1 May 2002
Don't fear the flame
If you’re skittish about explosions—or the potential for them—steer clear of a career in compliance testing for hazardous location equipment. That’s the advice Jeremy Neagle gives students considering a career in this field, but the choice was a smart one for Neagle because that’s exactly what he does as engineering team leader at Intertek Testing Services in Durham, NC.
Neagle, who’ll soon be working at Intertek’s Cortland, N.Y., location, said variety inspires him in his work. “We test anything from a simple flashlight to complex machinery made up of transducers and sensors.”
One simple test would be the drop test: dropping a piece of battery-powered, intrinsically safe equipment such as a transmitter from a certain height to see whether the battery falls out. If it does, there’s a potential for a spark and thus an explosion, Neagle said.
Even if nothing actually happens during the test, “the tests are generally designed to simulate a worst-case scenario, which doesn’t always lead to a probable result,” he said.
But there are some hazards on the job, Neagle said. “When we try to determine if a product is safe, our job is to make it unsafe, so inherently all the testing we do has associated risks. We’re causing small explosions, and we take a lot of precautions, but generally nothing happens,” he said. Working around high voltages, there’s a risk of shock, and “on occasion things will catch on fire,” he said. So it’s common for Neagle to carry out a test wearing protective ear and eye gear and sometimes carrying a fire extinguisher.
|Compliance testing for hazardous locations|
|Degree required||Electrical Engineer|
|Salary range||$40,000 to $70,000|
|Years of experience||Five years in design or certifications|
|Next step||Project engineer, team leader, management, design|
|Biggest thrill on the job||Seeing new products before they hit the market|
One of the more dangerous tests is filling equipment with a flammable mixture of gas and igniting it. “If it were to fail, not only would you have a large fire ball but the potential for the enclosure to rupture and fly into pieces,” Neagle said. “Typically when we do that, we have the equipment inside a test cell, and we stand outside and control it from out there,” he said.
These types of tests usually involve explosionproof motors and enclosures housing anything from computers to terminal blocks, instrumentation, and sensors, Neagle said.
Traveling to customer sites for testing is also a perk of the job. “I might not travel for three months, and the next three months I travel 75% of the time,” Neagle said.
Neagle and his group don’t usually do the dangerous tests at a client site. Rather, they have the equipment shipped to a much safer environment: their offices. “We’re not going to bring cylinders of compressed gas to a client’s location to cause an explosion,” he said. Most site testing involves temperature testing surfaces on components. “The last one I did was a section of a process line for manufacturing printed circuit boards,” he said. “It handled flammable materials, and we were testing against European standards.”
BREAKING THE BAD NEWS
So what happens if the equipment doesn’t comply with the standards? “Then we have to notify the client”—his least favorite part of the job, Neagle said.
Because Intertek is a nationally recognized test lab accredited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it can approve and label equipment with its ETL label—a competitor to Underwriters Laboratories’ label. The company issues a findings report to the client if it doesn’t meet the requirements. An approval would allow the manufacturer to sell the product, depending on where it is, Neagle said.
“If they don’t get approved, they could try to sell their equipment, but they could run into problems with the local inspection authorities when it’s installed in the field,” Neagle said. But breaking the news to clients that their equipment doesn’t pass the test isn’t easy, he said. “It’s something they’ve spent a good deal of time and money developing, and we have to let them know it’s deficient in some way.”
Neagle’s degree is in electrical engineering, “which is what most of our engineers have,” he said. But the company also has mechanical engineers testing equipment. As far as career advancement goes, the next logical step in such a position would be management, “or I could go to the other side of the fence and work for a manufacturer or work as a compliance engineer for the design side,” he said.
But for now, Neagle is just enjoying the heat of the moment. IT
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