Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Industrial

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

Chemical Engineers: More than Glorified Plumbers – Really!

As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications.  So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need. Read More

Graphitic Corrosion – Difficult to determine before a failure!

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Graphitic corrosion is a process that may happen in equipment made of iron, particularly grey cast iron, but also ductile cast iron. Graphitic corrosion can lead to unexpected catastrophic failure of the affected part because the cast iron can lose its strength without a visible warning such as a change in size, shape, or appearance. Read More

New 2017 Edition of NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations

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Over the course of its 25-year history, NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations has changed the practice of fire investigation for the better.  Without a doubt, NFPA 921 has appropriately driven a more rigorous approach to fire investigation that seeks to avoid cognitive bias and reliance on techniques that, when rigorously examined, are little more than pseudoscience.  One need look no further than the Cameron Todd Willingham matter, wherein a Texas man was executed in part based on a flawed fire investigation, to understand the importance of conducting a proper fire investigation. Read More

Warren Adds Another Dimension of Engineering

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We at Warren are pleased to announce our recent purchase of a Faro Focus X 330 three dimensional scanner with FARO Scene image processing software. The scanner takes up to 976,000 data points per second and can scan objects at distances to 1000 feet.  The scanner forms a point cloud of millions of data points while also capturing 360 degree panoramic photographs.  By combining a series of scans, a three dimensional representation can be created that enables precise measurements, animations, and demonstrations. The scanner can capture imagery indoors, outdoors, and even in darkness. Read More

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