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Explosion-Proof vs. Intrinsically Safe: The Differences

Posted by Michael Lucarelli on

Explosion-Proof vs. Intrinsically Safe: The Differences

When you’re working in a hazardous area—defined as an environment where the risk of explosion exists—you’ll need the right equipment for the job. The most common methods for preventing explosions involve intrinsic safety and explosion-proof products, including flashlights, goggles, and other safety gear. While intrinsically safe and explosion-proof equipment can both prevent explosions, there are a few differences that set them apart. In this guide, we’ll explain the differences between explosion-proof vs. intrinsically safe protection methods and help you choose the right kind of equipment for working in hazardous conditions.

Explosion-Proof

An explosion-proof product will have a specially engineered and constructed housing to contain any flash or explosion inside of it. Most explosion-proof products use materials, such as cast iron, aluminum, and occasionally plastic, that prevent the ignition of surrounding flammable gases or vapors. To put it simply, an explosion-proof product has a heavy, protective enclosure with enough mass and strength to safely contain an explosion. It’s important to note is that “explosion-proof” and “flameproof” aren’t synonymous terms, although people often use both these terms to describe the same category of products.

Intrinsically Safe

An intrinsically safe product has electronics or wiring that can’t physically accumulate enough energy to ignite vapor or gas. As opposed to explosion-proof products, which contain an explosion should it occur, intrinsically safe products limit the amount of energy in the circuits to a level below what’s necessary to create ignition, both under normal conditions and in cases of failure. This is possible by using an intrinsically safe interface or barrier. These fall into two categories: zener barriers and galvanic isolators. A zener barrier is a device that limits the voltage and current in the hazardous area using zener diodes and an output resistor, respectively. A galvanic isolator isolates the circuits in the hazardous area and the safe area using relays, opto-isolators, and transformers.

How To Choose the Right Equipment

Now that you understand the differences between explosion-proof and intrinsically safe protection methods, it’s time to determine which kind you need for your purposes. There are several parameters and characteristics to consider before deciding.

The first factor you might want to consider is the price. An intrinsically safe product will typically cost less than an explosion-proof one. Unfortunately, with an intrinsically safe approach, you only have a limited amount of power in the entire system. This limitation can become a problem if the product needs to operate in a higher power range than the system allows. If you’re looking for something you can use with high-power applications, explosion-proof products are the obvious choice. Another thing you’ll want to consider is the zone type that you’re working in. You can use a piece of equipment that’s intrinsically safe in Zone 0, Zone 1, and Zone 2, while you can only use explosion-proof equipment in Zones 1 and 2.

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