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  Last updated on 30/12/2019    (©  2001 - 2020   TECHNETEA)  

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European ATEX or IECEx certifications
can also be carried out in France

Electronics Engineering

Taking into account the ATEX regulation is mandatory when manufacturing equipments intended to be used in hazardous areas with potentially explosive atmospheres, such as explosive gas atmospheres, explosive dust atmospheres (dust, fibres or flyings), and explosive atmospheres in mines susceptible to firedamp.

ATEX certifications and IECEx

Regional standards exist, as ATEX CENELEC in Europe, as FM in the United States, and so on, but an international certification system also exists, which is called IECEx. So, what is the difference between all those certification systems ?

Basically and technically, they are rather identical, because IECEx is based on the international IEC standards which are usually also incorporated in the regional standards. But when certifying in accordance with the regional ATEX standards, and depending of the countries, there are sometimes historical reasons to differently interpret the IEC standards or to still demand additional requirements.

An IECEx certificate is normally accepted all over the world, although some countries will prefer to only allow the use of equipments certified according to their local standards, sometimes maybe more because of protectionist or conservative reasons rather than pure technical reasons. It is always adviced to verify that point before selling or developing an ATEX equipment intended to be delivered in some places, because it also greatly depends on the habits of the potential clients.

It must be clearly said, that an IECEx certification is usually longer and more difficult to obtain than for instance a European ATEX (CENELEC) certificate, which is supposed to be accepted everywhere in Europe. Why that ?

This is because an IECEx assessment only relies on the methods explicitly described in the IEC standards. It means that with IECEx, there is no place for any interpretation, no possible discussion with the ATEX certification body to try to evaluate a system according to a different method even if this method is commonly used when certifying in accordance with the regular regional standards. Even the well known and old certification bodies in Europe or anywhere else, even those which were part of the ATEX pioneers and first developed safe methods of assessment, if those methods are not fully described in the IEC standards, they definitively can't used them for an IECEx assessment.

As a result, it is sometimes possible to certify an equipment to obtain an ATEX CENELEC certificate, but impossible to obtain an IECEx certificate. Let's take this real-life situation as an example to illustrate. A big European company already had an ATEX product certified according to the European ATEX standards for the temperature class T6, and wanted to get the equivalent certificate in IECEx to be able to use their equipment outside of Europe. The first steps of the study unfortunately revealed that it was not possible to convert the certification into IECEx so simply, because there is no direct references for the temperature class T6 in IEC 60079-XX. So the client finally decided to limit the IECEx certificate to the temperature class T4, because it would have been too delicate and too expensive to try to do all the temperature tests as they are described in IEC 60079-XX.

In addition to the technical requirements, the IECEx system also adds Quality Assessment Reports (QAR) for the manufacturer to be allowed to manufacture its ATEX products.

How Technetea works

Located in France, Technetea can develop or help to develop, equipments or systems in compliance with the European (CENELEC) ATEX standards as well as with the IECEx procedure. As an electronics engineering office, Technetea mainly uses the Intrinsically Safe mode of protection, but other ATEX modes of protection can also be proposed.

Technetea can also help to update a previously ATEX certified equipment, so that it can meet the requirements of the new versions of the European ATEX (CENELEC) or IECEx standards.

Technetea can also help to adapt or to convert an equipment already certified according to regional standards, so that it can meet the requirements of the European ATEX (CENELEC) or IECEx standards.

Finally and even is it is usually very complicate, Technetea can also help to adapt an already ATEX certified equipment, so that it can meet the requirements of a more demanding ATEX Zone.

To certify an equipment, Technetea is used to working with the French certification body INERIS located in the north of Paris, which is a national institute working on the industrial environment and the industrial risk. This authorised ATEX certification body has a strong reputation of reliability in Europe. and is known for its expertise, as it inherits from the former CERCHAR created in the middle of the 20th century, which was a research center for environment and risk in the coal mines.

The case of the ATEX Zone 2

Even if a self certification is possible for the electrical equipments especially developed for Zone 2, Technetea disapproves this type of procedure, and always insists for the ATEX certificate to be delivered by an authorized certification body.

On this subject, a story comes to mind. A very small company wanted Technetea to help to certify a small electrical equipment for ATEX Zone 2, and the answer was that we recommended to use a certification body to verify the work and to get the ATEX certificate, instead of a self-certification. The client answered "We fully agree ! Because it is also an great commercial advantage to show to our clients that unlike our competitors, we obtained a real ATEX certificate delivered by a known and official certification body !"

This is a pretty interesting but unusual behaviour. The work with the client and the certification body was made very fast, and Technetea hopes that this small company sold a lot of ATEX devices in comparison with their competitors.

The point of view of Technetea about the Intrinsically Safe mode of protection with the level "ic" which is used for equipments only allowed to be operating in Zone 2, is the following. Probabilistically spoken, it only relies on a bet, because the equipments are not assessed in the event of a failure of an electronic component, contrary to what is required for the levels of protection "ib" (Zone 1) and "ia" (Zone 0).

It is not supposed to be an explosive atmosphere in Zone 2, or only for a short period of time. Just to have an idea, let's take this arbitrary example of only 5 minutes every 10 years. Therefore, it gives a low probability of about 1×10-6, definitely much lower to what must be considered in Zone 1 or Zone 0.

All the bet relies on the extremely low probability to get the explosive atmosphere at the same time as an electrical failure of a component in the equipment, which might cause a dangerous hot point for instance. But now just multiply that very low probability number by the millions of small equipments (still increasing especially with all these fast-developed self-certificated IoT devices installed in Zone 2), and you will realise that sooner or later, there will be an accident somewhere, even more serious because it wouldn't have been expected in that place.

Developing for the ATEX Zone 2, is sometimes a matter of conscience, because the event of an electronic failure has not to be taken into account even if it could lead to a dramatic result. Consequently, it already occured that Technetea refused to work on a project, considering the potential danger of the electronic structure that the client started to develop, or the place where the equipment was supposed to be used.

"Of course, it is allowed by the ATEX standards, even a self-certification is allowed, and your competitor already did it ! But sorry it's too dangerous and our manager wants to have peace of mind."

Trusting Technetea

Strangely, it is always easier to destroy an ATEX solution than to build one. Probably it's because everybody thinks differently. It occurs, again last week when reading the documents of a certified equipment, to wonder : "How is it possible that this equipment passed its ATEX certification !"

Working on ATEX systems is not only a question of ATEX certificates, it is a very serious procedure during which the development engineer has to be aware of his personal responsibility, because his work is not only a question of standards but also a question of safety. He has to realise that depending of the technical solution he chooses, it may lead to accidents, injuries or even worse. If he feels that a technical solution might be dangerous, he must NOT use it, even if it seems to be allowed by the standards.

It occurs that Technetea doesn't agree with the ATEX standards, sometimes because the construction rules appear really too strict for a particular ATEX project under development but with no other solution than to respect them, but it sometimes also occurs because the construction rules can be considered as too permissive and letting the door open for a potential incident.

Working on ATEX systems is also above all a question of respect. Respect towards the final client who buy it with confidence and doesn't want to be wounded or worse while using it, and respect towards all the people who will simply live beside the ATEX installation (eg : a domestic tank level monitoring system).

Technetea works on developing ATEX products mainly by using Intrinsic Safety, since the creation of the company in 2001, but the internal experience also relies on ATEX developments made for the oil industry in the mid-1990s.

Don't hesitate to contact us ....