Ultimate Guide in Selecting Low Voltage Switchboards for Your Commercial Electrical System

In our electricity-fueled modern world, low voltage switchboards are unsung heroes that bring life to our gadgets, machinery, and lighting.

These unassuming panels hold more than meets the eye. From powering your morning coffee maker to enabling data centers to hum with information, low voltage switchboards serve as gatekeepers that ensure power reaches its intended destination in your facility. Despite being easy to take for granted, the role of low voltage switchboards in your power system is crucial.

In the world of low voltage switchboards, safety standards are stringent—there is no room for error when dealing with electricity. Yet, innovations constantly reshape how we use energy and manage the flow of electricity.

In this maze of wires and circuits where every decision matters, even a small mistake can be costly. Please do not take it on without the right help.

Contact our team to learn how you can benefit from our LV expertise.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Low Voltage Switchboards

A low voltage switchboard is the heart of many residential, commercial, and industrial electrical systems.

Switchboards function as distribution points that ensure electricity flows as intended throughout your facility. Low voltage switchboards in the US typically operate within facilities where the operating voltage does not exceed 600 volts.

Within an electrical system, various components like lighting, HVAC, security systems, and industrial machinery all have unique power needs. Low voltage switchboards handle the distribution and control of electricity throughout an electrical system.

The core function of low voltage switchboards is to protect both people and property from electrical faults by safely distributing power (and cutting it off when needed) and incorporating protective devices like circuit breakers and fuses.

Anatomy of a Low Voltage Switchboard

The Anatomy of a Low Voltage Switchboard

If you peeked inside a typical low voltage switchboard, you would find an array of components all working together seamlessly:

  •   Main Busbar: This conductive metal bar serves as the main “highway” for electrical currents running through the switchboard lineup.
  •   Circuit Breakers: These safety devices open and close specific electrical circuits—protecting the electrical system from damage caused by overloads and short circuits.
  •   Fuses: A fast acting defense against system failure, fuses melt under the elevated temperatures caused by excess current flow, breaking the circuit and protecting your system (and people) from more severe damage.

Making Sense of Low Voltage Switchboards’ Role

To visualize the role low voltage switchboards play in your electrical system, imagine a traffic light in a busy intersection. Traffic lights regulate vehicles’ movement, ensuring smooth transit while preventing accidents.

Similarly, low voltage switchboards facilitate the flow of power while maintaining system stability and preventing severe damage or injury. Low voltage switchboards keep your system safe even during peak loads and sudden disruptions because they are equipped with monitoring functions that identify potential problems early, thereby avoiding incidents resulting in expensive downtime, or even more severe injury or death.

Pivotal in Energy Management

Did you know that low voltage switchboards play a significant role in energy management, too?

Features like real-time monitoring and reporting capabilities help businesses keep track of their energy usage patterns—providing insights to drive more efficient operations.

Key Takeaway:

Think of low voltage switchboards as the traffic lights of your electrical system. They manage power supply, ensure the safe distribution of electricity to various areas or pieces of equipment within your facility, and include safety measures like circuit breakers and fuses that protect against dangerous and costly faults.

types of swbds

Types of Low Voltage Switchboards

The world of low voltage switchboards is diverse and intricate. Each type of switchboard has unique features that cater to the unique needs of different industries.

Main Distribution Boards (MDB)

As their name implies, Main Distribution Boards (MDBs) are the primary switchboards that distribute power from the source to various systems within your facility—frequently to secondary circuits or sub-circuits.

While “low voltage” may give the impression that these are modest devices, MDBs handle enormous amounts of power and are typically used in commercial and industrial settings.

Key Takeaway:

Essential components within low voltage switchboards play critical roles in maintaining a reliable and efficient electrical distribution system. 

  • The Main Distribution Board (MDB) functions as a centralized hub, ensuring the effective dispersion of power throughout the building. 
  • The Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) with circuit breakers enhances system resilience, facilitating a smooth transition between power sources when needed. 
  • The Integrated Power and Control Boards contribute to the seamless operation of the switchboard, emphasizing the importance of these components in supporting the overall performance and functionality of the electrical system.

Standards and Regulations for Low Voltage Switchboards

Low voltage switchboards are governed by an intricate landscape of regulations and standards designed to promote safe design, installation, and operation.

  • UL 891 
  • National Electric Code (NEC)
  • ANSI/NEMA guidelines 

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) outlines clear specifications under UL 891 for the performance requirements of low voltage switchgear assemblies like switchboards.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), along with the National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA), set their guidelines as well.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 891

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 891 is the most common standard for switchboards. It sets stringent safety and performance standards for switchboards while ensuring components are rugged enough to withstand harsh conditions and electrical stress.

National Electric Code (NEC)

The National Electric Code’s (NEC’s) guidelines form another crucial layer of regulations governing low voltage switchboards. NEC meticulously defines standards for the construction, installation, and operation of switchboards. These guidelines encompass a wide array of safety considerations, addressing everything from wire sizing and protection to proper grounding methods.

An Insight into ANSI/NEMA Guidelines

Both ANSI and NEMA guidelines put a strong emphasis on the structural integrity of switchboards. They ensure boards can withstand harsh environments and unforeseen fault conditions, including short-circuit conditions.

One important requirement is that all devices in a panelboard must be able to carry (and interrupt) their rated current. Switchboards should also be clearly marked with an indication of the maximum circuit breaker or fuse size for the panelboard.

Safety Measures for Low Voltage Switchboards

Safety measures for low voltage switchboards are paramount to preventing accidents and ensuring secure operations. Implementing rigorous safety protocols, including regular inspections and adherence to industry standards, is crucial for safeguarding both personnel and equipment.

Use Protective Equipment

You would not explore underwater caves without SCUBA equipment or skydive without a parachute. When handling low voltage switchboards, safety is just as non-negotiable.

In addition to the built-in safety features of low voltage switchboards, OSHA standards outline the protective equipment users should use when handling switchboards. This protective equipment includes gloves and insulated mats to protect against electric shock.

Maintain a Safe Distance

Maintaining a safe distance from low voltage switchboards is imperative to minimize the risk of accidental contact. This precautionary measure significantly reduces the potential for shocks, burns, or even fatal injuries. By establishing and maintaining a safe working zone, users contribute to a safer operational environment, protecting both themselves and others working in proximity to the switchboard. Regular training on the importance of maintaining safe distances enhances awareness and fosters a culture of safety within the workplace.

Arc Flash Mitigation

To address arc flash risks in low voltage switchboards, you must take an approach that considers both passive and active measures.

Passive measures like superior design practices help mitigate arc flashes themselves. In contrast, active measures like protective relays respond reactively to identify and isolate faults, reducing the impact of arc flash risks in the process.

Properly Label Components

Labeling your components is not simply good housekeeping—it is also vital for safety. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) NFPA 70E guidelines endorse proper labelling for electrical safety in the workplace.

In addition to being an effective precautionary measure, proper labelling eliminates confusion.

Adequate Training

When the stakes are high, you expect personnel to be adequately trained for their safety and yours. You should always ensure all personnel dealing with low voltage switchboards are professionally trained in the safe use and maintenance of the switchboard. This includes instructions on electrical theory, safety protocols, and emergency procedures.

Routine Inspections

Routine inspections can help you identify potential problems before they escalate into serious issues (or, worse, dangerous hazards).

Periodic checks of board components and connections, along with cleaning accumulations of dust, help to maintain optimal performance and safety in your low voltage switchboard.

Key Takeaway:

By following proper safety regulations, clearly labeling each component, providing adequate training, and conducting routine inspections, you can keep your employees, equipment, and facilities safe from major hazards.

Energy Efficiency in Low Voltage Switchboards

As the global consensus on sustainability intensifies, energy efficiency has become a critical consideration for all industries—low voltage switchboards included.

The primary function of low voltage switchboards is to distribute power efficiently and safely. Their role, however, extends beyond their basic functionality. When they are designed and used effectively, low voltage switchboards can play an instrumental part in conserving energy.

Design Matters: How Efficient Design Leads to Energy Savings

Innovative designs can improve the energy efficiency of low voltage switchboards. For example, materials that reduce heat generation and circuit layouts that minimize electrical loss can improve the efficiency of a low voltage switchboard.

An effective design strategy aims to ensure optimal performance with minimal power loss—providing more value for each unit of electricity used by the system.

Digitization: The Game Changer for Energy Efficiency

In recent years, digital technology has radically transformed various industries, and its impact on improving the energy efficiency of low voltage switchboards cannot be overstated.

Schneider Electric’s MasterPact MTZ Circuit Breakers, for example, incorporate digital modules that allow precise control over device functions—a feature that improves the operational efficiency of the unit.

Digitization is no longer a distant, futuristic concept—it is available right now.

Intelligent Energy Management Systems

Energy management systems control power consumption across the various pieces of equipment connected to a switchboard. Intelligent systems use real-time data to monitor and optimize the flow of electricity.

This smart technology not only helps users identify inefficiencies in the system but also helps users diagnose issues and take prompt corrective measures. Think of intelligent energy management systems as a personal trainer for your electrical system that keeps everything running smoothly and effectively.

Maintenance: The Unsung Hero of Energy Efficiency

Over time, thermal cycling causes electrical connections to loosen, dust causes components to dissipate heat more slowly, and meters can lose their calibration. Just like a healthy diet and regular exercise can improve human performance, so can regular maintenance improve the energy efficiency and longevity of low voltage switchboards.

Not only does regular maintenance improve the energy efficiency of switchboards, but it can also prevent more serious issues down the line.

Key Takeaway:

Boosting energy efficiency in low voltage switchboards is not just about distribution—it is a matter of innovative design, digital tech integration, intelligent energy management systems, and routine maintenance.

Selection Criteria for Low Voltage Switchboards

Selecting the right low voltage switchboard can significantly improve your electrical system’s efficiency. But with so many options and factors to consider, how do you make this critical choice?

Consider these essential elements when evaluating low voltage switchboards:

Understand Your Power Needs

Before you can begin to narrow down switchboards, you must first understand your power needs. How much energy does your facility use daily?

If you are unsure how much capacity you will need, Energy Saver from the Department of Energy offers valuable insights into calculating (and reducing) your energy consumption.

Evaluate Quality and Durability

The quality and durability of your low voltage switchboard should be high on your list of priorities. This is where standards like UL are relevant.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Affordability matters, but so does value. To get a holistic view of your decision, analyze not only the upfront costs of purchasing a low voltage switchboard, but also the long-term benefits like reduced maintenance or increased efficiency that could save you money eventually.

Safety Standard Compliance

Electricity is a powerful and unpredictable force. All equipment dealing with electricity must comply with stringent safety standards like the previously-mentioned NFPA 70E guidelines. These guidelines offer essential safeguards for employees in workplaces that use electrical switchboards.

Plan for the Future

Your needs today are different than your needs were a decade ago. In just the same way, your needs tomorrow might not be your needs today. If you are planning to expand your facility, make sure your switchboard can accommodate that future growth. If an expansion would require you to replace your switchboard completely, that additional cost should be a factor when evaluating switchboards.

Support and Maintenance

Does your manufacturer offer support services? Consider whether technical assistance or regular maintenance checks are available from the manufacturer.

Evaluate Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is not only a crucial step in safeguarding the environment, but it is also a crucial factor in your organization’s finances. Energy efficiency should be a priority as you select a low voltage switchboard.

Choosing the right low voltage switchboard figure

Key Takeaway:

Choosing the right low voltage switchboard can boost your electrical system’s efficiency. To make a good decision, understand your power needs, evaluate quality and durability, and weigh the costs versus long-term benefits. Check for compliance with safety standards, consider your plans for future expansion, understand the manufacturer’s support services, and do not forget to assess the energy efficiency of your options.

Troubleshooting Common Issues in Low Voltage Switchboards

Low voltage switchboards, though efficient and indispensable in various industries, may encounter common issues.

Frequent Tripping

One common issue you might run into is frequent tripping. This phenomenon can be caused by overloaded circuits or short-circuiting from faulty wiring. Like overfilling a water balloon, cramming too much current into a space not designed to hold it will result in an interruption of power. Something must give, and that can manifest as frequent or nuisance tripping.

To fix this problem, check the load on your circuit. If it is too high compared to its capacity, reducing the load may solve your problem.

Inconsistent Power Supply

Electricity is only useful when it is consistent. An irregular power supply may result in your equipment not running at optimal levels or could even result in long-term damage. Regular monitoring and a quality metering system can help you spot and manage irregularities in your power supply.

Overheating Problems

Even in the best-case scenario, overheating can cause severe damage to your equipment and facility. In a worst-case scenario, overheating can lead to fires.

Regularly cleaning dust and debris can go a long way toward keeping your switchboards cool and functional. This is backed up by OSHA regulations that reinforce the fact that clean equipment is not just about hygiene, but also about safety.

Bad Wiring and Faulty Components

Even when everything is in its right place on the surface, faulty wiring or components can hide serious issues in plain sight. Regular checks for faulty wiring and parts can pinpoint and fix problems before they get worse. It is all about being proactive.

Key Takeaway:

Troubleshooting your low voltage switchboard can save you from frequent tripping, inconsistent power, overheating problems, and faulty wiring. Knowing your circuit load, monitoring input power consistently, keeping things clean, and staying proactive with regular checks can all hedge against these hazards.

The Future of Low Voltage Switchboards

Switchboards have changed significantly over the years. As we look to the future, low voltage switchboards will continue to evolve to become more energy efficient, user-friendly, and safe.

One area of focus is digitization. As we move more of our devices online, our electrical systems are also becoming more complex. Advanced monitoring powered by Internet of Things (IoT) integrations allow for real-time tracking and adjustment. These internet-enabled devices allow for quicker detection, enhanced safety measures, and overall improved efficiency.

Digital Twin Technology

A digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical device that can perform simulations, troubleshooting, and tests to predict how its physical counterpart will behave.

Digital twin technology allows users to predict and fix potential issues before they even occur. Digital twin technology is not just impressive, it is revolutionary.

Sustainability Focus: More than Just Buzzwords

Sustainability is not a trend—it is a necessity.

This means the low voltage switchboard of the future needs to have minimum environmental impact while maintaining maximum functionality. The United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals include responsible consumption and production, which directly impacts how we design and use low voltage switchboards.

A sustainable future is possible through recyclable materials and reduced energy consumption, and that means designing a switchboard that has sustainability at its core.

Low Voltage Switchboard FAQs

In Summary

We have unveiled the inner workings and several types of switchboards—each unique, but equally important in our electrified existence. You now know about the standards and regulations shaping this industry, and about the importance of strong safety precautions when dealing with electricity.

We discussed energy efficiency, a crucial factor when evaluating low voltage switchboards. Finally, we reviewed troubleshooting tips and predicted future switchboard trends. Armed with these tips and insights, you are better equipped to navigate your organization’s electrical needs. The path forward may seem intricate but remember that every decision matters when it comes to power systems. Stay informed; stay safe!

Find out how we can help with your switchboard project.