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Currently the UL, NEMA, and NEC standards pertaining to panelboards do not provide any specific expectation or information regarding equipment life. Aspects such as proper application, environment, and maintenance are often sited in NEMA maintenance guides as having significant impacts to equipment lifetime. Additionally, the NFPA70B standard provide a detailed guide for electrical equipment maintenance programs and generally relates equipment maintenance to equipment lifetime. Since none of these standards dictate a specific equipment life expectation we have never attempted to create a test program to help define the anticipated end of life for our panelboards.
Since panelboards are basically sheet metal, insulators, and bus bar assembled parts we believe that the useful panelboard life pertains more to the devices that are installed on a panelboard rather than the panelboard construction itself. For example a circuit breaker or switch installed in a panelboard is more likely to reach it's end of life before the panelboard structure itself. A circuit breaker or switch can be replaced as needed while the panelboard itself continues to operate. Obviously there may be instances when current carrying parts such as branch connectors may need to be replaced, but again the panelboard construction can continue to operate.
Regarding switches and circuit breakers there are guidelines for mechanical operation that the devices must pass to be UL Listed or Component Recognized. For switches UL98 standard calls for a 30-100 ampere switch to be cycled for 6,000 operations with current and 4,000 operations without current for a total of 10,000 cycles. UL489 standard has this same requirement for 100 ampere circuit breakers. Typically Square D / Schneider Electric will test beyond those requirements.
So as a general statement we can state that panelboard useful life is dependent upon the following factors: 1) the environment in which it is installed, 2) the manner in which it has been used (it must be used in the manner in which it was designed to be used), 3) the degree of maintenance provided, and 4) the number of operations the devices installed have experienced.
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