At ABB we are this year celebrating a grand milestone - 90 years of continuous innovation and improvement of the IEC medium-voltage fuses production.
This anniversary has been the occasion for the IEC fuses’ factory in Przasnysz to celebrate the history, the developments, the changes and continuous improvements that lead the ABB fuses get to the remarkable 90th birthday.
Fuses may seem like simple everyday products, but their use is significant as they provide main or back-up protection against short circuit in medium-voltage installations.
They are small in dimensions but crucial protective devices in electrical equipment. The earliest evidence of “ABB” fuse production in Europe is to be found in Poland in the 1930s, the ABB IEC fuses heritage has its roots in a company located in Warsaw.
Where it began – Edison and the electrification development in the 19th century
The history of fuses for medium-voltage applications begins much earlier than 1930. It is not entirely clear to whom the title of “inventor” of the Fuse can be assigned, as similar solutions appeared in many places simultaneously, but it is worth noting that a fuse was patented by Thomas Edison in 1890 (U.S. Patent 0,438,305). It’s clear that from the very beginning of the electrification development, the fuse has been one of the essential protective components in all electrical equipment.
The origins of the first ABB fuses
During the twentieth century, ABB fuses were produced across Europe, in the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden and Germany, as well as Poland.
The first ABB fuses dedicated to MV applications manufactured in Europe had a simple design: two support insulators on a cast iron plate, a bakelite tube with two contacts and one silver fuse strip. This fuse type was produced until 1955. As the demand for energy grew, following the industrial boom, so did the demand for better electrical protective solutions (larger current range and greater breaking capacity), making it necessary to have better performing electrical components and therefore fuses.
In the 60’s the range of fuses available was expanded, with new fuse types for voltage transformers and traction applications. In the same decade, similar development processes happened in Sweden and Norway, where fuses for medium-voltage transformer protection from ASEA Sweden and Norsk Elektrisk & Brown Boveri A/S (NEBB) in Norway, were used. Fuses for operating voltages up to 72.5 kV and a new fuse type addressed to the new ANSI markets were supplied for the global markets.
It was in these years that, to increase the current and voltage range and the fuse performance, while maintaining the size of the fuse, it was necessary to wind the fuse element on some internal structure - the insulating core. That, together with the new fuses silver tape, was the early concept on which the most popular ABB fuses family (ABB CEF fuses) were developed. The task of the fuses passed from not only disconnecting short-circuit currents, but also doing that safely, without affecting the environment.
The golden age: from ABB hero fuse to the new standards
For John G. Leach, chair of the IEEE High Voltage Fuses Subcommittee and author of “A High-Voltage Fuse Tutorial and Application Guide” or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the fuse protection, the years spanning the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s are called the "golden age" in the development of fuses. The product portfolio of our predecessors and pioneers in the field of protection at that time was extremely rich and diverse. Parallel to the development of fuses, national and international standards were developed to describe the products and their features, as well as to protect, in a sense, technical achievements, and the best design solutions as well as test practices were developed.
Although the concept of fuse design with a conductive wire connected to two terminals remains unchanged for many years, the way it is now designed has been driven by a constantly growing range of fuse applications and ever-changing market requirements. Those continuous improvements include the housing of fuses in canisters, like Ring Main Units (RMUs), which limits heat dissipation. This was one of the major factors forcing fuse manufacturers to revise the fuse design to make them suitable for these specific applications with possible short- and long-term overloads. The performance of fuses designed with silver tape had been optimized, and we are still benefitting from this improvement, limiting high power losses.
Continual improvements have led to two different popular fuse design concepts available on the market today. The first has a thermal striker pin added to the standard design of silver tape and the second one with overload spots -drops of material having lower melting temperature placed over silver tape. The ABB product portfolio offers both designs, having the best impact on significant temperature limitation around the fuse. In addition to that, ABB’s unique design with TCU (Temperature Control Unit) and overload spots, provides operational safety in RMU applications.
ABB’s development and production of MV fuses for the IEC market are carried out in Przasnysz, Poland, where the rich fuse types portfolio was consolidated, and production and development have been updated by R&D process throughout recent years. Families and generations of fuses have been added and developed following one goal: to increase the quality of our products and deliver safe and proven solutions that contribute significantly to the reliable energy supply.