digital Circuit breaker Courtesy Atom Power

Breaking Up With Your Old Circuit Breaker: Upgrade to Digital

This startup presents digital circuit breakers that could lead to safer power in large-business and industrial buildings.

To reduce arc flash incidents in circuit breakers that currently average at 30,000 per year, Atom Power proposes a solid-state design to replace traditional analog ones. The Atom Switch responds to a digital signal when there is excess current or a short. Its tripping speeds are up to 16,000 times faster than average mechanical switches so that arc flashes are less likely to occur.  

The solid-state design also enables programming of many other features, such as energy consumption management and communication between circuit breakers in a panel. These characteristics can be monitored and managed through the company’s Atom operating system and app.

Thus far,  Atom Power is awaiting approval from Underwriters Laboratory (UL) before its AC and DC models can be mass produced. Until then, the company turns to Proto Labs, a rapid manufacturing company, to manufacture low quantities of its parts using injection molding. Before that, it used in-house 3D printers to quickly create parts for the alpha and beta prototypes, but soon required injection molding to move further in its design process. Proto Labs has produced many of the switch’s internal parts, including the “disconnecting” piece of the breakers, enclosures, and elements of the control panel.

Leveraging manufacturing services from Proto Labs, Atom Power has been able to design its 100-Amp AC and DC products, and is currently developing 200-Amp and 800-Amp models. Atom Power has established other partnerships with Bosch, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens through the Siemens next47 investment arm. 

It will be interesting to see if solid state becomes the norm for circuit breakers. Thus far, it seems to offer significant safety and control benefits in a sleek packaging. Even if they are more costly, perhaps the savings from damage reduction by flash arcs will make them profitable in the long run for large buildings. 

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