Switchgear Vs Switchboard and panelboard: functions & differences

What Is a Switchboard? Switchboards are a large single panel, an…

What Is a Switchboard?

Switchboards are a large single panel, an assembly of panels or structural frames which can be mounted at the back or face or both: Instruments, overcurrent, buses, switches, and other protective devices. are typically used in lower voltage circuits less than or equal to 600 V. 

Switch gears can be seen as downstream from them, and they aid in allotting power to different sources and transferring it to control apparatus, panel boards, and specific loads. Safeguarding devices within switchboards can be individually housed or mounted as a collective.

Certain switchboards may combine a variety of group-mounted and individual-mounted components, such as high voltage gas insulated switchgear. 

What Is a Switchgear?

Switchgear is an assembly of electrical components, such as fuse, circuit breakers, protective devices, and switches that are individually mounted on a metal frame. It is used to control, protect, and isolate electrical circuits by switching and regulating the voltage supply in both commercial and industrial area.

Switchgears allow for the interruption and restoration of power flow in a safe manner. They are typically used in large industrial applications such as power plants or substations.

Switchgears also provide protection from potential overloads or faults in the system by using circuit breakers to automatically disconnect the load when there is an abnormality detected. With their ability to quickly respond to changes in current or voltage, switchgears are essential components in any electrical system.

What Is a panelboard?

Panelboards are critical components in power distribution systems, particularly for commercial and industrial applications. They are typically equipped with a transformer that modifies voltage to suitable levels for downstream use, as well as fusible or circuit breakers for overload protection. Draw-out panelboards are more common in larger facilities and data centers, which allow system components to be replaced or upgraded without shutting down critical systems.

In addition to power distribution, panelboards can also be used for control panels to manage various subgroups or systems, such as lighting and HVAC systems. As a key element in distribution systems, various safety and regulatory standards must be followed, including the National Electrical Code, which outlines guidelines for electrical installations. Panelboards thus play a fundamental role in ensuring the safe handling and delivery of power for a wide range of industrial and commercial applications.

Pros And Cons Of Switchboard

Using a switchboard has both its advantages and disadvantages. One of the main benefits of using a switchboard is that it allows for easy switching between different electrical circuits. Switchboards are generally much smaller than other types of switchgears. Meaning they do not take up as much space in a building or room. This can be especially beneficial for tight spaces, as it eliminates the need for bulky equipment.

Additionally, because switchboards are generally simpler to install than other types of switchgears, they can be more cost-effective in the long run. However, there are some drawbacks to using a switchboard. For instance, because they do not offer as many protections as other types of switches, it is important to ensure proper maintenance and safety when working with them.

Furthermore, due to their small size, it can be difficult to access internal components if repairs or replacements are necessary. In conclusion, while there are both pros and cons associated with using a switchboard, its advantages often outweigh its disadvantages when considering cost-effectiveness and space-saving potential.

Pros And Cons Of Switchgear

Switchgear is an important component in any electrical distribution system, providing overcurrent protection for various distribution equipment such as main switchgear, branch circuit, fusible switchboards, switchboards, and electrical panel boards. While switchgear offers many benefits, there are also some notable cons. One primary pro is that switchgear provides a centralized means of control for large electrical systems, enabling easy monitoring and intervention in case of electrical emergencies. Another advantage is that switchgear is often used in commercial buildings and industrial facilities, where it is necessary to have a large single panel to manage various electrical loads.

However, switchgear also has some drawbacks. One such con is that it can be expensive to install and maintain, requiring specialized technicians for troubleshooting and repair. Another disadvantage is the difference between panelboards and switchgear, as panelboards are generally used for smaller electrical systems, while switchgear is reserved for larger and more complex systems. Furthermore, switchgear may be less flexible than other forms of overcurrent protection, which can limit the options for upgrading and expanding electrical systems. These pros and cons must be carefully considered to determine the most suitable type of overcurrent protection for a given electrical distribution system. 

Switchgear Vs Switchboard: Five Common Differences

Switchgear and switchboard are two essential components in power distribution systems, and they have several differences that are worth noting. Firstly, switchgear is mostly used for higher voltages, while switchboards are used in low voltage applications. Secondly, switchgear divides an electrical power feed into smaller sections, while a switchboard is mainly used to distribute electricity to loads.

Switchgear follows the NEMA standard, meaning it adheres to a set of guidelines that ensure safety and consistency in its design and operation. Conversely, switchboards do not have a fixed standard, but usually, they do not have control equipment or circuit protection. When it comes to maintenance, switchgear often requires power interruption or shutting down the electrical system, while switchboards are simpler and do not require shutting down the entire electrical system for maintenance.

Finally, switchgear is the main distribution equipment in larger installations, while the switchboard is used mainly for control equipment and circuit protection. Electrical engineers should pay close attention to these differences when designing or selecting switchgear or switchboard for their electrical systems. 

Protective Devices

Regarding the protectve components and structures in a circuit, switchboards may feature either separately cased or collective mountings. In a distinctively separated switchboard, the breaker resides in its own enclosed space, separate from other enclosures.

Switchgears that are part of low-voltage power circuits listed in UL-1066 must adhere to IEC standards from the IEC614439 series. This switchgear may comprise various protective devices, such as molded case circuit breakers (MCCB) and insulated case circuit breakers (ICCB). Per the requirements of the IEC, low voltage switchgear must be constructed in accordance with the IEC 61439 series. In addition, these switchgear components have been designed to meet USA standards.

Standards and Testing

Standard and testing is the major difference. Both machines are electric systems with a voltage of 2200, but they have slight variations in their evaluation procedures. The key distinction between the switchgear and the switchboard is the criteria and examination.

Switchgear with low-voltage circuit breakers is constructed in accordance with the ANSI C37.20.1 and NEMA SG-3 standards. The high voltage switchgear is a long-connected structure tested at a 15% power factor for 30 cycles.

On the other hand, The switchboard is a short-circuited structure with a power factor of 20% for 3 cycles. It is employed in insulated case circuit breakers and molded-case circuit breakers as per the standards of NEMA PB-2 and UL-891.

Structure-Types of Breakers Used

Breakers are essential components in electrical systems that protect circuits from overload and short circuits. There are different types of breakers used in electrical systems based on electrical ratings and voltage requirements. Breakers used in low voltage systems are generally found in electrical panelboards, switchboards, and control centers and have defined specifications in the National Electrical Code (NEC).

These breakers can handle voltages up to 600V and are often deeper than load centers. Assemblies are generally accessible from the rear and front and are not intended to be installed in the main panel.

Breakers used in switchboards and control centers are generally more expensive compared to those used in panelboards, as they are designed to supply power and control to one or more panel.

In summary, the types of breakers used in electrical systems depend on system specifications, cost, and voltage ratings, and it is essential to adhere to the NEC guidelines for safety and optimal system performance. 

There are a variety of switchgear parts, arrangements, and designs that differentiate the switchgear from the switchboard. The type of circuit breakers utilized in switchboard and switchgear differ in their layout.

The three primary categories of circuit breakers are open, semi-open, and sealed circuits; these are known as power circuit breakers, insulated circuit breakers, and molded case circuit breakers respectively.

Power Circuit Breakers

Power circuit breakers are essential components in electrical switchgear used to protect power systems from short-circuit faults and overloads. Switchgear is a general term used to describe different types of equipment used in power systems, including switchboards, panelboards, and electrical switchgear. The key difference between switchgear and other electrical equipment is that switchgear includes overcurrent devices, such as breakers, fuses, and relays, to provide protection for the power systems.

Switchboards and switchgears are used in many industries, such as industrial, commercial, and utility. Panelboards are commonly used in commercial and industrial applications to control and distribute power. In residential settings, the main circuit breaker panel is a type of switchboard used to distribute electricity throughout the house.

Electrical switchgear is a large single panel or a combination of panels that contain multiple devices to control and protect the power system. Power circuit breakers are one of the most crucial components in switchgear. They provide reliable and efficient protection for power systems, ensuring uninterrupted power supply and preventing damage to equipment in case of faults or overloads. 

PCBs possess a capacity that extends from 800 amperes to 5000 amperes. These have been created and tested under multiple regulations from ICCBs to MCCBs. When installed in the switchgear, they are structured in a removable design allowing for either full or partial removal of the breakers when the switchgear is running. It consists of numerous components including pole assemblies, contacts, and arc chutes that are periodically reconstituted and investigated for optimal performance.

Insulated Case Breakers

These particular breakers are a kind of molded case breaker that possess the same capabilities as power circuit breakers and offer a variety of features. The insulated case breakers are created in accordance with the same regulations as MCCBs.

Insulated case breakers have a normal capacity of 440 to 5000 amperes and observe the same protocols as MCCBs. These consist of swappable components such as contact points and come in either a detachable or non-detachable model, which can be incorporated into Switchboards.

Molded Case Circuit Breakers

It is the most widely used type of breakers, with a range of 15 amps to 3000 amps. These breakers are installed in low voltage panelboards and switchboards and are either fitted with plugs or bolted onto a busbar. The unit is housed within a molded outer casing to shield it from external damage.

In the event of a malfunction or breakdown of the circuit, a breaker must be either repaired or replaced. To prevent any trouble or disruption to the circuit breaker, MCCBs should only be installed or detached from a switchboard when it is deactivated.

Vacuum Circuit Breaker

It is mainly utilized in medium voltage switchgear systems. Its defining feature is the mechanism for quenching arcs, which extinguishes the arc created by prolonged transmission of electricity once it reaches its dielectric strength in a vacuum. Application Considerations

Due to different standards and specifications, switchgear and switchboards are designed, tested and have varying capabilities. This difference in their usage and performance is what distinguishes them from each other.

Voltage Differences

The circuit breaker has a restricted capacity for handling electrical power.

A key distinction is that switchboards can cope with voltages of less than 600 volts, whereas switchgear can manage up to 350 Kilovolts of voltage.

This distinction in the voltages of both the structures causes a variation in the applications of both- switchgears and switchboards. 


 Although both the appliances and standards in the field meet requirements. Switchgears necessitates access from the back and front owing to its size. During the mandated clearance outlined by the NEC, thought is given to the area necessary for drawing out a breaker when accessing from the front. The area considerations may be comparable in situations where switchboards are connected via the back. However, when it comes to those with front access, they may need fewer space considerations.Applications

Switchgears are recommended for telecommunications, production or manufacturing plants, data hubs, airports, high-rises, switching locations, or assembly halls. High-grade switchboards are suitable for large institutional or business facilities, medical premises, minimal manufacturing and research centers. Front access switchboards are generally used for commercial properties or straightforward structures, storage facilities or retail services.

How to Choose Between a Switchboard and Switchgear?

When it comes to choosing between a switchboard and switchgear, there are several factors to consider. One of the main differences between the two is that switchgear is used for higher voltage applications, while switchboards are often used for lower voltage applications. Panelboards are used for even lower voltages.

Additionally, switchgear is typically more expensive than panelboards due to the higher level of electrical equipment required. Control and supply power are the primary functions of both switchgear and switchboards, but the configuration and design vary greatly. Switchgear generally has front and rear access, whereas switchboards are typically designed with front access only.

The center vs. end-feeds, vertical bus, and horizontal bus design are also important considerations. These factors, along with others defined in the NEC (National Electrical Code), must be taken into account when deciding which option is best for a specific application. Ultimately, the decision between switchgear and switchboards will largely depend on the voltage requirements of the project and the level of access and control needed.

Type of project

The project and its intricacy can assist in comprehending and selecting the right breaker. Depending on the usage, capabilities, and safety equipment, you can select what is most suitable for you- An advanced switchboard, a front-reachable switchboard, or switchgear.


Discovering the primary outlay for a venture can help you to decide which is more suitable- high-end switchgear or a low-end switchboard. The disparity in cost between the two could be as immense as 200-300%, factoring in long-term implications such as trustworthiness, outage, and upkeep.

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