If you’re planning to install or upgrade an electrical system, you may be wondering whether you should use fuses or circuit breakers. Both are devices designed to protect your electrical equipment and prevent dangerous overloads, but they work in different ways. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between fuses and circuit breakers, as well as the factors you should consider when deciding which one to use in your home or business. Whether you’re an electrician or a homeowner, understanding the pros and cons of each option will help you make an informed decision and ensure the safety and reliability of your electrical system.
Differences Between Fuse and Circuit Breaker
Differences between a fuse and a circuit breaker are the followings:
The fuse is an overcurrent protective device with a circuit opening fusible part that is heated and severed by the passage of overcurrent through it. The circuit breaker is a device designed to open and close a circuit by nonautomatic means and to open the circuit automatically on a predetermined overcurrent without damage to itself when properly applied within its rating.
2. Breaking capacity
The independent breaking capacity of a circuit breaker is small compared to the fuse, but incorporating the cascade method with the upstream circuit breaker can increase the breaking capacity. A current limiting mechanism is required to achieve a large breaking capacity.
A mechanism with a large breaking capacity can be manufactured quite easily. The breaking test must be verified with the fuse and knife switch combination.
3. Trip characteristics
For all but the smallest circuit breakers, adjustable trip settings are available that can help provide optimal levels of selective coordination and arc-flash protection in a system. Electronic trip units provide the highest degree of setting flexibility. The trip characteristics of a fuse cannot be adjusted.
The entire unit of the circuit breaker is enclosed, so when switching a load current, the arc is not discharged. In addition, this type is safe as the live section is not exposed. The contact switching speed is constant regardless of the handle switching speed. The load current can be switched safely.
Overload and short-circuit current are tripped inside the fuse tube, however, with many units the arc is discharged when switching the load current. In many structures, the live section is exposed.
5. Phase failure
Even if the overcurrent flows only to one pole of the circuit breaker, all poles are simultaneously disconnected, so there is no possibility of phase failure.
If the overcurrent flows to only one pole of a fuse, only that pole blows, and a phase failure results (single-phase operation takes place). The motor, etc., could burn.
6. The load-switching capacity
In addition to switching the rated current at the rated voltage, the circuit breaker can switch a current six times the rating 12 times or more.
Switching off the rated current at the rated voltage is limited in the fuse.
7. Spare part
Normal use is possible in the circuit breaker, even after tripping an overload current. So, there is no need to keep a constant supply of spare parts.
The fuse must be replaced after a short-circuit accident or overload operation, so a constant supply of spare parts is required.
8. The recovery operation
It is easy to reactivate the circuit breaker immediately after an overload has occurred. The circuit breaker is simply reset after the fault is corrected. No extra steps or procedures are required for recovery as with the fuse.
The fuse must be replaced after the cause of the accident is removed; thus, it takes time for recovery (the power failure will continue).
A slight change in operating characteristics after tripping a short-circuit current is permitted in the standards. However, the operating characteristics of a circuit breaker will not change with a normal overload, etc.
If a current exceeding the deterioration characteristics flow to the fuse, the fuse will deteriorate, the operating characteristics will change, and the unit may malfunction.
Remote operation of a circuit breaker is possible by operating the electricity. Elements required for automatic control, including the undervoltage trip, voltage trip, auxiliary switch and alarm switch, etc., are built-in.
A fuse cannot be operated remotely.
11. The protective and operating characteristics
Sufficient load protection is provided for overall ranges as the circuit breaker characteristics can be checked, there is no worry of degradation, and the tolerance with respect to load currents can be small. The characteristics are achieved with a combination of time-delay characteristics and instantaneous characteristics.
In view of deterioration, etc., the fuse’s rated current must be increased with respect to the load current. Thus, it may not be possible to protect the load in low over-current ranges. Only the thermal element of the fuse is used, so the characteristics cannot be adjusted according to the load.
12. Current-carrying capacity
When selecting a circuit breaker, an allowance of 10 to 20% with respect to the load current is given in consideration of the load equipment’s total load current variation and the effect of the ambient temperature, etc.
With the fuse, there is a concern of deterioration, so the fuse rating must be approximately double the load current value.
13. Terminal options
There are various types of connections available in the circuit breaker including front surface, back surface, inserted, and embedded.
Typically, only the surface type is available in the fuse. This is inconvenient when designing panels.
The circuit breaker is easy to handle and does not require much maintenance or inspection. But fuses must be inspected regularly.
15. Trip button
The trip button is a pushbutton for mechanically tripping the circuit breaker from the outside. A circuit breaker with a trip button can be easily tripped by pressing the trip button. A fuse cannot be opened remotely.
A circuit breaker can also double as a power disconnect in many applications. Especially if you’re working with equipment that requires regular service, this can be a convenient feature. In these cases, you can even find breakers that include lockout / Tagout facilities.
18. The visual indicator
Most circuit breakers come equipped with a visual indicator that alerts users when they’ve tripped. This tool can reduce diagnostic time and help you get straight to the source of the electrical issue. If you find it difficult to remember to check fuses, this can be an important benefit.
A wide variety of circuit breakers are available—from relatively basic molded-case circuit breakers to the “top of the line” low-voltage power circuit breakers—with optional features that make them appropriate for nearly any application. Many of these features are not available on fusible systems without the addition of external metering equipment, relays, or other accessories.
20. Worker safety
Replacing fuses requires the door of the panel to be open. This creates a situation where potential live voltage contact is possible. To make the situation worse, some fuse clips and fuses are completely accessible from the front. What’s more, replacing a power fuse requires a trained electrician, which can delay production until one can arrive on site. Some fuse blocks require a fuse puller or a special tool for servicing, which aren’t usually provided or readily available. This can lead to a potentially dangerous situation if someone attempts to remove a fuse with an incorrect tool like a metal screwdriver. With breakers, it’s easier to make maintenance and commissioning.
21. The usage in DC circuits
There are increasingly more DC circuits in today’s modern panels, with the growing acceptance of alternative energy and the EV market. There’s also a trend toward changing the 120 VAC controls circuit to 24 VDC for safety reasons, in case of accidental contact with live voltage. Breaker technology has improved and is now capable of handling DC circuits.
As machines deliver more feedback and information than ever before, industrial applications need circuit protection that can go the extra mile. Breaker technology is ready for these advanced applications. Fuses are losing popularity day by day.
In summary, when it comes to protecting electrical equipment and preventing overloads, both fuses and circuit breakers can be used. However, they operate differently, and understanding their differences and deciding which one to use can be crucial in ensuring the safety and reliability of your electrical system. While circuit breakers are typically more flexible, require less maintenance, and offer a higher degree of safety, fuses may be more cost-effective and easier to replace. Ultimately, the decision between fuses and circuit breakers depends on your specific needs and considering factors such as load-switching capacity, trip characteristics and recovery operation will help you make an informed choice.