GE Industrial Switchgear: 1940 to Today

General Electric (GE) is among the top three largest suppliers of power generation equipment in the U.S. Since as early as the 1940s, GE has been manufacturing the most advanced and reliable industrial switchgear. In fact, GE electrical equipment supplied a vast majority of industrial growth of U.S. in the latter half of the 20th century.

Electrical switchgear covers switches, fuses and circuit breakers, among other components. Industries use switchgears to cut-off or de-energize equipment or part of the equipment. This is for maintenance purposes, diagnostics, and/or other work on the equipment.

Electrical switchgear has been used since electrical systems have been around. One way or another, the electrical system or a part of it had to be shut down.

As technology and the manufacture of industrial switchgear progressed, older models became obsolete. Even now, these obsolete used circuit breakers are in demand, even if they are not manufactured anymore. General Electric, by far, built the most switchgear in the United States from 1945 to 2000.

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THE BIRTH OF CIRCUIT BREAKERS – 1940s

In the 1940s, GE became the industry leader in electrical switchgear. Their circuit breakers and fuses were one of the most advanced components available.

In fact, GE sold the first resettable fuse after WWII. These resettable fuses are commonly referred to as circuit breakers today. Even today, GE electrical switchgear is the leader for innovative design and functionality.

GE started with 5kV and 15kV GE Magnablast breakers. These circuit breakers consisted of heavy solenoid coils, as an engineering function designed to close the breakers. Some of the early 15 kV Magnablast switchgear by General Electric includes GE AM-15-150, GE AM- 5-75, GE AM-5-150, GE AM-5-250, GE AM-15-250 AND GE AM-15-500.

However, as time and technology progressed, better models were developed, and the original circuit breakers were deemed unreliable for updated standards.

The early model AE-1-25 handled about 600 amp. This was then succeeded by the 1600amp AL-2-50, which itself became obsolete as new models became available. The GE Al-2-100 circuit breaker from this era could handle 4000 amp.

These early circuit breakers were huge. They were typically mounted on slate back frames and used oil dashpot trip units. These trip units had several oil-related problems, like the oil leaking out or getting too heavy.

These early advances and products paved the way for the power generation industry for years to come.

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ADVANCES AND NEW PRODUCT LINES – 1950s

For a large part of the 1950s, General Electric continued its manufacture and market of solenoid GE Magnablast circuit breakers. There were new designs and products launched, and they divided the circuit breakers into categories for refined usage. The 1950s also saw GE launch larger breakers with greater AIC ratings such as the AM-13.8-750 and GE AM-13.8-1000.

In 1955, General Electric introduced its new AK line of industrial electrical switchgear. These circuit breakers were sleek, smaller and faster. They were superior to their predecessors both in functionality and design. Lightweight and reliable, the AK line of circuit breakers met high demand.

The new AK line of circuit breakers gave a superb performance. GE used plastic pole bases and electro-mechanical trip units in its new line. Reconditioning and remanufacturing were possible for these GE AK family circuit breakers. The AK line was so advanced and popular that for the next 30 years, General Electric would sell new models from the same family.

The earliest AK switchgear was nameplated as AK-1.  For example, the AK-1-15, the AK-1-75 or the AK-1-100 models.

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AK-2 LINE – 1960s

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The early 1960s saw GE update to the AK-2 line to replace AK-1 breakers with similar ratings and features.  In the mid-1960s, GE redesigned the AK line by moving the rack in hardware to the enclosure itself.

This meant that there was no need for an external handle. This advance tree of the AK family is the AKD-5 switchgear. Popular models included AK-2A-25, AK-2A-75 and AK-2A-100.

There were also dozens of popular circuit breaker models from the AK product line from 1955-1986. The largest electrical switchgear included GE AK-1-100, AK-2A-100 and AK-4A-100. Each coded switchgear name gave useful information.

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SOME ISSUES AND SOLUTIONS – 1970s

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The road from the basic and outdated circuit breakers and switch gear to the modern equipment of today is not a smooth ride at all. There were many issues and problems with some of the components from General Electric. Let us look at one of them.

In the 1960s, General Electric had introduced the ML-11 mechanism for switchgear. This was a novel idea and brought a revolution within the field. However, soon it was discovered that the ML-11 mechanism suffered from some problems centering on a clutch mechanism.

General Electric was moving towards components that are easily repairable or rebuildable. However, this ML-11 issue was mostly replaced rather than rebuilt.

This caused a stir, and GE focused on research and development of an improved mechanism. Shortly after the introduction of MS-13 mechanism, it was replaced by ML-13.

The mechanism change in the 1970s was the most significant update to GE Magnablast breakers. The new and improved ML-13, with motor operated spring-charged mechanism, meant that the electrical switchgear closed faster, while putting less stress on the unit.

The ML-13 mechanism uses a spring charged/motor. This mechanism was so superior to any of the contemporary technology that it became the mainstay for GE breakers for over 15 years.

The ML-13 mechanism was reliable and easily repairable. The parts to repair the circuit breaker were readily available.

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VACUUM CIRCUIT BREAKERS – 1980s ONWARDS

In the last decades of the 20th century, there has been a massive development in circuit breakers’ technologies. In the early 1980s, GE introduced the GE vacuum circuit breaker. Testing of vacuum circuit breakers was around the mid-20th century (even before). They kept rising to popularity after launching successful designs.

Instead of contacts and arc chutes, vacuum bottles were utilized. This successful design launched the GE PowerVac circuit breaker as the mainstay of the vacuum breaker industry.

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The medium voltage circuit breakers were launched at different amperages. Few of the products featured 1200 amp, while others were at 2000 amp or 3000 amp.

The problem with circuit breakers had always been arc quenching. Vacuum circuit breakers mitigated the issue since vacuum had the highest insulating strength. Even now, vacuum circuit breakers are extremely popular for medium voltage due to superior arc quenching properties.

For higher voltages, particularly in electrical power stations and distribution systems, Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) quenches the arc. However, air blast circuit breakers are available even at higher voltages.

After 1985, General Electric released the AKR line of circuit breakers. The AKR circuit breakers came with the technology to communicate information.

A central PC could receive the information that the circuit breaker would collect. AKR air circuit breakers became extremely popular. There were many models from the AKR family, including the fused 1600 amps circuit breakers and H model high interrupting circuit breakers.

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GE SWITCHGEAR IN THE 21ST CENTURY

GE vacuum circuit breakers, known for their reliability and strength, are the most popular among large industrial manufacturers. General Electric has divided its line of circuit breakers into several categories:

  • Molded Case Circuit Breakers
  • Insulated Case Circuit Breakers
  • Mini Circuit Breakers
  • Residential Circuit Breakers
  • Low Voltage Power Circuit Breakers
  • Medium Voltage Power Circuit Breakers

We will discuss one of its more advanced low-voltage molded case global circuit breaker, GuardEon, separately. However, let us get a quick overview of some of the most popular General Electric circuit breakers now.

Molded Case Circuit Breakers

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One of the molded case circuit breakers is Record Plus, featuring up to 600A with dual AC/DC ratings. Some of the features of the products in this line include high interrupt ratings, thermal magnetic and electronic trip, an adjustable dial to set Amp rating, compact size and simple integration into existing switchboards and panels, as well as tested to exceed UL requirements of 8000 operations.

Spectra RMS Electronic Trip in the MCCB category features a solid state trip system with accurate sensing and protective relays. These products are also capable of communication and power management. There are also magnetic only and thermal magnetic trip circuit breakers available from general electric.

Residential Circuit Breakers

General Electric also offers a range of residential switch gear. These circuit breakers are available in 1″or 1/2″ breaker sizes, offer box-type terminals and cover a large range of ratings for the residential user.

GE also has Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) line to solve the issue of residential fires caused by arc faults. These AFCIs from GE protect your home through timely detection of dangerous arcs and safe de-energizing of the circuit. The Combination AFCI from GE gives the five type of residential protection: parallel protection, series protection, ground protection, overload protection and short circuit protection.

Low Voltage Power Circuit Breakers

The EntelliGuard series covers the low voltage switch gear from GE. This series’ range of products have several features including

  • Arc flash protection and selectivity features
  • Adjustable st and gf zone selective interlocking
  • Instantaneous trip, adjusting up to 30x trip plug rating
  • Easy field wiring
  • Remote racking
  • High visibility via through-the-door racking
  • Metering, relaying, modbus/profibus, waveform capture and more…

Medium Voltage Power Circuit Breakers

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Vacuum Circuit Breakers dominates the Medium Voltage category. The SecoVac series allows buyers to replace vacuum circuit breakers in existing switchgear up to 15kV maximum rated voltage. The medium voltage switchgear from General Electric is popularly used for controlling and protecting electrical equipment in industrial applications.

The SecoVac series offers many benefits such as:

  • 50Hz / 60 Hz compatibility
  • Lightweight design
  • Ease in replacing existing switchgear
  • Integrated racking motor option and more…

The second popular series in medium voltage switchgear is the Power/Vac vacuum breakers. Even today, the vacuum interrupter design used by GE is superior to other arc interruption technologies.

It has a simple design with a small footprint and so many desirable features. They also offer reliable and quiet arc interruption with virtually maintenance-free vacuum interrupter contacts.

General Electric vacuum circuit breakers are famous for their high degree of reliability and quality. Many products offer interchangeability with existing switchgear and reduce breaker maintenance costs. They are available for a wide range of ratings.

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GE GuardEon

GE has come a long way from the switchgear of the 1940s or even the switch gear from 20 years ago. Last year GE launched its smart molded case circuit breaker GuardEon.

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GuardEon is GE’s novel low-voltage MCCB product line. It is also a smart circuit breaker.

One of the most interesting features is its predictive maintenance capability. This new line of product showcases the future of the industrial internet. GuardEon line has onboard diagnostics, with extensive metering capabilities, waveform capture and event logs for troubleshooting and industrial communications protocols.

One of the modern features that GE has incorporated in its current switchgear and other products is the predictive capability. The devices also take contact wear calculations, mechanism timing and event logs.

By analyzing this data from the device, the user can identify or predict if certain electrical issues will occur. Therefore, it minimizes any possible risk. The new line from GE also allows for interchangeable and upgradable trip units, which means users can now add functions or protective features to the products as they desire.

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CONCLUSION

General Electric remains one of the largest electrical switchgear providers in the U.S. for the past several decades. The journey of GE and its advances in circuit breakers has many breakthroughs and quality products.

Some of the products were so popular they are still in demand today. You can buy GE electrical breakers at many locations throughout the world and online.

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Moreover, General Electric is the leader in switchboards and switchgear lineups. They have collaborated worldwide with many organizations and companies to improve GE products and promote a better and safe world.

Industrial circuit breakers and switchgear has evolved and improved drastically throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. General Electric shook the industry with its innovative ideas from the 1940s, and they held strong to this day. Who knows what new breakthroughs will occur in the GE electrical switchgear world in the future!

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