The Difference Between Circuit Breakers and Isolators

Isolators and circuit breakers are two common electronic equipment pieces found in various applications and industries, managing various aspects of current and electrical flow for the means of safety. While having a somewhat similar general role in providing safety, the specific operations and use of both equipment types differ from one another. As both can prevent hazardous electrical conditions and are highly beneficial for many systems, it can be quite advantageous to be familiar with each.

As a form of automatically operated electrical switch, circuit breaker equipment is specifically implemented in circuits for the means of guarded sensitive components from overload conditions and short circuits. When a fault is detected within a circuit, the circuit breaker will rapidly interrupt current flow through the separation of contacts and the extinguishing of an electrical arc. As compared to similar electrical hardware such as fuses, circuit breakers may be reset through manual or automatic means so that normal operations may be resumed. Depending on the system in question and how much voltage is being handled, numerous circuit breaker types ranging from low-voltage to high-voltage types may be procured. Generally, circuit breakers can handle heavy load currents and are implemented alongside devices such as transformers for their protection.

Isolators, meanwhile, are a type of mechanical switch that is designed to isolate two sections of an instrument or electrical circuit. Depending on their type, such devices may be manually operated, semi-automatic, or fully-automatic. Various isolators may also differ from one another in terms of how they enact isolation, some using physical means while others take advantage of electrical processes. When implemented in applications such as transmission lines, isolators may be used to isolate the tower from the conductor, ensuring that grounding loops are eliminated for the means of safety.

Electric isolator switches in particular are useful for maintenance procedures, finding use for power grids and substations so that high voltage may be optimally isolated for means of safety. Generally, more common isolator switch components are not suited for stop-current applications during a fault and cannot eliminate the high voltage arcs that are produced by disturbances of electric conductors. Rather, they may be implemented in high-voltage power systems alongside circuit breakers for enhanced safety. In such settings, the circuit breaker will disconnect the circuit during an overload or fault condition, and the isolator will open after. When putting the system back into normal operating mode, the isolator will need to be closed before the circuit breaker is closed.

With their varying roles, one can see how circuit breakers and electrical isolators are set apart from one another. For their construction, isolators are more simplistic mechanical switches while circuit breakers feature an electromechanical switch and a relay within their housing. Isolators are also off-load devices, only to be used when the power supply is shut off. Circuit breakers, meanwhile, are intended to be used while the power supply is on so that they may manage current. Beyond such qualities, both devices also vary in their function, withstand capacity, current flow operation, and more.

Whether you require an isolator switch for maintenance or a circuit breaker for safety, the experts at One Click Aviation can help you secure competitive pricing and rapid lead-times on everything that you require. Owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we provide customers access to over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find items that have been sourced from leading global manufacturers that we trust. If there are particular products that you would like a quote on for your comparisons, fill out and submit an RFQ form as provided on our website and a dedicated account manager will reach out to you in just 15 minutes or less, 24/7x365.


April 29, 2022
December 6, 2021

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