In the final instalment of our series decoding the various acronyms and abbreviations found in the world of rugged devices we explore the meaning of ATEX certifications...
When looking at a rugged devices spec sheet we will often see the words ATEX certified. So what is ATEX certification who is it relevant to and why is it important?
ATEX is the name given to two European Directives relating to controlling explosive atmospheres. The name actually comes from the French term ‘Atmospheres Explosibles’ and generally if you don’t think you need your devices to be ATEX certified then the likelihood is they don’t need to be - because if your devices do need to be ATEX certified then they really, really do need to be ATEX certified and you should know all about the subject already.
However, for the rest of the class and as a general recap lets take a quick look through the world of ATEX, starting by what exactly is an explosive environment.
So what is an explosive atmosphere?
Contrary to popular belief, in official terms at least, explosive atmospheres are not those situations where you’re engineer turns up 2 hours late and then realises within 5 minutes he doesn’t have the right parts in his van.
In the realms of ATEX at least, an explosive atmosphere can be caused by flammable gases, mists or vapours or by combustible dusts. If there is enough of the substance, mixed with air, then all it needs is a source of ignition to cause an explosion.
In the realms of ATEX at least, an explosive atmosphere can be caused by flammable gases, mists or vapours or by combustible dusts.
Using the correct equipment can help greatly in this, and if your customers operate in such environments, then it is vital (and probably contractual) that your engineers also comply with the regulations. This means that if you want them to benefit from the various positives of a digital workflow then the devices you provide them with must be ATEX certified.
Where can explosive atmospheres be found?
Perhaps surprisingly for some, ATEX workplaces are not restricted to oil refineries, petrol stations or grenade factories.
In fact, many workplaces may contain, or have activities that produce, explosive or potentially explosive atmospheres. Examples include places where work activities create or release flammable gases or vapours, such as vehicle paint spraying, or in workplaces handling fine organic dusts such as sawdust or grain flour - yes even an old flour mill can be a potential home for violent explosions.
So what exactly is ATEX?
As mentioned earlier ATEX is the name commonly given to the two European Directives for controlling explosive atmospheres:
1) Directive 99/92/EC (also known as ‘ATEX 137’ or the ‘ATEX Workplace Directive’) on minimum requirements for improving the health and safety protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres.
From the field service providers point of view this is the area of ATEX that your customers need to worry about.
2) Directive 94/9/EC (also known as ‘ATEX 95’ or ‘the ATEX Equipment Directive’) on the approximation of the laws of Members States concerning equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.
Now this is the one that from a field service operations perspective we need to pay closer attention to, because it is our responsibility to ensure our engineers are given ATEX certified devices if we are sending them into such an environment. Fortunately, many rugged tablets are ATEX certified so selecting one shouldn’t be too big an issue.
So what about those outside of Europe?
OK, so this is where things get a little complicated as there are essentially three separate certifications across the globe. In the USA there is Hazloc which is part of the National Electronics Code.
Hazloc and ATEX aren’t necessarily interchangeable - i.e. Hazloc certified devices would not be acceptable to use within the EU unless they are also ATEX certified.
As for us folks stuck in dear old Blighty?
Well when Great Britain pulls the plug on Europe and triggers Brexit as with many EU directives change will be required, although in this instance we’ve pretty much got it covered with our own regulatory equivalent of Directive 99/92/EC which are put into effect through regulations 7 and 11 of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR).
However, there is also the IECex certification which is a conformity Scheme developed by The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The hope is that the IECex will eventually become a single mark of conformity that can be accepted worldwide in order to facilitate trade and reduce certification procedures and costs. In essence, “one standard, one test, accepted everywhere.”
Why the ATEX sign is so important
Basically, manufacturers/suppliers (or importers, if the manufacturers are outside the EU) must ensure that their products meet essential health and safety requirements and undergo appropriate conformity procedures.
This usually involves testing and certification by a ‘third-party’ certification body (known as a Notified Body) but manufacturers/suppliers can ‘self-certify’ equipment intended to be used in less hazardous explosive atmospheres. Once certified, the equipment is marked by the ‘EX’ symbol to identify it as such.
Certification ensures that the equipment or protective system is fit for its intended purpose and that adequate information is supplied with it to ensure that it can be used safely - which means that you can assure your customers and your staff that you have taken the required steps to offer safe working conditions whenever challenged by a potentially explosive environment.
A selection of ATEX certified tablets...
AEGEX 10: €2,559.00 Aegex’s modern tablet will be the first of its kind to run Windows 10 furthermore be affirmed ATEX Zone 1, IECEx Zone1 and UL C1D1 for worldwide use on the planet’s most dangerous situations.
PANASONIC FZ-G1. € 2,749.00 The FZ-G1 is built to operate flawlessly in every environment - from intense heat and sunlight, to pouring rain and freezing temperatures.
XPLORE BOBCAT: €2248.92 With a MIL-STD-810G rating, optional hazardous area ATEX/IECEx Zone 2 certification (Pending), and Windows 8.1 Pro, the Bobcat can go from the boardroom to the work site without missing a beat and looking the part in every situation.
Getac T800 ATEX Windows Tablet: €2,317.00 Built for today’s mobile workforce, the new Getac T800 ATEX Windows Tablet features an 8.1 inch display, the latest wireless technology and unique SnapBack add-ons and runs Windows 8.1 Pro
Bartec Agile X Tablet PC: €3,222.00 The BARTEC Agile X is an extremely slim-line, rugged and highly flexible industrial tablet PC for rough environments. Thanks to its broad range of functions, the Agile X is the perfect assistant to service technicians, operating staff, engineers and project managers in the field and in industry.