GlobeCore / Oil Degassing / Transformer Bushings: Testing and Maintenance of High-Voltage Bushings

Transformer Bushings: Testing and Maintenance of High-Voltage Bushings

Transformer Bushings

When bushings are new, they should be Doble tested as an acceptance test. Refer to the M4000 Doble test set instructions, the Doble Bushing Field Test Guide [9], and the manufacturer’s data for guidance on acceptable results.


Do not test a bushing while it is in its wood shipping crate, or while it is lying on wood. Wood does not insulate as well as porcelain and will cause the readings to be inaccurate. Keep the test results as a baseline record to compare with future tests.

After 1 month of service and yearly, check the external porcelain for cracks and/or contamination (requires binoculars). There is no “perfect insulator”; a small amount of leakage current always exists. This current “leaks” through and along the bushing surface from the high-voltage conductor to ground. If the bushing is damaged or heavily contaminated, leakage current becomes excessive, and visible evidence may appear as carbon tracking (treeing) on the bushing surface. Flashovers may occur if the bushings are not cleaned periodically.

Look carefully for oil leaks. Check the bushing oil level by viewing the oil-sight glass or the oil level gauge. When the bushing has a gauge with a pointer, look carefully, because the oil level should vary slightly with temperature changes. If the pointer never changes, even with wide ambient temperature and load changes, the gauge should be checked at the next outage. A stuck gauge pointer coupled with a small oil leak can cause explosive failure of a bushing, damaging the transformer and other switchyard equipment. A costly extended outage is the result.

If the oil level is low and there is an external oil leak, check the bolts for proper torque and the gasket for proper compression. If torque and compression are correct, the bushing must be replaced with a spare. Follow instructions in the transformer manual carefully. It is very important that the correct type of gasket be installed and the correct compression be applied. A leaky gasket is probably also leaking water and air into the transformer, so check the most recent transformer
DGA for high moisture and oxygen. If the oil level is low and there is no visible external leak, there may be an internal leak around the lower seal into the transformer tank. If possible, re-fill the bushing with the same oil and carefully monitor the level and the volume it takes to fill the bushing to the proper level. If it takes more than 1 quart of oil, make plans to replace the bushing. The bushing must be sent to the factory for repair, or it must be junked; it cannot be repaired in the field.


Never open the fill plug of any bushing if it is at an elevated temperature. Some bushings have a nitrogen blanket on top of the oil, which pressurizes as the oil expands. Always consult the manufacturer’s instruction manual which will give the temperature range at which the bushing may be safely opened. Generally, this will be between 15 °C (59 °F) and 35 °C (95 °F). Pressurized hot oil may suddenly gush from the fill plug if it is removed while at elevated temperature, causing burn hazards. Generally, the bushing will be a little cooler than the top oil temperature, so this temperature gauge may be used as a guide if the gauge has been tested as mentioned in section 4.3.

About 90% of all preventable bushing failures are caused by moisture entering through leaky gaskets, cracks, or seals. Internal moisture can be detected by Doble testing. See FIST 3-2 [10] and Doble Bushing Field Test Guide [9] for troubles and corrective actions. Internal moisture causes deterioration of the insulation of the bushing and can result in explosive failure, causing extensive transformer and other equipment damage, as well as hazards to workers. After 1 month of service and yearly, examine the bushings with an IR camera [4, 8]; if one phase shows a markedly higher temperature, there is probably a bad connection. The connection at the top is usually the poor one; however, a bad connection inside the transformer tank will usually show a higher temperature at the top as well. In addition, a bad connection inside the transformer will usually show hot metal gases (ethane and ethylene) in the DGA.

Once every 3 to 5 years, perform a close physical inspection and cleaning of the bushings [10]. Check carefully for leaks, cracks, and carbon tracking. This inspection will be required more often in atmospheres where salts and dust deposits appear on the bushings. In conditions that produce deposits, a light application of Dow Corning grease DC-5 or GE Insulgel will help reduce risk of external flashover. The disadvantage of this treatment is that a grease buildup may occur. In high humidity and wet areas, a better choice may be a high-quality silicone paste wax applied to the porcelain, which will reduce the risk of flashover. A spray-on wax containing silicone, such as Turtle Wax brand, has been found to be very useful for cleaning and waxing in one operation, providing the deposits are not too hard. Wax will cause water to form beads, rather than a continuous sheet, which reduces flashover risk. Cleaning may involve just spraying with Turtle Wax and wiping with a soft cloth. A lime removal product, such as “Lime Away,” also may be useful. More stubborn contaminants may require solvents, steel wool, and brushes. A high pressure water stream may be required to remove salt and other water soluble deposits.

Limestone powder blasting with dry air will safely remove metallic oxides, chemicals, salt-cake, and almost any hard contaminant. Other materials, such as potter’s clay, walnut or pecan shells, or crushed coconut shells, are also used for hard contaminants. Carbon dioxide (CO2) pellet blasting is more expensive but virtually eliminates cleanup because it evaporates. Ground-up corn-cob blasting will remove soft pollutants, such as old coatings of built-up grease. A competent, experienced contractor should be employed, and a thorough, written job hazard analysis (JHA) should be performed when any of these treatments are used.

Corona (air ionization) may be visible at the tops of bushings at twilight or night, especially during periods of rain, mist, fog, or high humidity. At the top, corona is considered normal; however, as a
bushing becomes more and more contaminated, corona will creep lower and lower. If the bushing is not cleaned, flashover will occur when corona nears the grounded transformer top. If corona seems to be lower than the top of the bushing, inspect, Doble test, and clean the bushing as quickly as possible. If flashover occurs (phase to ground fault), it could destroy the bushing and cause an extended outage. Line-to-line faults also can occur if all the bushings are contaminated and flashover occurs. A corona scope may be used to view and photograph low levels of corona indoors under normal illumination and outdoors at twilight or night. High levels of corona may be viewed outdoors in the daytime if a dark background is available, such as trees, canyon walls, buildings, etc. The corona scope design is primarily for indoor and night use; it cannot be used with blue or cloudy sky background. This technology is available at the Technical Service Center (TSC), D-8450.

Once every 3 to 5 years, depending on the atmosphere and service conditions, the bushings should be Doble tested. Refer to Doble M-4000 test set instructions, Doble Bushing Field Test Guide [9], FIST 3-2 [10], and the manufacturer’s instructions for proper values and test procedures. Bushings should be cleaned prior to Doble testing. Contamination on the insulating surface will cause the results to be inaccurate. Testing may also be done before and after cleaning to check methods of cleaning. As the bushings age and begin to deteriorate, reduce the testing interval to 1 year. Keep accurate records of results so that replacements can be ordered in advance, before you have to remove bushings from service.


See the transformer manual for detailed instructions on cleaning and repairing your specific bushing surfaces. Different solvents, wiping materials, and cleaning methods may be required for different bushings. Different repair techniques may also be required for small cracks and chips. Generally, glyptal or insulating varnish will repair small scratches, hairline cracks, and chips. Sharp edges of a chip should be honed smooth, and the defective area should be painted with insulating varnish to provide a glossy finish. Hairline cracks in the surface of the porcelain must be sealed because accumulated dirt and moisture in the crack may result in flashover. Epoxy should be used to repair larger chips. If a bushing insulator has a large chip that reduces the flashover distance or has a large crack totally through the insulator, the bushing must be replaced. Some manufacturers offer repair service to damaged bushings that cannot be repaired in the field. Contact the manufacturer for your particular bushings if you have repair questions.



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