Heat and Moisture Hinder Electronic Innovation
Vol 21 No 6
Combining fire monitors with electronics is nothing new, said Elkhart Brass marketing director Don Sjolin. Protecting the electronics from the double threat of moisture and heat is the difficult part.
"The advantage with the electronic monitor is its ability to be employed automatically or remotely and flow water much quicker," Sjolin said.
Designing monitors that can operate in adverse fire ground conditions means finding ways to better shield the electronic components from those conditions. Elkhart Brass, through years of experience, has developed its own philosophy in mating electronic components with fire apparatus.
Moisture is actually the easier of the two threats to protect against, Sjolin said.
"In terms of keeping electronics safe from either rain water or splashed fire water, it is very easy to seal out the moisture," Sjolin said. "In reality, what tends to be the most damaging element of this environment is the quality of the water flowing through the monitor. Water used in fire protection ranges from salt water to brackish water."
Heat is by far the greater threat, Sjolin said. However, the source of that heat might not be the fire so much as the other surrounding electronics. Heat extreme enough to disable an electronic monitor would just as likely disable a manual monitor.
"There is very little you can do to protect an apparatus from the heat of a fire," he said. "The monitor itself becomes the best defense against extreme heat. Simply having water flowing through the monitor takes away much of that heat."
To deal with extreme heat, equipment designers can apply sacrificial coatings or sophisticated heat shields. But what poses a greater threat to electronics is ambient high temperatures.
"This is not the temperature that comes from a flame or combustion or an explosion," Sjolin said. "This is the heat that comes from sitting in a very hot environment geographically speaking, such as the southeast U.S. or the Middle East."
The simplest step taken by engineers is to employ non incendiary electronic components that will not propagate a flame front or explosion. This guarantees that the electronics will not be the ignition source, Sjolin said.
Another method of protecting electronics is to place them in enclosures equipped with compressed air cooling devices.
"These are reliable, very predictable and can operate with low air supply in the range of 15 cfm," Sjolin said. "They keep a sizeable electronic enclosure cool in a very warm ambient temperature."
Electronics are also specifically designed to keep heat producing electronics away from those that are sensitive to heat, Sjolin said.
"We tend to build electronics into multiple enclosures so we can do just that," he said.
The Elkhart Brass philosophy in handling electronics is to keep the "brains" of a system in a controlled environment that is part of a network connected to the more hearty electronic elements that can survive at ambient temperatures, Sjolin said.
"Keep the brains in a cool environment and keep the more rugged product outside," he said.
Elkhart Brass works closely with its customers even where electronic components are involved, Sjolin said.
"The equipment, particularly electronics, changes on a monthly basis these days," he said. "Suppliers will never know the requirements as well as the plant and the operator."