Residual-current Device - Typical Features

Typical Features

The photograph depicts the internal mechanism of a residual-current device (RCD). The device pictured is designed to be wired in-line in an appliance power cord. It is rated to carry a maximum current of 13 amperes and is designed to trip on a leakage current of 30 mA. This is an active RCD; that is, it latches mechanically and therefore trips on power failure, a useful feature for equipment that could be dangerous on unexpected re-energisation.

The incoming supply and the neutral conductors are connected to the terminals at (1) and the outgoing load conductors are connected to the terminals at (2). The earth conductor (not shown) is connected through from supply to load uninterrupted.

When the reset button (3) is pressed the contacts ((4) and hidden behind (5)) close, allowing current to pass. The solenoid (5) keeps the contacts closed when the reset button is released.

The sense coil (6) is a differential current transformer which surrounds (but is not electrically connected to) the live and neutral conductors. In normal operation, all the current down the live conductor returns up the neutral conductor. The currents in the two conductors are therefore equal and opposite and cancel each other out.

Any fault to earth (for example caused by a person touching a live component in the attached appliance) causes some of the current to take a different return path which means there is an imbalance (difference) in the current in the two conductors (single phase case), or, more generally, a nonzero sum of currents from among various conductors (for example, three phase conductors and one neutral conductor).

This difference causes a current in the sense coil (6) which is picked up by the sense circuitry (7). The sense circuitry then removes power from the solenoid (5) and the contacts (4) are forced apart by a spring, cutting off the electricity supply to the appliance.

The device is designed so that the current is interrupted in milliseconds, greatly reducing the chances of a dangerous electric shock being received.

The test button (8) allows the correct operation of the device to be verified by passing a small current through the orange test wire (9). This simulates a fault by creating an imbalance in the sense coil. If the RCD does not trip when this button is pressed then the device must be replaced.

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