One of the common questions that is asked online is the “differences between surge suppressors and surge protectors.” The two terms are commonly used interchangeably along with other phrases like protector, arrestor, suppressor, regulator, limiter, and TVSS. While lay people use these terms to describe nearly any device that limits excesses of voltage past the point of their install, there are differences based on the technologies and needed protection level. The basic use of surge protectors is to prevent damage to electronic equipment by voltage spikes or “transients”. A surge protector regulates voltage and prevents it from reaching a certain threshold. Electrical surges or spikes are short duration but higher voltage than can be managed by attached equipment. A surge protector detects the surge and cuts the power flow either temporarily and staying “alive”, or permanently and sacrificing itself. Once a protection unit has been “sacrificed” the downstream equipment is no longer protected and, in the event of another surge before a replacement can be made, equipment can be damaged or destroyed.
Surge protectors that have an ability to take a surge, divert that surge, and then continue to protect are rare, and these devices are in high demand for mission critical industrial applications such as telecommunications, energy and transportation. All devices have a joule rating of the peak levels of energy they are capable of absorbing, but the better ones can absorb more and continue to work. If a component has absorbed the maximum amount of energy within its rating, it becomes ineffective at protecting against subsequent surges and must be replaced. Depending upon where these devices are placed, some are utilized for more critical protection functions such as lighting strikes while others manage transient voltage surges or “overvolatges”. The surge produced by a lightning strike is far too high for many traditional surge protection technologies to manage, and lightning itself has driven much of the technological advancement seen in the past 30 years in the field of surge protection.
While technologies and solutions that are utilized to protect industrial installations against lightning strikes are more robust than those being used to handle lower level surges, the real difference is in the surge rating of the device. Class 1 (Type 1), Class 2 (Type 2) and Class 3 (Type 3) devices all have their own particular place before and after the power meter and inside the facility, be it an office or home. When installed in order to provide a level of protection necessary to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment functioning safely, most systems are going to involve all levels of installation, each created for different purposes at different locations. With the ultimate desire being to keep the surge of electricity away from components that would suffer damage, each surge protective device is generally installed at the correct place and directed by the electrical code. In this way, different levels of surge protection are used to cover any path that the surge might take. The installation of the correct types of devices at junction boxes, along lines and cables, and overhead is the only way to effectively limit the instances of damage to the lowest possible numbers. The inclusion of technologically advanced devices like the Class 1 and Class 2 rated Strikesorb product lines, which are capable of taking multiple surges without self-sacrifice, will provide the necessary protection against lightning. As the cost of equipment that is put into harm’s way goes up, so does the necessity to think about the surge protection systems that keep the equipment safe. In many cases, these devices may be technologically superior to the devices that they are protecting, keeping critical systems online and functioning without interruption.