Keep your data center “operation” safe with arc flash protection

Diagnose locations with potentially dangerous switchgear and transplant arc-resistant technology in its place.

Children love to test their motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination, which may explain the popularity of the game “Operation.” In this electronic competition, players use tweezers to fish out various body parts from a perforated cartoon likeness of a patient. If the tweezers touch the edge of the “surgical” openings, however, they close an electric circuit, causing the patient’s nose to light up with a flash, a buzzer to sound and the player to flunk his attempt at a safe operation.

While opening and closing circuits can be fun in a harmless game for children, it often can lead to disaster for data center workers by causing the dangerous phenomenon of arc flash.

The technical term is self-explanatory: it is a fiery flash caused by an arc formed when current flows between two or more separated, energized conducting surfaces. The result can be an explosive wave of pressure reaching 500 pounds per square inch and temperatures of 19,000° C / 35,000° F. An arc flash can kill anyone standing nearby, and its fireball can demolish an entire facility.

Too often, data centers across the globe do little or nothing to prepare for what can be the worst possible catastrophe, ignoring the potential of standard switchgear to generate a devastating arc flash. The situation is even more tragic because arc-resistant switchgear is readily available from ABB.

These systems pursue two paths to dramatically lessen the possible damage from an arc flash. One path is active and the other is passive. Active arc protection incorporates relays that use fiber optics to detect a flash. A control device examines the current to confirm the arc flash and then triggers a circuit breaker to open, all in less than 2.5 milliseconds. Another active solution combines fault detection and gas-release electronics with primary switch elements.

Passive protection involves, first, a significantly fortified front door on the switchgear. Rather than being made of sheet metal, it resembles a bank vault; nothing can get through it. Additionally, the switchgear provides a series of vents and flaps that direct the explosive force and gases from the arc flash out of the building, away from people and equipment inside. The switchgear doors, walls and panels are reinforced and sealed to withstand the temporary pressure surge until relief vents operate.

An increasing number of data centers are using technology that remotely monitors and diagnoses electrical equipment to limit employee exposure to impending arc flashes, which may be signaled by rising temperatures in a power bus or other factors detected by sensors. ABB is a pioneer in these technologies and in rigorous arc-resistant switchgear, offering low, medium and high-voltage switchgear to help deter arc flashes.

Safety from arc flash is a deadly serious consideration. Give your data center a check-up, and keep it safe by diagnosing locations where you should remove potentially dangerous switchgear and transplant arc-resistant technology in its place.

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About the author

Dave Sterlace

Dave Sterlace is the Head of Technology for Data Center Solutions at ABB, and has 20+ years of experience in data center power, automation and critical power.
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