What are the Characteristics of Fuse as Circuit Protection?



A fuse is the simplest device for interrupting a circuit experiencing an overload or a short circuit. A typical fuse, like the one shown below, consists of an element electrically connected to end blades or ferrules. The element provides a current path through the fuse. The element is enclosed in a tube and surrounded by a filler material. 

The National Electrical Code® defines overcurrent as any current in excess of the rated current of equipment or the ampacity of a conductor. It may result from overload, short circuit, or ground fault (Article 100-definitions). Circuit protection would be unnecessary if overloads and short circuits could be eliminated. Unfortunately, overloads and short circuits do occur. To protect a circuit against these currents, a protective device must determine when a fault condition develops and automatically disconnect the electrical equipment from the voltage source.

Nontime-delay Fuses

Nontime-delay fuses provide excellent short circuit protection. Short-term overloads, such as motor starting current, may cause nuisance openings of nontime-delay fuses. They are best used in circuits not subject to large transient surge currents. Nontime-delay fuses usually hold 500% of their rating for approximately one-fourth second, after which the current carrying element melts. This means that these fuses should not be used in motor circuits which often have inrush (starting) currents greater than 500%.

Time Delay Fuses

Time-delay fuses provide overload and short circuit protection. Time-delay fuses usually allow five times the rated current for up to ten seconds. This is normally sufficient time to allow a motor to start without nuisance opening of the fuse unless an overload persists.

Fuse Ratings

Fuses have a specific ampere rating, which is the continuous current carrying capability of a fuse. The ampere rating of a fuse, in general, should not exceed the current carrying capacity of the circuit. For example, if a conductor is rated for 10 amperes, the largest fuse that would be selected is 10 amperes. There are some specific circumstances when the ampere rating is permitted to be greater than the current carrying capacity of the circuit. For example, motor and welder circuits can exceed conductor ampacity to allow for inrush currents and duty cycles within limits established by the NEC.

The voltage rating of a fuse must be at least equal to the circuit voltage. The voltage rating of a fuse can be higher than the circuit voltage, but never lower. A 600 volt fuse, for example, can be used in a 480 volt circuit. A 250 volt fuse could not be used in a 480 volt circuit.

Fuses are also rated according to the level of fault current that they can interrupt. This is referred to as ampere interrupting capacity (AIC). When applying a fuse, one must be selected which can sustain the largest potential short circuit current which can occur in the selected application. The fuse could rupture, causing extensive damage, if the fault current exceeds the fuse interrupting rating.

UL Fuse Classification

Fuses are grouped into current limiting and non-current limiting classes based on their operating and construction characteristics. Fuses that incorporate features or dimensions for the rejection of another fuse of the same ampere rating but with a lower interruption rating are considered current-limiting fuses. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) establishes and standardizes basic performance and physical specifications to develop its safety test procedures. These standards have resulted in distinct classes of low voltage fuses rated at 600 volts or less. The following chart lists various UL fuse classes.

UL Fuse Classification

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