Fuses compared with circuit breakers


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Fuses have the advantages of often being less costly and simpler than a circuit breaker for similar ratings. The blown fuse must be replaced with a new device which is less convenient than simply resetting a breaker and therefore likely to discourage people from ignoring faults. On the other hand, replacing a fuse without isolating the circuit first (most building wiring designs do not provide individual isolation switches for each fuse) can be dangerous in itself, particularly if the fault is a short circuit.

High rupturing capacity fuses can be rated to safely interrupt up to 300,000 amperes at 600 V AC. Special current-limiting fuses are applied ahead of some molded-case breakers to protect the breakers in low-voltage power circuits with high short-circuit levels.

Current-limiting fuses operate so quickly that they limit the total “let-through” energy that passes into the circuit, helping to protect downstream equipment from damage. These fuses open in less than one cycle of the AC power frequency; circuit breakers cannot match this speed.

Some types of circuit breakers must be maintained on a regular basis to ensure their mechanical operation during an interruption. This is not the case with fuses, which rely on melting processes where no mechanical operation is required for the fuse to operate under fault conditions.

In a multi-phase power circuit, if only one fuse opens, the remaining phases will have higher than normal currents, and unbalanced voltages, with possible damage to motors. Fuses only sense overcurrent, or to a degree, over-temperature, and cannot usually be used independently with protective relaying to provide more advanced protective functions, for example, ground fault detection.

Some manufacturers of medium-voltage distribution fuses combine the overcurrent protection characteristics of the fusible element with the flexibility of relay protection by adding a pyrotechnic device to the fuse operated by external protective relays.


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