Down to the Wire

New electrical laboratory nears completion

"We ran into some wet weather delays last fall, but all things considered, this project has gone pretty smoothly," says Jim Marquedant, vice president and manager of FM Approvals electrical group, with a hint of surprise. The new 37,200 ft2 (3,455 m2) electrical laboratory, which broke ground in the fall of 2017, is due to be turned over to FM Approvals in May.

This new electrical laboratory (Fig. 1) is the first new electrical facility to be constructed on the 1600-acre West Glocester, Rhode Island, USA, research campus since 2003, when the original electrical lab was built. The new electrical laboratory facility dwarfs the old structure by nearly nine-fold.

"What really matters is that this new laboratory provides us with the space and resources to accommodate the increased amount of work that our customers are bringing us," says Andy Lozinski, assistant vice president and technical team manager. A 29-year FM Approvals veteran, Lozinski oversees the laboratory. "Thanks to the increased number of accreditations we have earned over the past years—Standards Council of Canada (SCC), ATEX Notified Body in Europe, a Certification Body under the IECEx Scheme, more and more customers are consolidating their certifications with us to save time and money."

As FM Approvals has expanded around the world, the demand for FM Approved electrical products has grown dramatically. We test and certify many types of electrical products, including gas, flame, heat, and smoke detectors; fire alarm and signaling systems; hydrocarbon leak detectors; insulated heating cables; process control instrumentation; valve actuators; submersible motors; motor controllers; vapor control valves; and many other products.

FM Approvals also maintains specialized electrical test laboratories at its headquarters in Norwood, Massachusetts, USA. Some of the testing currently based in Norwood and at the current lab at the research campus will be transitioned over to the new laboratory during a period of correlation testing and calibration.

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 and power generation industries.

"Up to 75 percent of the equipment in the new laboratory will be new, so we need to make sure we're getting the same results with our new gear that we did before," Lozinski notes. "Probably the most complicated part of the new laboratory is the design, installation and operation of the new large and small explosion test cell laboratories (Fig. 2), which include a new gas mixing system. This system requires multiple gas connections, analyzers, gas mixing, flow metering, and overall, it provides us with more flexibility in testing products which require unique test criteria. We'll maintain the current explosion test cell as it is until we get the new one up and running right. That way there will be no disruption to our work flow and customers will not be impacted."

The new laboratory's state-of-the-art gas-flow instruments and monitoring systems will allow engineers and technicians to accurately prepare various size enclosures for explosion testing, and provide FM Approvals the capacity to run numerous tests simultaneously on some of the largest electrical equipment in the industry.

The range of products that will be tested at the new laboratory includes process control instrumentation, test and measurement equipment, lighting fixtures, and industrial material-handling equipment. These tests ensure that, when designed to meet FM Approvals or other recognized standards, the equipment will not ignite surrounding gas or dust atmospheres during normal operation.

In addition to the two explosion test cells, the first floor of the new laboratory will also include multiple labs dedicated to specific requirements for hazardous location certification, including labs for metrology, corrosion and chemical compatibility testing, electrostatic testing, environmental testing and gas detection testing (see related gas detection lab story). The second floor of the new building will provide office and conference space for technical staff.

A place for everything...
"The new electrical laboratory definitely represents an opportunity to do things a little differently by applying the principles of continuous improvement and Lean 5S," notes Dave Anderson, assistant vice president and technical team leader for the electrical systems group. Lean 5S is a workplace organizational and process flow method originally developed by the Japanese and can be characterized by the old adage: a place for everything and everything in its place.

"For instance, setup and tear-down of test apparatus and equipment needed for testing products is one of the most time-consuming things we do," Anderson explains. "By positioning the right tools in the right places, we can reduce the time spent on these activities. This will be just one way we will be able to increase in our throughput and reduce our backlog."

Anderson, who was previously manager of design quality engineering and hardware validation at Bose Corporation, is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. "In the electrical systems group, we will be looking at how we can apply the principles and practices of continuous improvement."

Bundle of joy
"Over the past few years our customers have come to see test and certification consolidation as major way to reduce costs and cut time to market," says Lozinski. "With our range of global accreditations, we can help our customers bundle services and achieve the goals they're looking for. We expect to more than double our throughput and provide services—such as toxic and combustible gas testing—that were hard to provide in the past."