Industrial Computer: Potential Explosive Atmospheres: ATEX

Computers really haven’t been with us long but in the space of two decades they permeated every aspect of our lives. Our offices, homes, cars and even mobile phones contain as much computing power than that was available when the United States put a man on the moon.

Its no surprise to find that computers are now everywhere in industry, controlling production lines and processing plants; industries that have existed for decades before the arrival of the computer.

The advantages of computerisation in industry is obvious, computers can raise production, reduce waste, provide better efficiency and most importantly generate higher profits.

But the arrival of industrial computers brought with it unexpected factors in some industries. Many industrial environments are not suited at all for sensitive electronics such as a PC.

Computers can be protected from the elements in the atmosphere by an industrial computer enclosure but what about protecting the atmosphere? Computers are electrical so by their nature have electricity running through them and electricity can spark. In many industrial areas dust is generated by industrial processes and can cause potential devastating problems.

Dust can gather in clouds and if it contains metallic or even organic matter, such as food-stuffs it can explode. Even something as innocuous as custard can cause a catastrophic explosion.

Of course there are laws implemented to ensure that risk of explosions are kept to a minimum but how many companies actually follow them? In the EU’s ATEX directive was introduced in to ensure companies were aware of the risks attached with explosive materials.

Obviously, computers, monitors and printers are electrical and can spark (particularly in dusty environments where the dust itself can short circuit boards), yet many companies neglect to ensure that their IT is approved to use in that area. The most common reason for this neglect is put down to cost.

Obviously replacing all IT systems with intrinsically safe and air-purged machines can be extremely expensive, especially if you are in the habit of upgrading your IT on a regular basis.

However, some industrial computer enclosures are ATEX compliant and can be used in ATEX zones, particularly ATEX Zone 2. These are widely available and can be manufactured in all materials including food-grade stainless steel. They have the advantage of not only preventing any fault in a computer or monitor from setting light to your factory but they also afford protection from other industrial elements.

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