Construction Update

Major Progress at New Electrical Lab

Since breaking ground in early March, the construction crews have made rapid progress on the new Electrical Hazards and Gas Detection Laboratory on the FM Global Research Campus in West Glocester, Rhode Island, USA. The 37,200 ft2 (3,455 m2) facility will provide expanded testing capacity and capabilities for a wide range of electrical products intended for use in hazardous (classified) locations and other applications.

The steel frame for the two-story structure (Fig. 1) was completed in August and it is expected that the building will be made weathertight with FM Approved walls (Fig. 2) and roof by the end of November 2018. The estimated completion date for the new laboratories is the spring of 2019.

In addition to its existing 4,200 ft2 (390 m2) electrical hazards laboratory at the research campus, FM Approvals maintains specialized electrical test laboratories at its headquarters in Norwood, Massachusetts, USA. In recent years, the testing of electrical equipment for use in hazardous locations (sometimes referred to as potentially explosive atmospheres) has seen a great surge in demand.

FM Approvals' current electrical hazards laboratory has only one explosion test cell, which has led to significant testing backlogs at times. The new laboratory will include two explosion test cells, one for small products and samples and the other for large equipment, such as that used in the mining industry. The new electrical and gas detection laboratory will enable FM Approvals to be a one-stop source for global testing and certifications, saving customers time and money.

In addition to the two explosion test cells, the first floor of new electrical hazards laboratory (Fig. 3) will contain several labs dedicated to specific requirements for hazardous location certification, including metrology, corrosion and chemical compatibility testing, electrostatic testing and environmental testing. It will also house a world-class gas detection laboratory for performance testing of toxic and combustible gas detectors.

The second floor of the new building will provide office and conference space for the technical staff responsible for the testing and certification work conducted in the new facility.

According to Jim Marquedant, vice president and manager of FM Approvals' electrical systems group, the area of the new laboratory containing the two explosion test cells and associated control room is designed with safety in mind.

"Because we are creating controlled explosions within the enclosures we're testing, it is critically important that we do this work with the highest level of safety," Marquedant explains. "We have learned from many years of safely testing in the existing laboratory, and the approach we have taken to achieve this level of safety is one of in-depth defenses using a series of safety layers to make certain that unsafe conditions simply cannot occur."

The first layer of safety is the use of restricting orifices on all gas supply cylinders. This ensures that the flow rate in all gas supply lines is significantly limited so that in the event of a leak there is ample time to detect and correct the problem before an unsafe condition can develop within the cell.

The second layer of safety involves the use of strategically placed gas detectors connected to the test cell control system. If one of these gas detectors were to detect a leakage of test gas and go into alarm, the control system would automatically turn off the gas supply and turn on a specially designed air handling system to vent the space; this would all occur in a matter of seconds.

The last layer of safety is the use of steel-reinforced high-strength concrete in the walls and ceilings of the test cells making them strong enough to handle the largest dynamic load that could be produced in this type of testing. "This may seem like overkill but we want to be certain that we are operating at the highest level of safety possible."

Marquedant adds, "We plan to begin moving equipment into the new laboratory as soon as possible. We may be working around contractors and trades people, but we want to get a head start in order to avoid any downtime later on. Since we’re adding an additional explosion test cell, we can go ahead and install that new equipment and move existing test programs to that new cell as we relocate the existing test equipment. Ultimately, we believe the new lab facilities and space is going to result in faster turnaround times, improved efficiency and more flexibility."