Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Commercial

Heavy Machinery Fires Caused by Hydraulic Hose Failures

Heavy machinery fires are often caused by hydraulic hose failures.  Pressurized hydraulic fluid escaping from a failed hose assembly can be atomized into a fine spray that can be ignited by heated engine surfaces such as the engine exhaust or turbocharger.

Hydraulic hoses near the engine compartment of an excavator that burned.

 

Hydraulic hoses often fail due to age and wear, requiring regular inspection and replacement of hydraulic hoses to prevent failures. Hoses may also fail if they are misrouted.  Misrouting can lead to the hose being pinched or causing it to chafe against a sharp metal surface. Read More

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Installation of Structural Sheathing on Wood-Framed Structures

The facts presented in this blog lead to an interesting story.  During the heyday of the residential construction boom in coastal South Carolina circa 2005, many General Contractors were forced to go out-of-state to find framers and other subcontractors due to the demand creating a local labor shortage.  It turned out that the state of Texas had excess capacity and availability of framers and carpenters. Many Texas framing crews came to South Carolina to satisfy the shortage.  It soon became apparent that the Texas crews, many of which were from inland locations, were accustomed to installing 4’x8’ exterior wall sheathing with the long dimension vertical, i.e., parallel to the studs.  It is especially important and required that the long dimension be oriented perpendicular to the studs.  Laboratory testing has shown that Read More

Types of and Techniques for Reinforced Concrete Masonry Block Construction

Construction using concrete masonry blocks or units (CMU) is ubiquitous in the United States today, and in fact in the whole modern world.  CMU blockwork is a very versatile and relatively economical building material.  It is naturally strong in compression, but with reinforced, grout-filled cells, it can also withstand large shear, bending, and tensile loads imparted by lateral wind or seismic events.  In this article, I will discuss the various types of CMU designs, as well as terminology, construction techniques, and application uses.

The design of CMU is typically comprised of hollow concrete “face shells” with Read More

TVSS or SPD … Can I Buy a Vowel? Understanding Surge Protection and the Changing Requirements

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Surge Protective Devices (SPD), formerly known as Transient Voltage Surge Suppressors (TVSS) have been around for a long time.   The most recognized version is integrated into outlet strips and used to protect sensitive electronics from surges, or higher than expected voltages on the power line.  Early versions of these surge strips were known to have problems where internal components could overheat and cause a fire.  Thermal protection was added to the designs to greatly reduce the potential for a fire hazard.  Such an implementation in an outlet strip is considered a Type 3 SPD. Read More

The Condensate System – An Important Item in Routine HVAC Maintenance

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HVAC systems are almost everywhere in the United States now.  As a life-long resident of the humid south that grew up in a home without central air conditioning; I definitely appreciate the ability of a well-designed and maintained HVAC system to remove the oppressive summer humidity.

The very humidity that makes your clothes damp with sweat and hastened the invention of cooled leather seats in automobiles also has another route to create havoc…condensate.

In order for an HVAC or “air-conditioning system” to reduce the humidity in the air of your home or office it must first cool the air down to a point where the air can no longer keep the moisture in suspension as water vapor.  The moisture must condense… creating condensate.  This is what is happening when your cool beverage of choice “sweats” on the exterior of the container in the humid summer. Now that you have liquid water, as opposed to water vapor, this condensate must be directed out of your conditioned space to prevent water damage due to backed up or leaking condensate. Read More

In a Flash – The Transfer of Energies in Our Global Electrical System

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According to published weather data for the year 2019, 2.35 billion lightning strikes were recorded across the world, with 223 million of these in the United States.  The movement of atmosphere causes electrical charges to build up between clouds.  A tipping point is reached where the insulating properties of the air cannot withstand the level of energy and a discharge occurs.

Image Credit: Charleston Post and Courier. A lightning strike over Charleston, SC on July 3, 2019.

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Improper Hearth Extension Leads to Structure Fire

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The fire service affords you the opportunity to witness and observe things that a lot of engineers and even most people do not get the chance to see.  An example of this is the situation where extended elevated temperatures combined with poor construction techniques to result in a structure fire.

I have personally observed several occasions where a structure fire was initiated due to improper construction of the fireplace hearth extension.  The most recent one followed a multi-day cold snap, at least by South Carolina standards.  The thermometer read 17 degrees F as I drove to the call of smoke in a residence Read More

Heat Exchanger Failures Will Shut Your Process Down

Heat exchangers, as the name implies, are used to bring a process stream to a desired temperature.  They can heat or cool either gases or liquids. They are fairly intricate in their construction, therefore not the cheapest piece of equipment to purchase.  For that reason, facilities don’t keep “spare” exchangers lying around, so when they fail catastrophically, the entire manufacturing process goes down with them… and stays down until they are fixed or replaced. Ow!

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Heating System Losses, Part One

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When fall and winter arrive and temperatures drop, it is a great comfort to have a heating system to warm your home or office. Several categories of heating equipment exist to provide both primary and secondary heating. Primary heating systems include fuel gas/fuel oil/electric forced air furnaces, heat pumps, hydronic heating/steam systems and even wood-fired heating systems.  Secondary heating equipment includes electric, gas and kerosene space heaters of both fixed and portable design, and fireplaces. Each of the different types of heating systems have unique hazards that, uncontrolled, can result in fires, explosions, burn injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Read More

The Paths of Chemical Exposure

The Safety Hierarchy states that hazards should be mitigated first by engineering controls, secondly by guarding, and lastly by warning/training.  When the first two, engineering controls and guards, fail in a manufacturing setting, a chemical release could occur. A forensic chemical engineer can help determine the root cause of that failure. Read More

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