Dust, gas and other finely divided materials found in many manufacturing plants can create a potentially hazardous environment before anyone realizes it. Even though they appear instantaneous, an average explosion may take 250 milliseconds to develop maximum explosion pressure. The Explosion Protection Group at Fike Corp. (Blue Springs, MO) manufactures on-site systems that detect an impending explosion as it’s developing. The impending explosion is shut down before it gains enough heat or explosive capacity to do much damage.

An explosion results when heat and pressure build rapidly in response to some trigger event. A Fike system recognizes such an event and stops it in its tracks. When a detector in the system senses that a dangerous reaction has begun, it sends a signal to the system control panel, which initiates release of an extinguishing agent or triggers other protective action. The typical Fike system carries out this chain of events within 50 milliseconds. This explains why milliseconds can be an eternity to Fike’s Rick Reade.

Based in Kansas City, Reade provides training to those who will operate and maintain these suppression systems once they’re on the job, whether they end up at a bowling ball factory, a cookie factory or monitoring fuel at a Titan 5 launch pad. In 1999, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency asked Fike to determine the flammability of seized drugs it would be destroying in a new facility it was creating for that purpose.

Fike systems are tested all along the manufacturing route, from order to installation. After it is installed, regulations require that certified technicians completely test a protection system every 90 days. Fike contracts that maintenance to certified technicians.

To ensure each is trained to Fike’s exacting specifications, Reade and his team provide comprehensive training and support, both at Fike certification workshops and on site. "Technicians come to a 5-day class at Fike in Kansas City," he says. "They’re tested at the end, and if they pass, they’re certified for 2 years."

Fike provides each certified technician with a Fike tool kit. An integral part of the Fike manufacturing operation, and its training tool kit, is a ScopeMeter 190 Series handheld oscilloscope from Fluke Corp. (Everett, WA). The ScopeMeter combines a powerful oscilloscope, a digital multimeter and a paperless recorder in one compact, handheld test tool. The 190C Series adds a full-color display and fast waveform update rates.

Every Fike system is tested throughout production. Before final sign-off, following installation and routinely after that, the ScopeMeter gets a good workout. "We use the ScopeMeter for many tests," Reade says. "In one, we use the ScopeMeter as a stopwatch.

We hook it to the input side of our main electronics controller and trigger the system. We check to see how long it takes the control panel to receive the signal to set off the pressure relief devices." By packaging the comprehensive training and test tool kit, Fike ensures everyone who goes through Reade’s program is ready to join him in an environment where the blink of an eye is too slow.

For more information on handheld oscilloscopes, call 800-443-5853or visit www.fluke.com.