Creepage and Clearance are international compliance terms commonly referred to as “Over-Surface” and “Through-Air” Electrical Spacings in the US and Canada. Creepage & Clearance distances form part of the product’s electrical insulation system that protects the user from a Risk of Shock. Creepage and Clearance measurements are required between live parts and across electrical insulating materials. Consequently, creepage & clearance distances must be measured in most electrical products as part of the compliance and certification process.
Purpose of the Test:
To verify that there is adequate insulation between electrical parts, to withstand the rigors of normal use, over the life of the product. This can include an accumulation of conductive contaminants that can become conductive with moisture (i.e. dust). This also includes periodic overvoltage events on the mains voltage. These events can be caused by a number of normal situations including weather and switching induced overvoltages.
Pre-Requisites Required: Considerable preparation and design review is necessary to determine where exactly in the electrical circuit that creepage & clearance distances are required and, what the required distances are for each measurement point. When using the creepage & clearance tables in the safety standard, you will have already needed to identify:
Measurement Objectives: The objective is likely to depend on the purpose of the measurements. This will dictate what method should be used for verifying compliance of your required creepage & clearance distances. Are you required to measure and record the data or simply verify compliance?
1. Verifying Compliance: In some circumstances, you may not need the actual measurement data. Rather, you simply need to verify that the creepage & clearance distances comply with the requirements in the standard = you just need to know that you have at least the minimum required creepage & clearance distances.
2. Measuring & Recording Data: In other circumstances, the actual creepage and clearance measurement data is recorded and then compared to the required distances. Some product certifications require completion of a report template that requires the data.
1. Not Powered: The product is not connected to power during this test.
2. Sample Preparation: Prior to reviewing creepage & clearance distances, many standards indicate that internal components should be pushed with a test finger using a small force (i.e. 10N). This represents the realities of production where components may not always be mounted in the perfect position. Similarly, enclosures are often required to be pushed with a moderate force before making measurements (i.e. 30N).
4. Measuring Creepage & Clearance:
a) To measure and record the creepage and clearance distances, you must use tools that display the measured result.
b) Depending on how large or small the electrical spacings, different tools may provide better results.
c) A calibrated small metal ruler can provide reliable results for larger measurements.
d) Digital calipers are also needed for creepage & clearance measurements and better than a ruler for smaller measurements.
e) For creepage distance measurements on a printed wiring board, a small optical comparator with calibrated scale is critical (i.e. small monocle type comparator
f) Some product developers are using 3D imaging software to design their product which often can provide the distances – be sure to check the final product to insure compliance of the manufactured product (check with spacing keys)
Gaps, Groves, & Ridges: Due to the potential for a buildup of dust within an electrical product over time, many standards indicate that small gaps, grooves, and ridges that are less than 1 mm in width should be ignored in the measurement. If your standard has this requirement, be sure to check for an Annex in the standard that contains examples and diagrams to help you fully understand this requirement. This is especially true for “V” shaped slots where creepage distance is not measured to the bottom of the V but instead stops and cuts across the V at the 1 mm width point.
Insulation Coordination: Essential knowledge for proper creepage & clearance evaluations:
As you can see, we don’t simply perform the tests because they are in the standard. Each test in the standard has a set of objectives that relate to the 6 Hazards of Product Safety. Insuring that the minimum specified creepage & clearance distances are provided is a critical part of the Risk of Shock compliance review. Maintaining critical electrical spacings is very important to insuring the product insulation system continues to provide protection from a Risk of Shock, a potentially serious hazard that could lead to death by electrocution. It is therefore a very important test – another test that directly saves lives.
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