Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Industrial

T is for Temporary – Issues with Extension Cords and Other Temporary Wiring Applications

Temporary wiring is just that….temporary, and is typically used for repair and maintenance projects.  In this blog I am going to discuss guidance offered by Article 590 of the National Electric Code (NEC), as well as some points to consider when using temporary wiring, including extension cords and holiday lighting.

Before each use, extension cords need to be inspected for visual damage.  Cords with cuts or splits to the insulation need to be discarded.  Cords with damage to the connectors, including those that feel loose when connected, need to be taken out of service.   Failure to properly select and use extension cords can have a catastrophic result.  Read More

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Moisture Intrusion into Structural Reinforced Concrete

Scenario:  The owners of Jones’ Marine, a marina with a wharf structure on a tidal saltwater river, cater to the operators of ships, barges, and large yachts.  There are both diesel and gasoline fuel pumps at the edge of the wharf.  In addition, a large mobile crane for lifting the large vessels out of the water for maintenance is in service at the wharf.  This crane is driven out to the edge of the wharf deck suspended over the water, subjecting this deck and the structure beneath it to very high loading.  They purchased the property from its former owners about 10 years ago and are conscientious about maintenance and upkeep of their thriving facility.  They decide it is time to have a survey performed of the condition of the precast reinforced concrete piles and pile caps beneath and supporting the concrete wharf platform/deck.  They are alarmed at what is discovered by this survey:  Significant spalling Read More

Conveyor Backstops: Sometimes One Isn’t Enough, Part 1

This is the first of a two-part blog series describing an incident involving conveying machinery that seriously injured a miner. Part 1 describes the machinery and the incident. In Part 2 I will summarize my engineering analysis of the incident and share the conclusions I reached.

A loaded, inclined conveyor belt may contain hazardous levels of energy due to gravity. To protect workers, anti-reverse devices called backstops are installed on inclined conveyors to prevent unexpected downhill movement. The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (CEMA) defines a backstop as: Read More

Spontaneous Combustion…Is it hot in here or is it just me???

In the old-timey Fire Triangle, you have heat, fuel, and oxygen.  Get these three together in the right quantities, and you get fire.  What if the fuel provides its own heat?  That’s spontaneous combustion, or spontaneous ignition.  NFPA921 defines this as “initiation of combustion of a material by an internal chemical or biological reaction that has produced sufficient heat to ignite the material.” Read More

Interpreting Industrial Incident Data – Lesson Learned

This is a case study about an incident I investigated involving a major upset in a distillation column.  This blog builds on the previous blogs about the Distributed Control System, DCS – Data is the Key.

Distillation is a method of separating mixtures of compounds with differing boiling points.  Uncle Bill with his still on the hill separates ethanol, that boils at 173°F, from water that boils at 212°F.  If the mixture is heated to above 173°F, but below 212°F, the ethanol will boil, the vapor will travel up out of the unit and then can be condensed and served over ice with an olive…   Any mixture of two or more chemicals with different boiling points can be separated in this way.  The distillation 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

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

Shedding Some Light on Fluorescent Light Fixture Fires

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Lighting systems in buildings and other structures have undergone changes over the years.  Many of these changes have occurred as manufacturers have developed more efficient lighting methods.  Lighting loads can represent the largest category of electrical load in many buildings, thus improved lighting efficiency may significantly lower your power bill and can lengthen time between lamp changes. Read More

Testing As Part of Gas Appliance Incident Investigation

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Equipment and appliances supplied with fuel gases like natural gas, propane and butane are a common and convenient part of most of our lives.  Such devices as gas grills and ranges, ovens, furnaces, space heaters and water heaters usually perform without incident.  However, when they malfunction the potential for incidents such as fires and explosions, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and burn injuries may occur. These incidents may be due to design and manufacturing defects in the product, or improper installation or operation of the device.

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How a Central Indian Town Changed the United States Code of Federal Regulations

On December 3, 1984, at a pesticide ingredient manufacturing facility owned by Union Carbide, a leak occurred in the Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) plant. Due to the toxic nature of the gases released and the plant’s proximity to local residences, the death toll was in the thousands; both plant workers and nearby residents.  The first recorded public meeting in response to this incident was on December 9th, in Institute, WV, the site of Union Carbide’s only US MIC production unit.  Full disclosure: my father was a research & development chemist for Union Carbide and Institute is about 10 miles down the Kanawha River from my hometown of Charleston, WV. Read More

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