The risks of avoiding Type Testing for electrical panels

While the individual components that make up, for example, an electrical panel will have been fully tested and awarded a CE Mark, there is a danger that the completed panel will not have been subjected to the rigours of a Type Test that is required as part of the Technical Construction File.
The costs and complexities of Type Testing of electrical panels are leading to it being avoided, which concerns Dave Holcroft.In the specification, design and manufacture of electrical equipment, safety standards and checks have never been more important or more stringently carried out. However, it seems that panel builders, architects and building consultants may be risking severe consequences by overlooking a specific electrical assembly safety standard. This article considers the issues behind an ignorance towards Type Testing and avoiding this rapidly growing and the repercussions if industry specialists continue to avoid this rapidly growing problem. Individual electrical components such as low-voltage circuit breakers all have strict safety standards which companies have to manufacture to. These standards ensure that the component is safe, efficient and suitable for integration into a larger electrical assembly, for example, a low-voltage switch board. Once a component has been tested and meets all its relevant product standards (IEC60947-2 for low-voltage circuit breakers) and health and safety standards, the component is awarded a CE Mark. Multi-national manufacturers such as Siemens invest heavily to ensure that individual electrical components achieve this level of compliance. The situation becomes slightly more complicated when the components are purchased by independent panel builders. The process of complying with safety standards is equally as important when panel builders take individual components and install them into a low-voltage assembly such as a switchboard. These switchboards are used frequently to power up a variety of buildings from office blocks to banks and even hospitals. One of the documents which should accompany each compliant assembly is the Technical Construction File (TCF). One of the most important parts of this document is the completed Type Test, specifically detailing performance of the individual elements of manufacturer’s assembly. The Type Test takes place in an independent laboratory and includes elements such as temperature rise or thermal tests, short circuit, electro-magnetic compatibility, di-electric, creepage and clearance, ingress protection and mechanical operation tests — all of which have to be passed to achieve certification. Since their introduction, Type Tests have created a number of issues for panel builders. To complete a Type Test, a panel builder must produce a panel which is submitted to an independent testing facility for analysis. This process is time consuming, draws manpower away from the daily workload and, in most cases, can involve significant financial investment to produce. This cost must be covered by the panel builder, making the task of preparing this prototype panel a significant drain and ultimately non-appealing. Herein lies the problem. Independent panel manufacturers often do not have the capital or the manpower to invest in producing a panel to undergo the Type Test checks. Whilst avoidance of the Type Test seems on the surface a more financially viable option, particularly when there are customers who will purchase panels without the complete TCF document, the potential consequences of not carrying out these tests far outweigh any initial investment. Without the ability to demonstrate assembly compliance, in the event of product failure, the company in question could invalidate their insurance policy. Further, in the event of injury or death as a result of product failure, both the manufacturer/panel builder and consumer could face criminal charges for corporate manslaughter. Architects, building consultants and design engineers all have a role to play. They must begin to acknowledge that by consuming products without the relevant Type Test certificate, they are putting people at risk — not to mention potentially damaging the reputation of their company. Manufacturers such as Siemens are happy to support activities in this area in order to ensure a panel is built to specification for the relevant Type Test procedures, since Type Testing is an irrefutable necessity. However, it is important that companies act quickly to rectify this problem. The potential for companies to lose their trading status, or worse, cause loss of life due to faulty equipment will continue to remain high if drastic steps are not taken to ensure all low-voltage switchboards and products alike adhere to the relevant safety standard. Dave Holcroft is product manager for power distribution with Siemens Automation & Drives.
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