Digital Re-print January | February 2013

Controlling the explosion risks within hammer mills
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Controlling the explosion risks within hammer mills
by Kevin Spiess, EMEA sales manager for explosion protection, BS&B Safety Systems, United Kingdom


rain and feed processed within hammer mills is common fuel for dust explosions due to the nature of its handling and storage. Any time that feed such as grain, meals and flours is handled or moved, the fine organic dusts are at risk of burning and exploding.

Explosion causes
A fire or explosion results from ignition of combustible material (dust, gas or vapour) when mixed with oxygen in the air. When this takes place inside a grain silo, process or storage enclosure, the rapid rise in pressure could cause a violent explosion in milliseconds, placing personnel and property at risk. Just a few burning embers entering a dust collector are enough to trigger a dust explosion. Likewise, combustible material conveyed into a storage silo could become the nucleus of a fire. Sparks or smouldering particles from hammer mill operations may spread from the mill to other more vulnerable equipment. Most materials handling, processing and storage equipment is not designed to resist the pressure of an expanding flame ball which proceeds below the speed of sound in air – known as a deflagration – as com10 | January - february 2013

pared to a detonation, which exceeds the speed of sound in air. Most grain dusts are combustible and can cause an explosion, but some types are much more dangerous than others, especially dust associated with corn or sugar. The effects of accidental fires or explosions can be devastating in terms of lives lost, injuries, damage to property and the environment, and to business continuity.

Serious secondary effects
Grain dust explosions can have a cascade effect. Grain dust that has settled on floors

or walls can be thrown into the air by a dust explosion, thus providing fuel for secondary explosions. Often, these secondary explosions cause more damage than the first. In this way, a dust explosion can jump from room to room or from silo to silo. This is a common phenomenon in grain dust explosions. For example, one of the most dangerous areas for grain dust explosions is in the bucket elevator or conveying system linked to a silo. The grain is always in motion, so dust is constantly generated.

Protection measures
An explosion risk assessment will typically recommend that a series of protection measures be implemented. These range from investment in protection equipment to improvements in housekeeping to eliminate the build-up of deposits of combustible dust which may accumulate on beams in the factory. These may be disturbed by a primary explosion in the process equipment and result in a more severe secondary explosion. Codes and standards are now very clear in requiring isolation of vented equipment to prevent secondary explosions, which typically have much greater potential for damage and destruction.

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Bespoke systems
My organisation, BS&B Safety Systems, has launched a bespoke combustible dust fire and explosion prevention system for hammer mills based on established systems developed for other industries. The SparkEx Spark Detection and Extinguishing System is designed to detect hot particles, sparks and glowing embers that might become the ignition source for a fire or explosion if allowed to travel on through pneumatic ducting and conveyors towards other material handling equipment. By preventing sparks, embers and hot particles from reaching dust rich downstream process equipment such as dust collectors, bins and silos, both fire and explosion risks can be managed. Using infrared detectors, the system detects the radiated light emitted from sparks, glowing embers and hot particles travelling past the detection point and activates control circuits. The greatest sensitivity occurs when these sensors are employed in a dark area such as closed ductwork, although optional daylight detectors are also available for use on open conveyor belts and for applications where light is likely to be visible. Upon detection this system provides several options to manage the ignition risk: • An electrical signal generated by the sensor activates control circuits typically used to operate an automatic water-extinguishing curtain. Sparks can be extinguished without stopping production. • An automated shut down of the process can prevent the feed of combustible material. • Alarm and control systems can be activated upon the detection of hot particles for other control devices such as diverter valves. The system detectors and control unit are ATEX certified for use in a dusty working environment. This means there are no expensive costs for additional wiring to run from detectors to remote mounted control units and plant personnel have direct access to the status of the equipment. In the event of an alarm condition, the operator can see immediately which process is at risk. A web based monitoring system, which allows plant managers to receive system alarms and faults to their smart phones, as well as monitoring the systems live on the internet, is also available. In addition to this preventative system, systems for protection are available, should an explosion occur. A chemical isolation system isolates an explosion and prevents it from affecting interconnected

processes. If unprotected, the ductwork and piping, as well as all the connected vessels and equipment are at risk. This system is used in combination with explosion protection equipment on each vessel,

ment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres on the European market. By investing in explosion protection, organisations can safeguard themselves eco-

bin, or dust collector and could include chemical suppression, explosion venting or indoor venting.

nomically, follow appropriate health and safety standards and protect workers from potential risks.

Regulations, codes and standards
Because of potential health problems, laws exist to ensure employers in the EU protect their workers from being harmed by dangerous substances in the workplace. In the UK, under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR), all workplaces where substances that could give rise to fire or explosion are handled or stored must be fully assessed and protected. Employers must carry out risk assessments, and take steps to ensure they prevent or adequately control exposure. It is important to include in the assessment foreseeable incidents and maintenance work and plan for measures to be taken in these circumstances. ATEX is the name commonly given to Directive 94/9/ EC which provides the technical requirements to be applied and the relevant conformity assessment procedures before placing equipMore InforMatIon: BS&B Safety Systems Tel: +44 161 955 4202 Email: Website:

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Efficient barge unloading technology Feed enzymes in animal nutrition

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Controlling the explosion risks within hammer mills

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Recycling surplus factory food
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