As automation continues to expand into diverse industrial sectors, the demand for multi-channel fibre optic cable is following suit.
However, there is an increasing need for high-count, high-bandwidth fibre, capable of delivering the ever-increasing amount of data required in a single cable. This requirement is often most pressing in locations where space limitations simply will not permit installation of extensive runs of low-count fibre, such as offshore platforms.
In addition, for sectors like oil and gas there is a considerable advantage to installing pre-terminated plug-and-play quick connectors that meet the recently-adopted international standards for explosive atmospheres.
Another situation that often requires addressing is the need to make frequent changes to fibre cable configurations or service/replace cable when equipment is damaged. The use of pre-terminated fibre cable connectors that can quickly and easily be plugged in or unplugged can be very useful in both facilitating installation and avoiding prolonged service downtime.
At the same time, the use of fibre optic cable is increasing in a wide variety of hazardous locations, including sites with potentially explosive atmospheres that put workers and equipment at risk. According to organisations that establish international safety requirements, the potential for fibre optic connectors to cause ignition of explosive atmospheres presents a real hazard.
Avoiding explosive hazards
Explosive atmospheres exist in areas where flammable gases, vapours, mists or dust are mixed with the surrounding air, creating the risk of an explosion throughout the entire area. Locations for such conditions include oil platforms, gas pipelines and distribution centres, oil refineries, and chemical processing plants.
Because these hazardous locations include sites with potentially explosive atmospheres, the risk of a catastrophic event must be taken into consideration. According to organisations that establish international safety requirements, the potential for fibre optics to cause ignition of explosive atmospheres presents a real hazard.
In some cases the explosion of flammable materials causes expensive downtime and the repair and/or replacement of equipment; in others the downtime and other costs – including human lives – can be colossal.
Because these hazards are a global concern, Atmosphere Explosibles (ATEX) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have issued special “directives” to establish minimum requirements for improving the health and safety of workers potentially at risk. The potential for these standards to be more widely adopted in the future is also likely.
ATEX is the name given to directives used for controlling explosive atmospheres in the EU. IECEx is the IEC’s system of standards relating to equipment used in explosive atmospheres.
IECEx has determined that the primary risk of running fibre optic cabling in explosive or potentially-explosive atmospheres is related to the cable connectors, the receptacles that couple fibre optic cable to an enclosure. These are described as potential ignition sources under certain conditions, or “Zones,” as determined by ATEX.
The primary ATEX zones where fibre optic connectors should be certified as safe are Zone 1 and Zone 2. Zone 1 is defined as a place in which an explosive atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation. Zone 2 applies to locations where an explosion is less likely to occur in normal operation, but if it does occur, will persist for a short period only.
There is an enormous number of users that should be using certified connectors in potentially explosive atmospheres. Yet, there is a lack of available certified fibre connector solutions, particularly with high-count multi-channel options that facilitate the bandwidth that is required.
Having a certified fibre connectors installed in a hazardous area not only speeds up the certification process, but can also reduce time to market along with reduced testing and certification costs for the customer.
A speedy solution
“Quick” connectors are an ideal solution for applications that require frequent teardown and setup. This is highly appropriate for quick disconnect systems that are optimal for areas that need to be taken down or switched out, something that is more mobile.
Each receptacle can be mounted to an increased safety or flame-proof enclosure, allowing for multiple easy connect and disconnect deployments, reducing teardown time.
Quick disconnect systems can be highly beneficial in switching out frequently relocated and reconfigured applications.
To make the explosive atmosphere-fibre solution a comprehensive one, some suppliers work with ATEX/IECEx-certified enclosure manufacturers to provide a complete end-to-end solution.
Such comprehensive solutions will not only ensure safer environments for workers and equipment, but will also make the conversion to directive-compliant explosive atmosphere protection more efficient, with minimal downtime.
Read the article online at: https://www.hydrocarbonengineering.com/product-news/27112018/certified-connector-solutions-for-fibre-optic-cables-in-explosive-atmospheres/
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