Understand the basics of panels, switchgear and distribution boards


The three types of gears, distribution panels, switchboards and switchgear, have electrified aluminum or copper buses and circuit breakers attached to them. Wires connect circuit breakers to the electrical loads they power. And, each type of gear has specific characteristics and varying preferences.


The Panel Board is a group of panel units that is designed to be assembled into a single panel or a single panel, including automatic overcurrent devices and buses. These are equipped without or with switches to control lights, power circuits, heating, etc. The panels are usually designed to be placed in a box or cutout cabinet placed against or in the wall, or perhaps a partition, and are accessible from the front.

These can be broadly divided into panels and work centers.

Distribution centers are typically used in small commercial and residential applications. This is one of the cheapest methods of housing circuit breakers. In addition, generally, circuit breakers are also inexpensive as they are produced in high volume and can be simply plugged into the load center bus.

Load centers are primarily intended for applications up to 240V and are normally rated up to 225A. At such ratings, they are narrow enough to fit between poles on 16 ″ centers and shallow enough to fit. fit a 2 × 4 stud wall.

However, the panels are mainly used up to 600 V (voltages); however, even higher rated voltages are available. The panels can even be rated up to 1200A. Smaller panels can accommodate bolt-on or plug-in circuit breakers. However, large panels only use bolt-on circuit breakers and are capable of having either electronically tripped circuit breakers or standard thermal-magnetic trip units with adjustable parameters.

Distribution panels are comparatively deeper than load centers. In addition, panels of 600 A or more are surface mounted on the wall and are deeper.

The choice of panel type generally depends on:

  • Nominal voltage required
  • Short circuit rating required
  • Maximum rated current of power devices


Distribution boards are defined as a large frame, a panel or an assembly of several panels mounted in the back, in front or both, overcurrent, switches, buses and other protection devices. And these sets are generally accessible from the front as well as from the back because they are installed in cabinets.

Standards are somewhat similar to panels as they are typically rated up to 600V; however, they may be able to handle higher fault currents than load centers and distribution panels. Distribution boards are floor mounted and are generally deeper than distribution boards.

As distribution boards are larger in size and are quite expensive than distribution boards, their use is avoided for bus ratings below 1200A. Withdrawable circuit breakers and bolt-on circuit breakers can be installed in a distribution panel alignment. In tables, front access is mainly required; however, side or rear access may also be required in some cases.


The switchgear is defined as a fully enclosed assembly on all sides with a top with sheet metal (except inspection windows and ventilation openings). Switchgear contains interrupters, primary power circuit switching, or both, with connections and buses. The assembly may even include auxiliary and control devices. And generally, access to the interior of the enclosure is provided by removable covers, doors, or both.

Switchgear is even bigger than panels and distribution boards. Switchgear can be rated up to 6000A and can be rated up to 38kV.

Normally, in switchboards, withdrawable circuit breakers are used and access to the rear and front of the equipment is needed. In addition, switchgear is tested to a specific UL standard different from distribution panels and distribution boards. As the circuit breakers for the switchgear are placed in different compartments, the gears can be rated to withstand a short circuit for up to 30 cycles. However, on the other hand, distribution boards and control panels can only withstand short circuit conditions up to 3 cycles.

Switchgear often uses withdrawable circuit breakers, and these circuit breakers can be easily detached from the bus for maintenance or replacement without affecting other circuit breakers or cutting off the main network. Therefore, in addition to the moving parts, it is important to maintain the withdrawable circuit breakers regularly, making sure that the mechanisms are properly lubricated and will operate correctly whenever needed.

By now you should have learned the different sizes, load capacities and applications of distribution panels, distribution boards and switchgear. Therefore, depending on your industrial operations and other requirements, any of them might be perfect. So, to make an appropriate choice, it is advisable to consult a professional before considering any of them for your application.




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