Busbars aren’t particularly complex or glamorous, but these simple metal bars are a powerhouse (quite literally) in electrical systems. From your local substation to mega-sized data centers, busbars play a crucial role in power distribution.
Here, we’ll dive into what busbars are, where they’re used, and how our sheet metal fabrication experts fabricate busbars, from one-off prototypes to low-volume production runs.
Busbars: An Overview
Think of busbars as the autobahn of electrical currents. Typically made from copper or aluminum, these precision sheet metal bars act as central hubs for electricity distribution, cleanly connecting a system’s various components, such as circuit breakers, switches, and fuses.
Without busbars, systems like electrical panels, switchgear, and distribution boards would require individually laid wires for every single component and connection—sounds chaotic, doesn’t it? Busbars streamline these connections neatly and efficiently.
Busbar Materials: Pick the Perfect Metal
Most busbars are made from copper or aluminum, two materials with excellent electrical conductivity and thermal properties. Your ultimate material selection should align with the application’s requirements and constraints.
Choosing the right material for a busbar is like picking the right shoes for a hike. Copper is the all-terrain boot of busbars—the go-to standard for heavy-duty, high-current applications. Aluminum is your sneaker option: lightweight, lower cost, and functional, but better suited for less demanding applications.
Busbars at Work: Industries and Applications
You’ll find busbars used across a wide range of applications and industries, silently ensuring efficient electrical power distribution. Busbars are common in the aerospace, construction, marine, mining, telecommunications, and transportation industries where the most common applications include:
- Electrical panels and switchgear use busbars to distribute power within residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.
- Industrial machinery includes busbars for distributing power to equipment, motors, drives, and other machinery.
- Power distribution systems such as substations and power generation facilities use busbars to interconnect transformers, circuit breakers, and other components.
- Data centers use busbars to distribute a stable power supply to servers, storage systems, and networking equipment.
- Renewable energy systems use busbars to connect and transport generated power to the grid or storage systems.
Busbar Alternatives: Solutions for Electrical Systems
There are no true “alternatives” for busbars, but other electrical systems may be the right choice for certain applications. Wiring harnesses, for instance, are an excellent choice when an application requires routing flexibility. Other electricity distribution solutions include:
- Conduit systems
- Electrical bus ducts
- Power distribution blocks
- Power distribution units (PDUs)
- Power strips
- Printed circuit boards (PCBs)
- Terminal blocks
- Wireless power transmission
- Wireways and cable trays
Every solution offers specific advantages and limitations, so you should carefully assess your application’s needs before choosing one method over another.
Busbar Finishing: Coatings and Insulation
Here at ASM, we’re best known for our speed in fabricating precision sheet metal parts. To keep your sheet metal fabrication lead times short, we nearly always ship busbars raw—no coating or insulation.
But if time isn’t a factor, ASM can provide select types of plating, such as nickel-copper plating. We do not, however, work with silicone rubber or heat-shrink tubing.
When you’re deciding whether to coat or plate your busbars, consider the electrical system and any risks associated with leaving the busbars exposed. Safety and regulatory requirements are two of the top reasons you may want to coat or insulate a busbar!
Busbars in the Shop: ASM’s Capabilities
Our expert sheet metal fabrication team fabricates busbars in-house using three primary capabilities.
- We use a turret punch to cut busbars with simple geometry
- We use a laser cutter to achieve more complete busbar features
- We use a press brake after cutting to obtain your precise busbar form
Busbar Tips: Design for Manufacturing (DFM)
When you’re designing a busbar, these DFM tips will help us deliver exceptional quality—fast.
Tolerances. Design your busbars with standard manufacturing tolerances. We commonly receive callouts for tight tolerances that simply aren’t possible to achieve, and standard tolerances are essentially always acceptable for busbars.
Materials. Design for common, readily available material thicknesses. If you request a material that’s difficult to obtain, your lead time could extend significantly.
Tooling. Design with standard tooling in mind whenever possible. If we need to order or machine custom tools to fabricate your busbar, your cost and lead time will increase.
Your Best Bet for Busbars: Approved Sheet Metal
With their impressive capacity for carrying electrical current with minimal flow resistance, busbars are the obvious choice for efficient electricity distribution. To have ASM customize your precision sheet metal busbars with your unique size, shape, and configuration specifications, talk to our team. We can even meet your requirements for current ratings and voltage levels.
Request a quote for your busbar project, and you’ll hear from us soon!