Switchboards are the behind-the-scenes heroes that keep electricity flowing safely within buildings and facilities. While we don’t give them much thought, these large electrical panels are vital in power distribution. But what exactly is a switchboard?
In simple terms, it’s a centralised hub that routes and regulates electricity from the main supply out to individual circuits across a site. The switchboard houses critical components like circuit breakers, switches, bus bars, and more to both direct and protect power distribution.
Understanding the basics of what a switchboard contains and how qualified electricians install and maintain them is crucial for ensuring these systems operate reliably. In this article, we’ll explain what switchboards are, how they’re configured, the key parts inside, and their importance for managing electricity in your facility. Let’s shed some light on the inner workings of electrical switchboards!
What is a Switchboard Exactly?
A switchboard is the hub that directs and controls power distribution in a building or facility. Housed in a large metal enclosure, the switchboard is a centralised panel that receives electricity from the electrical utility or generators and then distributes it safely using protective devices like fuses and circuit breakers.
Inside the switchboard, large conductors called bus bars serve as the main power distribution rails, directing electricity to the various branch circuits supplying the facility. The switchboard also contains switches and meters to control and monitor electrical loads.
Additional components that may be integrated include voltage regulators, surge suppressors, and power factor correction capacitors. The main purposes of the switchboard are distributing electricity, providing overcurrent protection, allowing safe isolation of circuits, and giving the means to monitor and control power.
Switchboards vary according to building size. In smaller facilities, a service entrance switchboard may be installed. This means that power is directly fed from an electrical provider. Large buildings require a more complicated system, to say the least.
A switchboard in commercial buildings may receive indirect power from an upstream circuit breaker. Proper installation and maintenance by qualified electricians keep these complex switchboards running smoothly.
Key Components of a Switchboard
The main components found inside an electrical switchboard include:
These thick strips of copper or aluminium act as the main power distribution rails. The incoming supply and branch circuit breakers all connect to the bus bars to receive electricity.
Circuit breakers provide overcurrent protection and allow power to be disconnected from individual branch circuits for safety. They trip open automatically when electrical faults are detected.
Fuses operate similarly to circuit breakers, opening the circuit when overloads or faults occur. They are older protection devices but are still found in some switchboards.
These manually operated switches allow operators to isolate electrical equipment for maintenance or de-energise circuits in an emergency. Switches vary based on amperage ratings.
Digital or analog meters display vital data like voltage, amperage, and power consumption for monitoring the electrical system.
The ground bus bar connects all component grounding wires as a central grounding point.
Locations where incoming utility or generator power enters and exits the switchboard.
Contains low voltage control wiring for any automated systems.
Components like arc flash barriers and insulated gloves or mats protect workers from live current exposure.
An Integrated Facility System (IFS) is an excellent option for your switchboard because you can integrate other components with your system to expand your setup.
How Power Enters and Leaves a Switchboard
The electricity supply enters the switchboard through a main protective device like a main circuit breaker or set of fuses, typically rated for the full amperage capacity of the electrical service. These main electrical disconnects allow the entire switchboard to be safely isolated for maintenance when needed.
Power enters the switchboard bus bars, where it becomes available for distribution to individual branch circuits supplying equipment throughout the facility. Each branch circuit will have its own protective circuit breaker or fuses mounted in the switchboard that protect just that particular circuit.
These branch circuit breakers or fuses tap power off the main bus bars and deliver it through outgoing cables to feed things like lighting panels, appliances, machinery and receptacles across the building. When electrical loads turn off or trip their protective devices, the branch circuit becomes de-energised, but the main bus bars remain with power.
Additional switchboard components like meters, switches, and capacitors are wired to the live bus bars to perform their roles. Fusible panelboards and switchboards are used to protect and switch feeder and branch circuits – and each panelboard unit comes with a switching contact structure with an instant switch element for safety and accurate energy current direction.
These switchboards are explicitly designed for commercial and industrial sites – and are useful for service entrance switchboards. Proper installation by a licensed electrician ensures safe entry and exit of electricity in the switchboard.
Circuit Breakers Protect the System
Circuit breakers are vital protective devices within a switchboard that constantly monitor the amount of current flowing and will automatically trip open if electrical faults are detected. They are usually connected to the main incoming power supply and each branch circuit distributing electricity throughout the facility.
The power breakers adjust trip settings based on the amperage ratings of the wires and equipment they protect. If the current flowing through a circuit breaker exceeds the safe limit due to an overload or short circuit, the mechanism inside the breaker will rapidly open or “trip” the electrical contacts.
This cuts power to that circuit and prevents damage or fire. Circuit breakers also act as local on or off switches for their circuits when manually tripped. Newer “smart” computerised circuit breakers can communicate detailed diagnostic data.
Proper circuit breaker selection, coordination, and maintenance ensure optimum protection and selective tripping when faults occur in complex switchboards. The fast-acting circuit breakers provide a reliable means of isolating faulted circuits to keep the rest of the system up and running.
Measuring and Monitoring Electricity Flow
Electrical switchboards contain various tools to measure and monitor the basic circuit distribution system. You could even add equipment such as datacom equipment, distribution transformers and uninterruptable power supplies to take your switchboard to the next level and have all your facilities in one place. Digital ammeters display current flow in amps for incoming and outgoing circuits, helping identify overloads.
Voltmeters show if the voltage is within normal range or fluctuating. Power meters calculate kilowatt usage to track energy consumption. Indicator lights convey status conditions.
Alarm systems alert operators to potential issues. Data loggers record electrical parameters like power factor for analysis. Advanced switchboards have communication capabilities to integrate metering with building management systems for remote monitoring.
Having accurate real-time data on electricity flow enables informed system control, rapid fault detection, and predictive maintenance. Qualified technicians routinely verify switchboard meters stay properly calibrated.
Quality meters paired with monitoring and trend data keep facility managers fully informed of power usage and electrical system performance. This improves efficiency, safety, and reliability.
How Switchboards Are Installed and Maintained
The installation and maintenance of switchboards require specialised technical expertise. Switchboards must be properly sized and planned based on the facility’s power needs and distribution scheme.
Qualified electricians handle the physical installation following all electrical codes and standards. Proper feeder wiring, grounding, and connections are made to integrate the switchboard safely.
The equipment is tested and configured before being powered up and operated. Once running, certified technicians perform routine inspections, testing, and preventative maintenance to keep the switchboard in peak operating condition.
This involves using IR scanners to check for hot spots, verify tight connections, clean, lubricate, inspect components for wear, and exercise moving parts. Any issues get repaired immediately. Upgrades or replacements are done as needed over time.
Proper maintenance prevents problems, minimises downtime, and extends the reliable service life of the switchboard. Only trained personnel should access internal switchboard components due to hazardous live voltages. Following safety procedures is critical.
Work Safely with Switchboards
Now that we’ve explored what switchboards are and how they operate, you can appreciate the vital role they play in electrical systems. Though often hidden from view, switchboards are the backbone for power distribution in facilities.
Knowing the basics of what’s inside these panels and how they safely regulate electricity flow gives you greater insight into an electrician’s important work. While switchboards may seem complex at first glance, their careful installation, maintenance, and monitoring by skilled technicians keep the lights on.
Bright Force Electrical has the experience and expertise to handle all your switchboard needs. If you have an upcoming switchboard project or just need a qualified assessment of your current system, please give us a call.
Our master electricians can keep your switchboard running optimally for years to come. Investing in professional switchboard services ensures reliable power delivery for your facility.