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Circuit Breakers and Fuses: What Are Their Differences?

When dealing with the electrical current traveling through a building, vehicle, or assembly, it is important that ample consideration is made for electrical protection. Electricity is volatile in nature, and while we have harnessed it for powering various systems and components, surges, spikes, and other various undesirable voltage conditions can present the risk of part breakdown, injuries, electrical fires, and much more. As such, components like circuit breakers and fuses are commonly used, both of which are electrical protection devices that perform a similar role with differing parts and characteristics. As either or both types of devices may be present in a given application, it is very important to understand their differences and varying uses.

Circuit breakers are a common addition to countless buildings and infrastructure as a result of safety codes, and they are electrical switches that act against overload and short-circuit conditions. Circuit breakers are connected directly to the circuit they are meant to protect, and electricity will pass through them during normal operations while they are turned on. When the power load within the circuit exceeds safe or expected values, the circuit breaker will “trip,” breaking contacts to cease the flow of electricity further down the circuit. Circuit breakers come in many forms and sizes to address the needs of diverse applications and environments, so while some may be small and simplistic for the benefit of a minor system, others may be more grandiose as they find implementation in electrical distribution systems of cities.

One of the most important characteristics of a circuit breaker is that it can be reused after a power surge, as breaking the flow of voltage only separates contacts. Once the adverse voltage condition has passed, the circuit breaker can be reset to reestablish contact connection. While circuit breakers can be reused many times, they are still held to a standard service life in which they will break down over time. Additionally, intensive current conditions can damage breaker parts, leading to an earlier need for repair or replacement.

Fuses are also quite popular for electrical protection, and they are devices placed between two power terminals so that current runs through them. Fuses are much more simplistic in their design as compared to circuit breakers, often coming in the form of a piece of wire that breaks down or melts when adverse voltage conditions arise. When this happens, the flow of current will break down, protecting sensitive parts and systems further down the line. While a circuit breaker can simply be reset after tripping, fuses will cease to be functional with the melting of their wire, necessitating replacement each time. While it can seem cumbersome to have to constantly replace a failing fuse instead of simply resetting it, a fuse is much cheaper than a circuit breaker and ensures complete current stopping. When procuring fuses, it is important to consider their breakdown voltage so that the right grade can be selected.

At Purchasing Union, we can help you secure all the various fuses, circuit breakers, and other electrical protection devices you require with competitive pricing and rapid lead times. As an AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B accredited enterprise, we go above and beyond ensuring that each and every part purchased from us is of the highest quality. Take the time to explore our offerings as you see fit, and our team is ready to provide you one-on-one consultation throughout procurement to guarantee each of your needs is thoroughly addressed. If you have any questions, give us a call or email, and we would be more than happy to help you however we can!


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