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Yet Another Safety Standard

We’ve spent some time with hardware and software standards intended for so-called “safety-critical” applications, the poster child for which is the airplane. Adding variety to this scene, a recent release by Escatec, a Swiss manufacturer, indicated compliance with ATEX.

ATEX represents yet another peril: work that must be done in a potentially explosive environment. Think coal mine. Or, for those of you with a more pastoral bent, grain silos. It’s a European directive, modeled after a French directive titled, Appareils destinés à être utilisés en Atmosphères Explosives.

There are two groups of equipment: one for mining operations and one for surface operations. Within mining, there are two further subgroups, M1 for equipment that has to keep running when things turn nasty, and M2 for things you wouldn’t operate in that situation. For Group 2, equipment is ranked by risk into three categories, and further according to whether the risk is vapor or dust.

Equipment that falls under this directive must have its own ignition source, operate under normal atmospheric conditions, and be likely to find itself in an explosive environment. Certification is required to mark the equipment with the usual CE and a further EX indicating that it passes muster and can be sold anywhere in the EU.

So it makes sense for a piece of equipment to be certified; why then is a manufacturer like Escatec being certified? Turns out that this element of certification looks into the supply chain and manufacturing process for approval. Any manufacturer, inside or out of Europe, must be certified for sale in Europe. Which is why Escatec also says that they’ll be able to certify their Asian plants easily when they ramp because those follow in close lockstep with their Swiss plant.

Equipment made there still requires design certification, so it’s not a free ride to use a certified manufacturer, but it’s part of the problem solved.

More info on Escatec in their release

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