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Digitalisation is king!

Author : IECEX CHAIRMAN PROF. DR. THORSTEN ARNHOLD

15 January 2018

At the present time, there are few conferences or technical trade shows that do not have the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) as the main focus. One of the most important consequences of this trend are the drastically shrinking value chains and innovation cycles in every sector, and especially in the process industries. 

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, IECEx Chairman and VP Technology, R.STAHL
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, IECEx Chairman and VP Technology, R.STAHL

In process facility safe areas, the speed of adaptation to this trend is restricted by the innovation of the suppliers and the financial and technical capabilities of the operators.

Many process sector companies have to handle hazardous substances, with potentially severe consequences for the life and health of the employees in their plants.

The equipment intended for use in these areas has to fulfill certain safety requirements in order to avoid the ignition of potentially explosive atmospheres. These requirements are defined in the international standards IEC 60079 and IEC 80079.

Interesting, you might say, if you are new in the business. But why am I giving you such basic information if, like most of the readership, you are familiar with the hazardous area business?

I mention these facts to highlight a big issue for manufacturers of explosion protected products and systems: they could come into serious conflict with their customers.

On the one hand, end users will not accept a situation in which they can install modern digitalised processes and procedures in the safe areas of their process plants, but cannot apply the same technologies in hazardous areas because of a lack of applicable modern products due to restrictions set by the safety standards. On the other hand, manufacturers are obliged to fulfill these safety standards, which are defined by the documents mentioned above.

This has been a major concern for IECEx. Three years ago, at its annual Management Committee Meeting in The Hague, the organisation launched a new procedure to adopt the new IEC 60079-33 standard. This covers the protection method “s” for “special”, which was introduced to permit the quick adoption of new technologies, new materials etc. This implements a practice which has been field-proven in the ATEX area since 2003.

Under the ATEX directive, the fulfillment of the general requirements of appendix II with the basic health and safety requirements is obligatory, and harmonised standards are just one way to do this.

To enable the IECEx Certification Bodies and Test Labs to issue Test Reports and Certificates based on IEC 60079-33, OD 233 was developed and published, and the second edition has been available since February 2017. The central and critical element of both the standard and the OD is the so-called ‘independent verifier’.

Under paragraph 3.4, the standard defines the independent verifier as a “person or organisation, with the appropriate competency in the applied protection methodology, responsible for the verification of design calculations, assessment and testing who are separate and distinct by management and other resources including financial, from the person or organisation responsible for all the activities associated with the design, manufacture or sales of the equipment.”

For EPL (equipment protection level) “a”, the evaluation of the equipment has to be done by three independent verifiers, for EPL “b” by two, and for EPL “c”, one independent verifier is enough.

The first two years after the introduction of this new procedure were quite disappointing. No IECEx CB asked for a scope extension and as a result, no certificates were published. During the last year, however, the situation has changed significantly. Now we have more than 10 Ex CBs and Ex TLs with a respective scope extension and a number of applications.

A look in the IECEx online database shows that already more than 20 certificates based on IEC 60079-33 have been published, and I am confident that many others will follow.
For IECEx, this development is recognition that its focus on this area has been useful for the industry and high levels of safety will be maintained.

The executive group is now preparing a promotion conference during the TC 31 spring session in Split, Croatia, in April 2018, as well as a series of working group meetings which will take place in Weimar, Germany, in July. I will keep you updated about the outcome of both events.


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