Circuit breakers and fuses are electrical protection devices that may be interchangeable with one another based on the application they are used for, and they both commonly serve as a precautionary measure against overload conditions. Serving a similar purpose, both devices help safeguard the integrity of an electrical circuit from fires and electrical damage caused by surges in electricity. As devices that can prevent your home, workplace, appliances, vehicles, infrastructure, and more from potentially disastrous scenarios, we will break down how and why circuit breaker and fuse devices are not only advantageous, but can potentially save lives.
Fuses perform a critical role within circuit protection, giving up their life in the instance of an overload condition to guard the circuit from damage. Composed of a glass or ceramic casing that houses a metal wire, or filament, the component is placed within a central fuse box where it can be easily located and accessed within a product or building. When an unexpected surge of electricity is detected by the fuse, the wire or filament will melt before current can continue through the circuit. This effectively cuts off any flow of current from entering the circuit and overwhelming the integrity of the surrounding components. Considered a type of sacrificial device, fuses are sensitive to small changes in current, providing a quick and reliable safeguard for fire mitigation and prevention. To find a fuse best fit for your application, it is imperative that the fuse in question is rated at least slightly higher than the standard operating current to prevent blowing the fuse prematurely.
Unlike a fuse, a circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch which can be manually or automatically reset without having to be replaced. Similar to the fuse, a circuit breaker operates to prevent short circuits and damage brought on by an electrical surge. When a fault is first detected by a circuit breaker, magnetic effects and heat brought on by the surge will cause the solenoid components within the device to separate. This feature is accomplished through the use of compressed air or a spring mechanism. The separation of the solenoid components results in the release of internal breaker contact points, interrupting an oncoming power surge. Capable of being constructed in a variety of sizes, you can find them not only in low-current circuits, but also in locations that are a part of a larger network that supply vast amounts of electricity, such as that of an entire city.
Despite being alternatives to one another, fuses and circuit breakers have notably different characteristics. The key differences between these two preventative devices relies specifically on how these components prevent overloads. As a whole, fuses are a single-use, quick-acting solution that ultimately needs to be replaced after its purpose has been fulfilled. Meanwhile, circuit breakers perform the same duties, but can easily be reset. In lieu of their respective precautionary characteristics, fuses, as compared to circuit breakers, are inexpensive and easily accessible at most hardware stores. Breakers, although not as quick to respond as fuses, can be more difficult to obtain. However, these particular apparatuses provide a relatively easy and hands-on approach for many to successfully prevent overloads.
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