IECEx/Global Outlook Explosion Protection
Explosion Protection Around the Globe: Ex for Everyone, Please!
When this ambition only gradually took shape and seemed to shift again and again, some confusion ensued among those who did not closely follow every step of IECEx development. The initial introduction of a certification scheme for products was soon followed by another, altogether different scheme, and then even a third one, which again seemed to take off into a different direction. That gave rise to an understandable concern: would this IECEx system be perpetually expanded until nobody would know their way around it anymore? However, with its three-pronged approach, the system is now essentially fully formed. A closer examination also reveals that it is indeed quite clearly structured.
Broader Scope that Includes the Acting Parties
Established explosion protection regulations solely focus on the product — a piece of electrical equipment that is used in hazardous areas. It is tested, certified, and can then be installed and put into operation. This is the full extent of standard certifications for explosion–proof equipment. The IECEx system, on the other hand, goes beyond this narrow, product–centered approach and systematically integrates processes, institutions, and individuals into safety considerations as well. For that purpose, IECEx addresses several categories. Only one of these concerns the hardware — the “IECEx Equipment Scheme” for the certification of devices, which has now already been established for some 15 years. A few years ago, certifications of repair facilities (“IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme“) and of the personal qualifications of explosion protection experts (“IECEx Certification of Personnel Competencies“) were added to complement the system.
Creating uniform standards to facilitate the choice of a qualified, reliable service provider for maintenance and repairs has become a more and more pressing concern, since it has become very common practice throughout the industry to outsource such tasks to external partners. Up until now, the Service Facilities Scheme certifies companies that offer device selection and project planning services, perform the installation and original inspection of a plant, and offer testing and maintenance during operation. A certification scheme for service providers that offer zone classifications is currently in the making. At “Service Facilities”, staff competencies, technical equipment, and quality management systems are examined.
Not yet a Passport, but an Entry Permit
The goal of making the IECEx certificate a passport of sorts that enables a product to directly access all markets has unfortunately not yet been accomplished, unless a device’s destination happens to be Australia or New Zealand. Manufacturers of globally distributed explosion–proof equipment therefore must still tackle multiple approval processes. Nevertheless, IECEx has already brought about significant improvements: Test Reports (TRs) according to the IECEx system now pave the way for abridged procedures to obtain national certificates: once all tests of a product are performed and are documented in an IECEx Test Report, this forms the basis for awarding national certificates without re–testing in the 31 member states of the IECEx system. This considerably speeds up the process.