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Experience in the Evaluation of Polymeric Insulators for Distribution Systems in Medium Voltage through a Natural Laboratory
A. Abreu

Abstract— In order to identify possible shortcomings at design and manufacturing level, polymeric insulators are subjected to various tests at the laboratory established in ANSI C29.13-2000 [1] and IEC 61109-1995 [2] norms. One of these are environmental, which is done via simulations in laboratories, but these never become so severe and demanding as the present conditions of operation in the field. Therefore, this research develops a methodology to evaluate different designs of polymeric insulators (silicone rubber) suspension type with galvanized steel hardware, aluminum and polymer coated in a natural environment. For this, a specific area was available where environmental conditions are the most severe on the west coast of Zulia State, located north of the Venezuela Guajira, and establishing it as a Natural Laboratory. As a result recommendations were established for the characteristics of polymeric insulators to be used in the distribution network in the Zulia region, in order to obtain the highest reliability through the useful life. Index Terms— Polymeric Insulators, Natural Laboratory, Material Failure, Natural Environment.

Natural Lab. “Caño Sagua”



he main function of the external insulation used in air lines is to electrically separate the supporting structures conductors (hardware, crosshead and poles). These elements are subject to weather conditions and therefore are exposed to environmental conditions. This situation affects the characteristics of each insulator by the accumulation of impurities and moisture on its surface, which may result from small flutter to complete arcs between the lines and the supporting structures. The North-Western area of Venezuela is highly influenced by winds with high salt content coming from the north-east, from the Gulf of Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea, being the most severe area the municipalities of Mara, Páez and Padilla located at the Guajira (see figure 1). Additionally, the combination of salt contamination and moisture generated by the Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela causes the acceleration of corrosion processes on metal elements. Another natural phenomenon that occurs in the region consists in strong winds with sand producing the "Sand Blasting" erosion effect in the materials.

Fig. 1. Zulia State Map, Venezuela.

Augusto Abreu work in the electric utility “Energía Eléctrica de Venezuela (ENELVEN)”, Maracaibo, Zulia State, Venezuela, Operational Center “Caujarito”, (e-mail:, Paper prepared for the IEEE-PES 2010 T&D Latin America Conference.

Usually the electricity distribution companies located in coastal areas take action against the contamination using ceramic or glass insulation with larger than 31 mm/kV search to minimize the failures by pollution, together with washing maintenance plans at the dry season, which are costly because of the equipment and human resources. Ceramic insulators have the "hydrophilic" property, producing a layer of water on the surface of the insulation, but the contaminants form conductive layers which presents the circulation of leakage currents. While there are insulators made of polymeric material, which have the "hydrophobic" property it produces moisture and water repellency, which prevents formation of a conductive layer, making the circulation of leakage current


impossible, thus preventing the insulator fails by contamination. Polymers (silicon rubber) are an organic material which is susceptible to high temperatures and erosion of the material by "Sand Blasting". Therefore, to identify possible deficiencies in design and manufacturing level in these polymeric insulators they are subjected to various tests at the laboratory established in ANSI C29.13-2000 [1] and IEC 61109-1995 [2]. One of these are environmental, which are performed through simulations in laboratories, but these never become so severe and exacting as the actual operation conditions at the field. Therefore, this article presents the experience of different evaluation designs (see figure 2) of polymeric insulators (silicon rubber) suspension type with galvanized steel hardware, aluminum and coated with polymer in a natural environment.




Fig. 3. Three Types of Designs Evaluated.

The suspension-type polymer insulators are generally composed of a single piece that is shaped with a bar of epoxyfiberglass coated externally with a silicon rubber material, and it is added up at the ends with metallic finishes which binds through hardware to the conductor and to the crosshead of the post. III. TYPICAL FAILURE OF POLYMERIC INSULATOR Among the typical failures of polymeric insulators are characterized in IEC 61109-1995 [2] which are: Tracking (conductive paths), cracking (cracks greater than 1 mm), Erosion (loss of material is a polymer by nonconductive effect) and degradation by ultra violet rays UV (massive cracking surface) and hydrolysis phenomenon. Most of these problems have been overcome with the new designs and compounds, however when they occur are for: deficiencies of the material with which the insulator is manufactured, little experience of its use in field, or because the environmental conditions where it is used has exceeded the design parameters, whereby these failures may appear. For this field becomes important to try different designs using a natural laboratory where the conditions appear more severe and in the same region where the polymeric insulators will be implemented. IV. EVALUATION METHODOLOGY A. Natural Laboratory The selected geographical area "Caño Sagua" is located nearby the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira region of Venezuela, located in the Paez Municipality in the State of Zulia. Their choice reflects its environmental conditions (given by its proximity to the Gulf of Venezuela). For this a derivation (branch) was to be found in a 23,9 kV circuit with a low charge density, which allowed taking it out of service and examining samples of insulators under study (see figure 4). As shown in the figure, part of the circuit goes parallel to the beach, and the other side goes perpendicular. In this area, environmental conditions are extreme (strong winds, salt contamination, corrosion and sand blasting) it can be found accelerated results in a short time behaving as a natural laboratory.

Fig. 2. Different Designs of Polymeric Insulators Suspension Type.

For this, it was set a specific area where environmental conditions are most severe at the north-western Venezuela in Guajira establishing itself as a natural laboratory. As a result recommendations were established for the characteristics of polymeric insulators to be used in this region, in order to obtain the highest reliability through the useful life. II. POLYMERIC INSULATORS SUSPENSION TYPE The three (3) designs of insulators suspension anchorage type that have been tested are:  Model A , this is a standard design in C29.13-2000 [1], which has galvanized steel hardware.  Model B , this is a special design hardware coated with polymeric material (silicon rubber).  Model C , this is a special design with aluminum alloy hardware partially covered polymeric material (silicon rubber).

3 TABLE III METALLIC ELEMENT STATUS Metallic Element The hardware are in optimal conditions. No corrosion present. The hardware have galvanized loss or material loss, with spots of oxidation until the emergence of bubbles. Corrosion is present. In the fittings of the chain begins the appearance of flakes and the expansion of the section. Corrosion is present. The hardware has a thickness loss until almost complete loss of the element.

Good Regular Poor Critical

Fig. 4. Graphics of the Natural Laboratory.

In order to obtain results of the behavior of insulators of different designs, samples were installed along the entire branch. Table I shows a summary of environmental conditions of this natural laboratory, which highlights the result of the contamination level, which was carried out with the methodology of the ESDD (Equivalent Salt Deposit Density) for a period of 5 years.
TABLE I NATURAL LABORATORY CHARACTERISTICS Natural Lab. Parameter “Caño Sagua” Weather Arid ºC Temperature Range 27 – 32 ºC Precipitation Level 400 to 800 mm Humidity 75 to 80% Wind Speed 4 to 6 m/sec Presence of "Sand Blasting" yes Maximum level of DESD (mg/cm2) measured 0,4406 On top of Very High Pollution level according to IEC 60815 (0,3000 mg/cm2) Nominal tension level (f-f) 23,9 kV Maximum tension level (f-f) 25 kV Laboratory initiation July 2002

C. Insulators Dissection The objective of this dissection is to evaluate the outcome of the manufacture process and validate whether there is an asymmetry between the fiberglass core and the polymeric cover. Additionally, it evaluates the thickness of the polymeric cover where it is recommended that this should have at least 2 mm thick above glass fiber core, for insulators up to 34.5 kV isolators (see figure 5).

Polymer Cover Disc

Fiberglass Core, Symmetrically Centered Fig. 5. Insulator Cross-Section.

D. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware This is one of the most critical points of polymeric insulators since this material combines three materials generating an interface. This union is visually inspected and validated if there was any deformation or moisture penetration. Figures 6, 7 and 8 show the three (3) types.

B. Polymer and Hardware Visual Inspection Within the methodology evaluation of the insulators mounted on field, the visual inspection is to detect failures in polymeric insulation, as well as the metal parts (hardware). For this it was established a matrix of qualitative evaluation. In Tables II and III establishes the yardstick of the insulating material and metallic polymer insulator.
TABLE II INSULATING ELEMENT STATUS Insulator Element It presents no visual traces of fading, hardening, brittleness or loss of gloss. It is observed degradation due to degradation process as changes of discoloration and loss of gloss. It presents degradation, loss of hydrophobicity, localized downloads, brittleness, hardness, erosion and small cracks. Damage to the insulation, surface discharges, erosion effects, deep cracks and the insulation rupture.

Polymer Union -– Fiberglass – Hardware Galvanized Steel Hardware Hardware-Eye

Good Regular Poor Critical

Disc Glass Fiber Core Silicon Rubber

Fig. 6. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware, Model


4 hardware completely covered with polymeric material Stainless Steel or Galvanized Steel Ring

Fig. 7. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware, Model


Fig. 9. Insulator Exposed for 4 years.

hardware partially Silicon Rubber covered with Disc polymeric material

Glass Fiber Core

With regard to polymeric material, it did not present any type of degradation and being in regular condition. In general terms, with the results obtained with this model of insulator, it can be concluded that in the northern zone of Zulia this insulator would have a useful life of approximately 5 years of hardware degradation due to corrosion. From field experiences, the degradation found in the hardware reaches in Maracaibo and in the rest of Zulia with an exposure time of more than 30 years. Therefore, its use is recommended for all Zulia except in the north. B. Hardware Insulator Covered with Polymer (Model B ) The design of these insulators has polymer coated ends and ring (hardware) with the line, galvanized steel and insulation material used is silicon rubber. Insulators were tested with leak distances from 670 mm to 840 mm. These insulators were installed in August 2002. After 18 months installed, a visual inspection found a number of deep cracks, breakage and wear of polymeric material. Having identified these anomalies the failed insulators were examined (see figure 10). It was found that polymeric material breakage was caused by the friction of one of the ends of the insulator with the hardware of the crosshead. The failure by erosion was caused to the friction with the sandy material in combination with strong winds (Sand Blasting). The third failure are deep cracks (cracking) (Fig. 10, B-7), which start at the end where the insulator meets the conductor and the hardware. Of the cuts made it was detected that the leakage current circulates between the fiberglass bar and the polymer coat (Fig. 10, B-2, B-3 and B5). Based on the gathered evidences, the best hypothesis raised for this crack is that because of the mechanical strains the present seal brakes between the galvanized steel buttonhole and the polymeric cover, causing the entry of moisture and causing partial discharges between the polymeric layer and the fiberglass bar.

Fig. 8. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware, Model


E. Leak Distances and Dry Arc Analysis It is performed a visual inspection to detect cracking traces of Tracking or Cracking generated by external leak currents to the polymeric material and could be caused by the circulation of leak currents. Additionally, you can identify possible flutter traces in the polymeric material or in hardware, typical of an electric arc. V. RESULTS The conditions found in the samples subjected to environmental conditions of the natural laboratory are shown below. A. Insulator with Galvanized Hardware (Model A ) The insulators used were model DS-28 established in standard [1], with leak distances from 550 mm to 660 mm and with galvanized steel hardware with a minimum of 95 microns thick. In the case of insulators with exposures of 4 years, hardware were found in an advanced state of deterioration, presenting corrosion and abruption of the galvanized coating as defined in Table III.


Fig. 11. B-1 Galvanized Hardware, B-2 Stainless Steel Hardware.

C. Insulator with Aluminum Alloy Hardware Partially Covered Polymer (Model C ) The exposure time of this insulator was 4 years. It was utilized an insulator model with a leak distance of 950 mm. The intention of testing this design was to subject the aluminum alloy hardware to the actual conditions of the area. As shown in figure 12, the metallic elements were found in a regular status, presenting a small material loss and a corrosion color from the effects of the friction with the corroded galvanized steel hardware. For this reason it is recommend the use of aluminum alloy hardware for the northwestern region of Venezuela.

Fig. 10. Failed Insulator Dissection.

It is emphasized that these failures were repeated in all insulators tested with this type of design. Additionally, when the insulator was sectioned is was found an asymmetry in the injection of the polymeric cover (Fig. 10, B-4). As a result, it was found that the insulating element has a critical condition and the metal elements present critical conditions. This analysis confirms what was developed in a preliminary investigation (4) about the behavior of this insulators design. Following the failures of the insulators covered with polymer hardware and galvanized steel ring, in 2005 similar insulators were installed but with stainless steel hardware. In mid 2007, were examined in field finding the same faults that were presented with the insulators with galvanized steel hardware. As shown in figure 11, in both insulators deep cracks occur, although using stainless steel hardware. As a result, it was found that the insulator element presented a critical condition, for this reason the use of these insulators models are discarded.

Fig. 12. Insulator with aluminum alloy hardware exposed for 4 years.

With respect to the polymeric material present a poor condition as was observed erosion and polymer separation between the cover and hardware (see figure 13). For this reason it is not convenient to use insulators with hardware partially covered


[1] [2] ANSI C29.13-2000, “American Nacional Standard for Insulator – Composite Distribution Deadend Type”. IEC 61109-1995, “Composite insulators for A.C. overhead lines with a nominal voltage greater than 1000 V, Definitions, Test Methods and Acceptance Criteria”. IEC 60815-1986, “Guide for the selection of insulators in respect of polluted conditions“.


Paper Presented at Conference:
[4] C. Blanco, C. Vásquez, M. Carrillo, G. Gonzalez, C. Alfonso, “Caracterización de Fallas en la Interfase de Materiales en Aisladores no Cerámicos”, Congreso de Alta Tensión y Aislamiento Eléctrico, ALTAE 2005.

Fig. 13. C-1 Erosion, C-2 Drilling, C-3 and C-4 Separation of Polymer and Hardware.

VI. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The use of insulating materials with hydrophobic properties allows the reduction of the leak distance improves the insulation coordination and reduces washing maintenance costs as it requires no artificial washing. In function of the learning obtained through field tests on polymeric insulators, suspension or tie type, it was found a good performance with respect to the silicon rubber insulation, and with the characteristics established in the DS-28 insulators of the norm ANSI C29. 13-2000 (model A ). For the case evaluated and depending on the results obtained, it was decided to reduce the leak distance of 863.60 mm used with two ceramic bells to 550 mm with a polymeric insulator without the need to do preventive maintenance (wash). The use of insulators with galvanized steel hardware with 95 microns thick for the entire northwestern region of Venezuela, except for the region of La Guajira, where it is recommended the use of polymeric insulators with aluminum alloy hardware because of the high levels of corrosion. Obviates the use of insulators with hardware polymer covered completely by both galvanized steel ring stainless steel led to a mechanical cause failure at the junction polymer - glass fiber – hardware (model B ). Also not recommended for use insulators with polymer partially covered hardware because there is no adhesion between two materials which allows moisture penetration (model C ). It is recommend the application of the methodology developed in this work in regions of the world where environmental conditions such as environmental pollution, corrosion and sand blasting are present in an extreme way, and it is required to implement new designs for polymeric insulators, in order to detect faults and improvement points before mass implementation.

Augusto Abreu, Electrical Engineer graduated from the Rafael Urdaneta University, in 1997. His professional experience goes from planning Network Transition and Distribution, Power Quality Survey, Forensic Engineering, Distribution Network Maintenance, Materials Technical Specifications, and Evaluations of Material Quality. Currently he works as a Conceptual Engineer T&D in the electric utility “Energía Eléctrica de Venezuela (ENELVEN)”. He belongs to the team that is preparing the technical standards from Venezuela CODELECTRA. E-mail: