What’s the risk of blindly trusting your supplier when buying an ATEX fan?

You may have heard of POTENTIALLY EXPLOSIVE ATMOSPHERES and the ATEX directive.
Let’s start by defining what an explosive atmosphere is.
An explosive atmosphere is a mixture of air (i.e. oxygen) and flammable substances (like gases, vapors or dusts) which under certain environmental conditions, due to an initial ignition, generate very rapid and violent combustion.
A potentially explosive atmosphere exists when there is a mixture of oxygen (air) and a flammable substance. The ignition source is missing. This is where your job as a mechanical designer comes in.

When dealing with potentially explosive atmospheres, you want to avoid the formation of an ignition source at all costs.
For more than 15 years I’ve been managing the technical department of PBN, an Italian company whose mission since 1976 has been to manufacture special industrial fans that can operate for decades.
Based on my many years of experience, I can safely say that things can get extremely complicated in these situations. In fact, it’s not enough to comply with the standards and directives for what you design and produce, but you must also be able to understand what the different suppliers are providing.

I want to give you two simple tips to help you understand if the fans you’re buying are really ATEX compliant.
The first mistake people make is thinking that ignition sources can only be electrical in nature. Even high-speed rubbing between two metals (as cavemen were well aware) can cause sparks (please refer to EN1127-1:2019 to learn more about all possible ignition sources). Therefore, it is not sufficient to mount an Ex-motor on the fan to automatically make the whole system ATEX-compliant.

At the same time, you have to check what the supplier declares as compliant with the 2014/34/EU directive.
Often you’ll find in the certificates that only the fan (and not the motor) complies with the ATEX directive (in fan jargon: “fan arrangement 1”).
The whole system consisting of the mounted fan and motor is therefore not covered by the certificate or declaration of conformity.

Do you know what this means for you? It means that you get a half conformity with the directive.

Speaking of which: do you know who will have to declare both fans and motors compliant for use in your company? You.
In fact it will be YOUR responsibility to assess the risks and declare the fan and motor compliant.

Please do not overlook this fact and believe that it’s the supplier’s responsibility to do this.
E.g., if you install an ATEX-compliant fan with the wrong ATEX marking in the company, you will be held responsible if you wrongly certify the whole system as ATEX compliant.

Therefore, you have to be extremely careful about what you buy and install in your company. Better safe than sorry.

I can’t help you with all the machinery, but I can certainly help you avoid going to court because of an incorrectly marked ATEX fan.

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