than that of an MCCB with the same
rating. The MCCB, however, offers a lot more
functionality, such as remote signalling possibilities and
earth fault protection, in return for its higher price.
Looking at operational costs, it’s clear that, with fuses,
the cost of a certain number of replacements should be
taken into account. In addition, losses in the protection
devices need to be considered, as over time they can
have a significant impact on operational costs.

I. Reliability
The reliability of a protection device has two facets.
First, the device should not trip if the current is below the
Figure 11: Let through energy for rating of fuses and MCCBs tripping curve. This so-called nuisance tripping
undermines the design of the protection system and
D. Coordination causes unnecessary outages. Second, the device must
The short-circuit energy limiting effect of a protection operate correctly, even after many years of inactivity, if an
device can be used to aid protection coordination. overcurrent occurs.
Downstream of a short-circuit energy limiting protection Fuses are sensitive to high ambient temperatures,
device the maximum short-circuit level is reduced to the which may be caused by their own losses. High
I t let through of the device. This means that the temperatures over time will distort the fuse characteristic
downstream protection devices only need to be capable so that the fuse operates faster. This will not harm the
of withstanding this reduced energy level, which can load, but it will cause unwanted disconnection. This issue
result in significant cost savings. In general, fuses rated can be resolved by replacing the fuses from time to time,
less than 400 A have lower I t let through and provide even if they are apparently in good order. A similar effect
better coordination. occurs when the current passing through the fuse is often
within the pre-arcing range. The resulting deformation of
E. Withstand the fuse element will make it prone to faster melting.
A key protection device characteristic is its rated MCCBs do not tend to shift their characteristics in the
withstand capability (kA rating). This is the maximum direction of faster tripping. Instead, they tend to trip more
current that the device is capable of switching without slowly as they age, as their mechanism is sensitive to
exploding and causing danger to nearby equipment and increased friction caused, for example, by hardened
people. Fuses are typically capable of withstanding short- grease. This effect can be reduced by using an MCCB
circuit currents of 150 kA or 200 kA. MCCBs, however, that has been designed to compensate for ageing. For
tend to get bigger and more expensive as their withstand example by using grease on the moving parts, that will not
capability increases. For this reason, MCCBs are offered harden, within the expected lifetime of the MCCB.
with a wide range of withstand ratings, including 25, 35,
50, 85, 100, 120 and 150 kA. The device selected for a IV. MANTENANCE
particular application must always be capable of handling
the maximum prospective short-circuit current of that If the reliability and maintenance requirements of the
application. overcurrent protection devices themselves are considered
in isolation, fuses have a clear advantage over circuit
F. Three pole protection breakers. In reality, however, both fuse and circuit breaker
Overload and short circuit protection are required in based systems require some degree of maintenance,
both single- and three-phase applications. For the giving neither type of system a clear advantage in this
distribution of power to single-phase loads, it is preferable area.
to provide separate protection for each phase, so that if a When should MCCBs be replaced rather than reset?
fault occurs on one phase, the loads on the other phases Interrupting too many short circuits causes erosion of the
are not affected. With three-phase loads like motors, contacts in an MCCB. This results in increased contact
three-phase protection is needed to guard against resistance, potentially leading to overheating and
situations where only one of the three phases is nuisance tripping. According to the IEC norm the MCCBs
disconnected. This can be achieved by ganging three are tested on defined short circuit behaviour according
MCCBs on a common shaft, so that if one trips, the other definitions; Icu and Ics:
two are forced to open. Icu = O – t – CO operation = 2 short circuit openings
Ics = O – t – CO – t – CO = 3 short circuit openings
G. Remote signalling and control Other life time values on short circuit conditions are not
When there is a requirement for monitoring the status of really specified and hence not tested. In real life the short
the protection equipment at a remote location, MCCBs circuits current will be below the rated current and the
offer better and more sophisticated solutions. In addition, contact erosion will be less significant.
it is only possible to reset protection remotely when To evaluate the extent of contact erosion, the millivolt
drop should be measured across the contacts or the V. FUSE VERSUS BREAKERS
MCCB terminals. If the measured value exceeds the limit
recommended by the manufacturer, the MCCB should be Both fuses and MCCBs are suitable for in-line
replaced. In general, the remaining life of an MCCB is protection, and both offer good performance. So what are
determined by contact erosion, which depends on two the benefits and disadvantages of each?
parameters: the rated short-circuit current of the MCCB,
and the allowable number of interruptions at the rated A. Benefits of fuses
short-circuit current. When the allowable number of The biggest benefit of a fuse is its behaviour during
interruptions at any given percentage of the rated short- short-circuit interruption. This relates to the I t
circuit current is known, the remaining life of the MCCB characteristic of the fuse element, which means that the
can be determined. fuse disconnects faster at higher currents. This provides
benefits in short-circuit limiting, and it makes possible
A. Predictive maintenance coordination and selectivity of multiple fuses connected in
Circuit breakers, being mechanical devices, require series.
periodic maintenance to ensure that they operate within
expected tolerances when they are called upon to clear a B. Disadvantages of fuses
fault or overload. Without proper maintenance, a circuit The biggest disadvantage of a fuse is that it must be
breaker may still be able to operate as intended, but it replaced when it has operated. Some skill is required to
may operate more slowly than is intended, or it may not replace a fuse: it requires someone to select the right type
operate at all. of replacement and, in three phase systems, to remember
Following proper maintenance and testing practices to replace all three fuses. The fuses must also be fitted
and using modern MCCBs, which are rated for 12,500 correctly. Another disadvantage is that fuses are not
mechanical or 2,800 electrical operations before adjustable. If the load changes even slightly, a fuse with a
maintenance is needed, will help to ensure that their different rating will probably be needed. In addition, if all
breakers operate correctly when called upon, and that three fuses are not replaced after a fault on a three-phase
potentially defective breakers are found and either system, the two fuses that are not replaced may have
repaired or replaced before they create larger problems. been weakened by the fault current.
A MCCB is a moulded case circuit breaker, moulded
means; it is not practical to conduct maintenance on parts C. Benefits of MCCBs
inside. Therefor there is not much predictive maintenance The biggest benefit of an MCCB is ease of operation;
possible. Some plants even have the philosophy; “not to resetting an MCCB is simple, and no spare parts are
open MCCB’s as it will do more harm than good”. needed. An additional benefit is that an MCCB can
Hardening of grease cannot be measured but it can be combine several functions in a single device: switching,
effecting it’s interrupting capabilities (slower opening of protection, earth-fault protection, indication, remote
short currents). For this reason some plants have the operation and communication. In addition, MCCBs offer
philosophy to replace all MCCB’s after 20-25 years of easily adjustable settings.
D. Disadvantages MCCBs
B. Replacing fuses The biggest disadvantage of an MCCB is its slow and
Fuses need to be replaced after they have operated, relatively unpredictable behaviour during short-circuit
and it is recommended that all three fuses in a three- interruption. This makes the design of selective protection
phase circuit are replaced even if only one fuse has systems difficult. Furthermore, it allows a high level of let
operated. One might even argue that all fuses in series through energy to reach the downstream equipment,
that feed in to a short circuit need to be replaced after a making coordination less effective. An MCCB also needs
down stream fuse has interrupted a short circuit current. to be replaced after breaking short-circuit current two or
Furthermore, many manufacturers recommend that fuses three times (according the norm), as contact erosion may
should be routinely replaced after a certain time in exceed the maximum permissible.
service. The real lifecycle of fuses depends strongly on If a philosophy is followed to replace MCCB’s after 20-
their loads. For example; for not frequently starting 25 years of use, this needs to be taken in to account
motors, the fuses will last much longer compared to fuses when determining the total cost of owner ship.
that carry the staring current frequently.
MCCBs are more convenient, particular in situations E. Best of both worlds
where the maintenance department lacks the skills and Examining the benefits and disadvantages of fuses and
knowledge needed to correctly fit the right type of MCCBs reveals that there are clear tradeoffs between:
replacement fuse. MCCBs create the impression that they
do not need to be replaced, but there are situations where Ease of operation Good system design
a replacement MCCB should be fitted. For example, if an Separate functions Combined functions
MCCB has interrupted full short-circuit current several
times and the contacts have suffered as a result. The ideal protection device would combine the benefits
Generally, MCCBs are capable of interrupting full short of fuses with those of MCCBs, and would have the
circuit current two or three times before the contacts are disadvantages of neither. Some idea of what this ideal
worn out. According to the norm, they are not required to device would offer is shown in Table IV.
be capable of more, but the real question is who is
keeping count?
The Ideal Solution VII. NOMENCLATURE
Easy reset No special skills needed and
no spare parts required Every effort has been made to use consistent
Easy setting Large current range, curves terminology in this paper, but it is possible that some
settable on the device. terms may be different from those used elsewhere. To
Low losses To save energy and allow for avoid confusion, therefore, this glossary provides brief
compact builds
High short-circuit withstand In line with prospective short-
definitions of the principal terms used in this paper.
circuit current TABLE V
Good selectivity Simple, precise, repeatable Glossary of terms used
tripping curve Term Meaning
Coordination To reduce energy let through Medium voltage (MV) 1 kV ac up to 52 kV ac (not
Cost Low Low voltage (LV) covered in this paper)
Reliability Protection unaffected by Up to 1 kV ac
ageing, not tripping faster or End caps Electrical terminals of a fuse
later than when new. Switchgear Electrical equipment that directs
Combination Allows combinations of electricity from one location to
functions. another
MCCB Moulded case circuit breaker,
In currently available equipment some of these “best of rating up to 2,500 A, short circuit
both worlds” features can be accomplished by a capability 10 kA to 200 kA
combined use of MCCB’s and fuses; Upstream an MCCB, MCB Miniature circuit breaker, rating
up to 100 A, short-circuit
downstream fuses.
capability less than 18 kA (not
covered in this paper)
Selectivity Discrimination between the
VI. CONCLUSION characteristics of protection
devices that are connected in
This paper has described and compared fuses and series
MCCBs in low-voltage motor control and power Coordination Using the fault-limiting properties
distribution applications, focussing on the circumstances of upstream protection devices to
reduce the fault-breaking
that influence the choice between these two types of
capacity needed for downstream
protection device and taking into account the newest protection devices
technologies. Fuse Fusible link
The high breaking capacity and current limiting Manufacturers Manufacturers of fuses and/or
properties of fuses cannot be overemphasised. These MCCBs
features help to reduce the let through energy, and they Overcurrent Overload, time delayed or
make it possible to design a selective electrical supply thermal protection
system where only the smallest possible section is Short circuit Short-time or magnetic
affected when a fault occurs. Fuses also provide benefits Curve The time/current characteristic
after a short circuit has occurred, as fitting a new fuse that shows how a protection
means starting over with a clean sheet. device operates at various
The ease of resetting of MCCBs, however, makes them current levels
the operators’ favourites. It also reduces the risk of
operator related problems, as resetting an MCCB is far
easier than replacing a fuse with the correct new fuse. It
must be noted, however, that MCCBs also need to be VIII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
replaced eventually. MCCBs offer the possibility of
combining multiple functions – including signalling, The author would like to thank everyone who
switching, remote control and communication – in one contributed to this paper, specially:
device. Keith Wilson from Technical Publicity to make the paper
What is the best choice in petrochemical plants? The readable and all co-writers for their technical input.
designers will undoubtedly see the benefits of fuses, but Andre Muileboom, for his peer review and examples of
the operators will see the ease of use of MCCBs! followed plant philosophy.


[1] PCIC 1997; PP 313-322 ”Stage tests increase

awareness of Arc-Fault hazards in electrical
equipment”; by Cooper Bussmann.
[2] Square D Data Bulletin 0600DB0601; A comparison
of circuit breakers and fuses for low Voltage
[3] Performance of HRC Fuse and MCCB in Low
Voltage Distribution Network; By Akshay Thapliyal,
George Eduful and Joseph Ekowcole
[4] Evaluating efficiency and losses of various circuit
protection devices by Eaton, available on
Harold Handcock
Author: Harold Handcock graduated in 1974 from Exeter
University, UK with a BSc Honours degree in
Martijn Imming Mathematics and Physics and in 1975 with an MSc in
Martijn Imming graduated in 1987 from the HTS Applied Mathematics. After initially working as a Research
Arnhem, the Netherlands, with a bachelor’s degree (ing) Assistant at Exeter University, in 1977 he joined Brush
in Electrical Engineering, specialising in electrical energy. Power Equipment (Bridgend, UK) as a fuse design
From 1988 he worked for Holec as an application engineer. In 1980 he relocated to Brush Fusegear (Burton
engineer. Then, in 1992 he became an LV Application on the Wolds, UK) where he held a number of design
Engineer at Holec Holland (Hengelo), a manufacturer of roles mainly focused on HV fuses. From 1993, following
switchgear for utilities, industries and buildings. In 1999 acquisition by Cooper Bussmann, he held the position of
he was appointed head of the maintenance department at Senior Project Engineer responsible for HV fuses and
Twentsche Kabelfabriek BV (Lochem), a factory overhead line equipment. In 2011 he became head of the
producing power and communication cables with copper R & D department for fuses and associated products. He
and glass transponders. In 2002 he became head of the is the UK representative on the IEC HV fuse standards
department for electric design, information technology and committee and holds a number of patents for fuse
maintenance at Witteveen+Bos Consulting. Since 2007, innovation.
Martijn has been an application consultant for LV Systems Cooper Industries
with Eaton Electric at the company’s Hengelo site, where
IEC MV and LV switchgear, with and without fuses, is
Eaton Industries (Netherlands) B.V.


Rune Olsen

Rune Olsen has, for most of his working life, been

involved with general electrical engineering,
commissioning and operation of on-shore and offshore
plant in Norway’s petrochemical sector. For the last eight
years he has worked for Statoil on the development and
operation of the Hammerfest LNG plant at Melkøya.
Currently he has technical systems responsibility for all
electrical systems on Melkøya, except the essential
backup systems. Rune developed the principles for
selecting fuse size and type for the fused feeders on
Melkøya and, after five years of operation, no fuses have
had to be replaced because of incorrect sizing. At this
moment he has system Responsible for all main Electrical
Systems in Statoil ASA, Hammerfest LNG. Graduated as
MSc in Electrical Engineering in 1980 from Norwegian
Institute of Technology. Has worked as Consultant in
Electrical Engineering in Statoil and other heavy power
industrial projects in Norway. Working with Statoil since
Statoil ASA TSA system 80-82 OMT SNO EL


Dirk Meyer
Dirk Meyer graduated in 1999 from the Technical
University Chemnitz, Germany, with a diploma degree
(Dipl.-Ing.) in Electrical Engineering, specialization
Electrical Energy. From 1999 he worked for Moeller
(Bonn, Germany) as a product support engineer for LV
switch- and control gear. He has accompanied the tests of
a new circuit breaker line for selectivity and motor starter
coordination. Since 2011 he is working for Eaton
Industries GmbH (Bonn) as manager for industrial control
device applications.
Eaton Industries GmbH