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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
Natural Lab.
conditions of operation in the field. Therefore, this research “Caño Sagua”
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.


T 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, Fig. 1. Zulia State Map, Venezuela.
from the Gulf of Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea, being the
most severe area the municipalities of Mara, Páez and Padilla Usually the electricity distribution companies located in
located at the Guajira (see figure 1). Additionally, the coastal areas take action against the contamination using
combination of salt contamination and moisture generated by ceramic or glass insulation with larger than 31 mm/kV search
the Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela causes the to minimize the failures by pollution, together with washing
acceleration of corrosion processes on metal elements. maintenance plans at the dry season, which are costly because
Another natural phenomenon that occurs in the region consists of the equipment and human resources. Ceramic insulators
in strong winds with sand producing the "Sand Blasting" have the "hydrophilic" property, producing a layer of water on
erosion effect in the materials. 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
Augusto Abreu work in the electric utility “Energía Eléctrica de Venezuela material, which have the "hydrophobic" property it produces
(ENELVEN)”, Maracaibo, Zulia State, Venezuela, Operational Center
“Caujarito”, (e-mail:, moisture and water repellency, which prevents formation of a
Paper prepared for the IEEE-PES 2010 T&D Latin America Conference. conductive layer, making the circulation of leakage current

impossible, thus preventing the insulator fails by

contamination. A B C
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
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 epoxy-
fiberglass 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


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
Fig. 2. Different Designs of Polymeric Insulators Suspension Type. the material with which the insulator is manufactured, little
experience of its use in field, or because the environmental
For this, it was set a specific area where environmental conditions where it is used has exceeded the design
conditions are most severe at the north-western Venezuela in parameters, whereby these failures may appear. For this field
Guajira establishing itself as a natural laboratory. As a result becomes important to try different designs using a natural
recommendations were established for the characteristics of laboratory where the conditions appear more severe and in the
polymeric insulators to be used in this region, in order to same region where the polymeric insulators will be
obtain the highest reliability through the useful life. implemented.


The three (3) designs of insulators suspension anchorage A. Natural Laboratory
type that have been tested are:
The selected geographical area "Caño Sagua" is located
nearby the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira region of
 Model A , this is a standard design in C29.13-2000 [1],
Venezuela, located in the Paez Municipality in the State of
which has galvanized steel hardware.
Zulia. Their choice reflects its environmental conditions
 Model B , this is a special design hardware coated with
(given by its proximity to the Gulf of Venezuela). For this a
polymeric material (silicon rubber).
derivation (branch) was to be found in a 23,9 kV circuit with a
 Model C , this is a special design with aluminum alloy low charge density, which allowed taking it out of service and
hardware partially covered polymeric material (silicon examining samples of insulators under study (see figure 4). As
rubber). 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

Metallic Element
The hardware are in optimal conditions. No corrosion
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.

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
Fig. 4. Graphics of the Natural Laboratory. cover. Additionally, it evaluates the thickness of the polymeric
cover where it is recommended that this should have at least 2
In order to obtain results of the behavior of insulators of mm thick above glass fiber core, for insulators up to 34.5 kV
different designs, samples were installed along the entire isolators (see figure 5).
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 Polymer
methodology of the ESDD (Equivalent Salt Deposit Density) Cover
for a period of 5 years.
Natural Lab.
Parameter Fiberglass Core,
“Caño Sagua”
Weather Arid Symmetrically Centered
ºC Temperature Range 27 – 32 ºC
Precipitation Level 400 to 800 mm Fig. 5. Insulator Cross-Section.
Humidity 75 to 80%
Wind Speed 4 to 6 m/sec
Presence of "Sand Blasting" yes D. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware
Maximum level of DESD (mg/cm2) measured 0,4406 This is one of the most critical points of polymeric
On top of Very High
Pollution level according to IEC 60815
(0,3000 mg/cm2)
insulators since this material combines three materials
Nominal tension level (f-f) 23,9 kV generating an interface. This union is visually inspected and
Maximum tension level (f-f) 25 kV validated if there was any deformation or moisture
Laboratory initiation July 2002 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 Polymer Union -–
Fiberglass – Hardware
polymeric insulation, as well as the metal parts (hardware).
Galvanized Steel
For this it was established a matrix of qualitative evaluation. Hardware
In Tables II and III establishes the yardstick of the insulating
material and metallic polymer insulator. Hardware-Eye

Insulator Element
It presents no visual traces of fading, hardening, brittleness
or loss of gloss.
It is observed degradation due to degradation process as Disc
Regular Glass Fiber
changes of discoloration and loss of gloss.
Core Silicon Rubber
It presents degradation, loss of hydrophobicity, localized
downloads, brittleness, hardness, erosion and small cracks.
Damage to the insulation, surface discharges, erosion Fig. 6. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware, Model A.
effects, deep cracks and the insulation rupture.

hardware completely Stainless Steel or

covered with polymeric Galvanized Steel Ring

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

Fig. 9. Insulator Exposed for 4 years.

hardware partially Silicon Rubber Glass Fiber

With regard to polymeric material, it did not present any
covered with Disc Core type of degradation and being in regular condition. In general
polymeric material 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
Fig. 8. Polymer Union - Fiberglass – Hardware, Model C. 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
E. Leak Distances and Dry Arc Analysis installed in August 2002. After 18 months installed, a visual
It is performed a visual inspection to detect cracking traces inspection found a number of deep cracks, breakage and wear
of Tracking or Cracking generated by external leak currents to of polymeric material. Having identified these anomalies the
the polymeric material and could be caused by the circulation failed insulators were examined (see figure 10). It was found
of leak currents. Additionally, you can identify possible flutter that polymeric material breakage was caused by the friction of
traces in the polymeric material or in hardware, typical of an one of the ends of the insulator with the hardware of the
electric arc. crosshead. The failure by erosion was caused to the friction
with the sandy material in combination with strong winds
V. RESULTS (Sand Blasting). The third failure are deep cracks (cracking)
The conditions found in the samples subjected to (Fig. 10, B-7), which start at the end where the insulator meets
environmental conditions of the natural laboratory are shown the conductor and the hardware. Of the cuts made it was
below. detected that the leakage current circulates between the
fiberglass bar and the polymer coat (Fig. 10, B-2, B-3 and B-
A. Insulator with Galvanized Hardware (Model A ) 5). Based on the gathered evidences, the best hypothesis raised
The insulators used were model DS-28 established in for this crack is that because of the mechanical strains the
standard [1], with leak distances from 550 mm to 660 mm and present seal brakes between the galvanized steel buttonhole
with galvanized steel hardware with a minimum of 95 microns and the polymeric cover, causing the entry of moisture and
thick. In the case of insulators with exposures of 4 years, causing partial discharges between the polymeric layer and the
hardware were found in an advanced state of deterioration, fiberglass bar.
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
Fig. 10. Failed Insulator Dissection.
hardware for the northwestern region of Venezuela.
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
Fig. 12. Insulator with aluminum alloy hardware exposed for 4 years.
cracks occur, although using stainless steel hardware. As a
result, it was found that the insulator element presented a With respect to the polymeric material present a poor
critical condition, for this reason the use of these insulators condition as was observed erosion and polymer separation
models are discarded. between the cover and hardware (see figure 13). For this
reason it is not convenient to use insulators with hardware
partially covered

[1] ANSI C29.13-2000, “American Nacional Standard for Insulator –
Composite Distribution Deadend Type”.
[2] IEC 61109-1995, “Composite insulators for A.C. overhead lines with a
nominal voltage greater than 1000 V, Definitions, Test Methods and
Acceptance Criteria”.
[3] 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

Augusto Abreu, Electrical Engineer
Fig. 13. C-1 Erosion, C-2 Drilling, graduated from the Rafael Urdaneta
C-3 and C-4 Separation of Polymer and Hardware. University, in 1997. His professional
experience goes from planning Network
VI. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Transition and Distribution, Power
The use of insulating materials with hydrophobic properties Quality Survey, Forensic Engineering,
allows the reduction of the leak distance improves the Distribution Network Maintenance,
insulation coordination and reduces washing maintenance Materials Technical Specifications, and
costs as it requires no artificial washing. Evaluations of Material Quality. Currently he works as a
In function of the learning obtained through field tests on Conceptual Engineer T&D in the electric utility “Energía
polymeric insulators, suspension or tie type, it was found a Eléctrica de Venezuela (ENELVEN)”. He belongs to the team
good performance with respect to the silicon rubber insulation, that is preparing the technical standards from Venezuela
and with the characteristics established in the DS-28 insulators CODELECTRA.
of the norm ANSI C29. 13-2000 (model A ). E-mail:
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
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.

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