US 20010019268 A1
It has been suggested that to determine the remaining lifetime of contactor contacts, the contact spring action at the clearance gap can be determined as a substitute criterion for contact erosion, and to determine the erosion of the contact points, the change in spring action during the shutdown cycle can be measured and converted to the remaining lifetime, for which purpose, the time of the armature movement from the start of the armature movement to the start of contact opening is measured with the solenoid actuator having an armature with solenoids and associated yoke. According to the present invention, the measured values of the time signal tk of contact opening on the load side of the switching device monitored and the time signal tA are determined by voltageless signaling of the start of armature movement. In particular for use in three-phase systems, the switching voltage is measured as a voltage change at an artificial neutral point. In the respective arrangement, a voltageless signal line (20) is provided between the switching device (1) and analyzer unit (100, 200, 300).
1. Method of determining the remaining lifetime of contacts in switchgear, in particular contactor contacts, the so-called contact spring action at the contact gap being determined as a substitute criterion for contact erosion, and the change in spring action during the shutdown cycle being measured in each instance to determine the erosion of the contact points and being converted to the remaining lifetime, for which purpose the time of the armature movement from the start of armature movement to the start of contact opening is measured when the contactor is driven by an armature with solenoid and associated yoke, characterized by a measured value acquisition of contact opening on the load side of the monitored switchgear and by a voltageless signaling of the start of armature movement.
2. Method according to
3. Method according to
4. Method according to
5. Arrangement for carrying out the method according to
6. Arrangement according to
7. Arrangement according to
8. Arrangement according to
9. Arrangement according to one of claims 5 through 8 for use in three-phase systems by the method according to
10. Arrangement according to one of claims 5 through 8 for use in three-phase systems by the method according to
11. Arrangement according to
12. Arrangement according to one of claims 5 through 8, for use in contactors in d.c. systems by the method according to
13. Arrangement according to
14. Arrangement according to one of the preceding claims, characterized by a system for data transmission, in particular a bus system.
 The present invention relates to a method of determining the remaining lifetime of contacts in switchgear, in particular contactor contacts, wherein the contact spring action at the contact gap is determined as a substitute criterion for contact erosion, and the change in spring action during the shutdown cycle is measured to determine the contact erosion of the contact points and is converted to the remaining lifetime, for which purpose the time of the armature movement from the start of the armature movement to the start of contact opening is measured when the contactor is driven by an armature with solenoid and associated yoke. The invention also relates to the respective arrangement for carrying out the method, with an analyzer unit for displaying the remaining lifetime.
 In the older German Patent No. 44 27 006 A0, which is not a prior publication, the remaining lifetime of a contactor in the shutdown cycle is derived from the difference in time between the start of the armature opening movement and the start of contact opening. Using an analysis algorithm, a microprocessor then determines from the time difference value the present value of the contact spring action, which decreases from its value when new (=100% remaining lifetime) to its minimum value (=0% remaining lifetime) due to contact erosion. The time signals required for this are detected first by interrupting an auxiliary circuit over the armature and yoke of the solenoid actuator and also by the contact voltage at the main contacts and are converted to well-defined voltage pulses, for which purpose measuring leads must be attached.
 Attaching measuring leads (six leads for three-phase current) for analysis of contact voltages may be problematical inasmuch as
 a) the possibility of vagabond voltage forming from the infeed side to the load side of the contactor cannot be ruled out,
 b) the required insulation voltage endurance (8 kV) results in a higher cost for the analysis circuit, and
 c) integrating the measuring leads into the contactor and connecting them to a plug-in connector necessitates design and safety-related changes.
 Therefore, the object of the invention is to propose a method and the respective arrangement, wherein the start of contact opening need not be determined over measuring leads on both the feed and load ends of the main circuit.
 This object is achieved according to this invention by measured value acquisition on the contact gap on the load side of the monitored switching device and by voltageless signaling of the start of armature movement. For use in three-phase systems, the start of contact opening of the contact points with the greatest erosion of one of the switching poles is preferably detected by measuring the switching voltage as the change in voltage at an artificial neutral point on the load side of the switching device monitored, from which it is then possible to determine the remaining lifetime of the main contacts of the contactor in addition to the start of armature movement.
 In the respective arrangement with an analyzer unit for displaying the remaining lifetime, there is a voltageless signal line on the armature and yoke of the solenoid actuator of the switching device between the switching device and the analyzer unit. The analyzer unit is thus located between the switching device and the electric consumer on the load side.
 To reduce the technical complexity, it is thus no longer necessary to monitor each main circuit individually with regard to contact erosion in three-phase systems in particular, but instead only the spring action of the most eroded contacts of one of the three switching poles is measured to determine the remaining lifetime of the main contacts of the contactor. Furthermore, it is possible to determine the remaining lifetime without a strict spatial correlation with the contactor, the start of the armature opening movement being signaled to the analyzer unit over a voltageless signal line as contact interruption between armature and yoke.
 Voltageless signaling in the aforementioned context is understood to refer to electric contacting between armature and yoke, in contrast with a voltage signal, such as the contact voltage on the main contacts.
 Details and additional advantages of the present invention are derived from the following description of the figures and embodiments with reference to the drawing in combination with the subclaims. They illustrate in block diagrams:
FIG. 1: determining the remaining lifetime of contactors in the shutdown cycle,
FIG. 2: generating the time signal for the first main circuit of contactors to clear in the shutdown cycle in a three-phase system,
FIG. 3: the example of determining the remaining lifetime of a reversing contactor circuit in particular, and
FIG. 4: determining the remaining lifetime of contactors in the shutdown cycle in d.c. systems.
 Parts with the same function are labeled with the same notation in the figures. In some cases the figures are described jointly.
FIG. 1 shows a schematic diagram of a device for determining the remaining lifetime and associating it with a contactor 1. Analyzer unit 100 is located between contactor 1 and electric consumer 20, e.g., a motor, on load side 10, and it is contacted with external conductors L1, L2, L3 over a first monitoring module 101 for detecting contact opening. A two-wire communication line 8 connects armature/yoke contact 7 of contactor 1 to a second monitoring module 102 for detecting opening of the armature. A microprocessor 105 determines the instantaneous contact spring action from the time signals supplied by monitoring modules 101 and 102 and determines from this the remaining electrical lifetime of the main contacts.
 The value determined by analyzer unit 100 for the remaining lifetime is displayed on an output unit 106 and can be output over a bus system for further processing.
 As shown by control measurements on a contactor with the armature/yoke contact brought out, the time signals from which the remaining lifetime is determined are subject to time fluctuations due to mechanical tolerances and decay of the magnetic force. The time difference between the time signals may therefore differ by a few 1/10 ms between two successive analyses. To avoid a corresponding fluctuation in the output quantity, the remaining lifetime is determined on the basis of a sliding average, e.g., the last ten measurements. Therefore, an accuracy of 1/10 mm is considered realistic in determining the contact spring action. Faulty analyses in determining the time difference can be prevented by analyzing only those time signals within a predetermined time window.
FIG. 2 shows an example of a circuit for generating a time signal tk at the start of contact opening of the most eroded main contacts. The essential characteristic of this circuit is that it measures the contact voltages (arc voltage) of a triple-pole switching device in a three-phase system at “artificial” neutral point 15. For the contact voltages, i.e., the arc voltage at interconnection point 15 of the output lines over fine-wire fuses 11 and resistors 12 (R=160 kΩ), the following equations hold:
U 1 +U 2 +U 3 =O,
I 1 +I 2 +I 3 =O
U 1 −U STP R*I 1 +L*d/dt(I 1)+UB 1
 U 2 −U STP =R*I 2 +L*d/dt(I 2)+UB 2
U 3 −U STP =R*I 3 +L*d/dt(I 3)+UB 3
Total:U STP=−(UB 1 +UB 2 +UB 3)/3,
 where the following symbology has been selected:
 Ui=phase voltages
 I1=phase currents,
 UBi=arc voltages,
 i=1, 2, 3
 USTP=neutral point displacement voltage,
 R=ohmic load,
 L=inductive load.
 With the main contacts of the contactor closed (UB1=UB2=UB3=0), the neutral point displacement voltage would have to be 0 volt. In fact, however, the real phase voltages do not correspond to ideal sinusoidal voltages, so that the total of the phase voltages differs from zero and the neutral-to-ground voltage fluctuates around the voltage zero line. This signal noise can be reduced by a high-pass filter 16 (e.g., where C=3 nF, Rparallel=500 kΩ) so that a signal-to-noise ratio of >10 is achieved. Electronic frame potential M can be picked off over a measuring shunt (e.g., RMeβ=10 kΩ). Time signal tk, i.e. the voltage signal at “artificial” neutral point 15, is processed according to its polarity by one of two comparators 18 and 18′ whose outputs are coupled to the signal output of the monitoring module for contact opening via an OR gate 19.
FIG. 3 shows a device for determining the remaining lifetime on the example of a contactor reversing starter with two contactors 1 and 2; for application in three-phase motors, there are many different terminal conditions for controlling the speeds and direction of rotation.
 The main circuits switched by contactors 1 and 2 correspond in basic design to the main circuits according to FIG. 1 or 3. There is usually an overload relay 210 on the load side of contactor 1 or 2 to protect the motor load. It is therefore expedient to integrate overload relays 210 and the device for determining remaining lifetime into a common control unit. As already described in the older German Patent No. 44 27 006 A0, this control unit could have additional functions for monitoring the circuit state, so that this would ultimately result in a “general” control unit 200 for monitoring the entire electric system.
 In the example in FIG. 3, only one second measuring channel is needed on monitoring module 202 for armature opening to detect the remaining lifetime of both contactors 1 and 2. Microprocessor 205 attributes the calculated lifetime to the contactor represented by the signaling measuring channel.
 In three-phase systems, not only three-pole consumers, but also four-pole consumers, e.g., ohmic loads, are connected to the system and disconnected from it by electric switchgear. The electric switchgear have four switching poles, three of which are connected to external conductors L1, L2, L3, while the fourth switching pole is connected to the neutral conductor. Each of these four switching poles is subject to contact erosion when the four-pole consumer is connected and disconnected, so that wear on all contact points must be monitored, and the remaining lifetime must be determined according to the most eroded contact points.
 The latter is achieved by measuring the switching voltage of one of the three switching poles connected to external conductors L1, L2, L3 at artificial neutral point 15 and measuring the switching voltage of the fourth switching pole connected to neutral conductor N on neutral conductor N. Both the voltage of artificial neutral point 15 and the voltage of neutral conductor N are detected on load side 10 of monitored switching device 1, and the error voltage, the difference between the two voltage values, is analyzed as the switching voltage of the first, most eroded contact tips to clear.
FIG. 4 shows a device for detecting the remaining lifetime of contactors in d.c. systems. Depending on the system d.c. voltage and whether or not the d.c. system is grounded, the contact gaps are usually connected in series, and the connection of the electric system is designed with a single pole or two poles. To obtain a uniform terminal condition for the test connectors for monitoring contact opening and to rule out vagabond voltage from the infeed side to the load side of contactor 1, the measuring leads are connected to load side 10.
 In the embodiment in FIG. 4, a monitoring module 300 has individual circuit elements 31 through 38. Specifically, it shows a contactor 1 with load side 10, a d.c. motor 20 and output lines 30 for connecting monitoring module 300. It contains two fine-wire fuses 31, an RC combination 32 (C=0.22 MF, R1=1 kΩ), a Zener diode 33, a resistor 34 (R2=330 Ω) and an optical coupler 35, whose output is connected to voltage U across a resistor 36 (R=106 kΩ).
 Blocking capacitor C in monitoring module 300 for contact opening serves to suppress the d.c. component; associated limiting resistors R1 and R2 with the Zener diode serve to limit the voltage, and optical coupler 35 in particular is for voltageless measurement of the contact voltage. A microprocessor 305 determines the contact spring action from time signal tk of contact opening in the delay to the time signal of armature opening, and from this it determines the remaining lifetime of the main contacts of the contactor.
 In all embodiments, the values determined by the microprocessors can be displayed directly on associated output units or sent to a system for data transmission, in particular a bus system, for further analysis.