Cut the Copper
Joe Guentert is owner and sole proprietor of Power Distribution Systems, located in Charlotte, NC. He is a 1969 graduate of the University of Notre Dame (dual majors of Electrical Engineering and Business Management). He had an 18-year career with General Electric Company, with various assignments around the U.S., and worked five years as a vice president of IEM, Inc, Fremont, CA.
April 04, 2012
You should know before we begin that I’m a highly opinionated old guy who’s been around the electrical industry for a very long time. What I’ll be writing will likely trigger controversy—the story will be light on theory, and heavy on practical experience. I expect to see agreement from about half the electrical industry, and strong disagreement and some hate mail from the other half. But, in any case, you might agree that the history is interesting, so let’s begin the story with some background.
Liquid-Filled Medium Voltage Distribution Transformers and “Loadcenters”
For the first 35 years of the U.S. electrical industry, everyone could see that the good old mineral oil filled distribution transformer was a wonderful apparatus—except when it failed catastrophically with a ruptured tank and a good supply of oxygen and an ignition source—in which case it became a lethal ball of hot, orange flames and dense black smoke. To be installed safely indoors, oil-filled transformers had to be placed only inside enclosed fireproof vaults.
That all changed in 1935 when Monsanto Chemical Co. acquired a small chemical company named Swann Chemical Co., who had developed a new electrical insulating fluid compound having the name “Askarel.” The liquid had all of the desirable properties of mineral oil for use as an insulating fluid in transformers, including high dielectric strength, good thermal conductivity, and low coefficient of expansion. But, beyond that, it was an inert, synthetic chemical product that could hardly be ignited under any circumstances—its chief benefit was that it was essentially non-flammable, in addition to possessing all the other good properties you’d want in a transformer insulating fluid.
Monsanto began to market the product to the electrical industry under the trade name Aroclor. The electrical industry giants back in the day, GE and Westinghouse, immediately recognized the potential of this new liquid, and began purchasing it for use in capacitors, transformers, lighting ballasts, and other products. GE marketed the product under the trade name Pyranol, and Westinghouse marketed the product under the trade name Inerteen. The new products containing those liquids were hugely successful and much appreciated in their respective markets.
Helping Joe on these blogs posts is Brian Steinbrecher, an electrical engineer focused on medium-voltage power distribution systems. His 30 year career includes work with an end-user (IOU), a manufacturer of power systems equipment, and as a system designer/consultant. Brian has a wide breadth of experience within the utility segment from systems design to equipment specifications and from system studies to construction and start-up. He has written many technical documents, papers, and reports and holds over a dozen active patents.
A good portion of Brian’s career was with Cooper Power Systems where he performed engineering and marketing work in behalf of their major product groups. Prior to moving into his current role, Brian was the Director of Engineering for a product group at Cooper. Brian is currently the Owner and Principal Engineer at Galt Engineering Solutions located in Brookfield, Wis.
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