By Jared Burke, Contributor, BizLED Bureau
April 24, 2015: It is very important to install safe lighting systems in hazardous environments, and hence, more and more hazardous industries are replacing lighting systems like high-intensity discharge (HID) and fluorescent lighting with LED lighting.
Hazardous environments or high risk areas are places where explosive gases or liquids or flammable materials are manufactured or handled. These places are usually humid, and threatened with water ingress, or extreme temperatures. Some such hazardous places are chemical plants, power-generation plants, oil, gas, and petrochemical refineries, mines, drilling platforms, nuclear or other hazardous plants.
Lighting requirements at hazardous environments
These hazardous facilities are usually located in remote areas and are inaccessible; hence they require lighting systems with low maintenance.
These critical workplaces need very rugged and reliable lighting system because they cannot afford to be without lighting for even a second. Here, lighting needs to be able to withstand shock and vibration due to extreme temperatures, and have to be compliant with several standards and safety and security guidelines.
Why LED lighting is the right choice for hazardous environments?
Over the years, LED technology has progressed immensely in terms of light output, colour options, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The ongoing advancements in optics, semiconductors and other components and materials, have also contributed to this transition.
As LEDs are long-lived, energy-efficient, rugged, reliable even under extreme conditions, and have minimal environmental footprint, they have become the universal choice for industries, particularly hazardous environments. This is also because US has phased-out 150-500W metal halide luminaires and mercury vapour lamps and ballasts.
LED lights have been rated for use in hazardous environments. They are the best choice for areas with severe weather conditions, corrosive atmospheres, excessive moisture or dust and high ambient temperatures. They require very little maintenance.
LED lighting is environmentally friendly and cool. They are resistant to shock, vibration and corrosion. In fact, LEDs can be used in environments where other technologies fail. They are capable of instant on and instant re-strike to ?40°C, and they require no warm-up time to be fully bright. LEDs do not produce any harmful UV or IR radiation, which are usually associated with other traditional lighting sources.
While LEDs are a directional source of light?directed with optics and lenses, fluorescents need reflectors to direct the light, which loses efficiency as lumens get reduced.
LED lighting needs very less maintenance as they have very long life and are well known for high performance. Maintenance in hazardous environments can be dangerous. This challenge can be resolved as LED lights come in sealed units as well which do not require changing for long period of time, and are protected against dust or gas.
LED lighting provides 100% light output instantly on being switched on, which is an added advantage for hazardous environments.
Using resistant-proof materials
LED luminaires for hazardous environments have to be waterproof as these places can be very humid. Keeping these luminaires light weight is another challenge for the designers; so they use plastics which can be used in different chemical environments. Polycarbonate is also used as it is resistant to UV and vibrations of heavy machinery. However, it is not resistant to chemicals, oils or other cleaning fluids. Manufacturers also use copper-free aluminum or stainless-steel to make the housing of the LED lights rugged for harsh environments, and to make them suitable for humid, cold and wet weathers.
Sometimes extra coating and resistant proof paints are added to make the housing corrosion proof.
Special design required
Today, consumers demand small size LED lights, and that?s a challenge for the designers. They have to design these LED lights small as well as make them light and resistant-proof to many things. Design also needs to keep other practical concerns in mind. For example, if dust settles on the housing, it can create an insulation layer that may lead to overheating of the light fitting, leading to a fire. Oil can also settle on a flat surface, creating an insulation layer. Hence, these lights should have sloping surfaces so that dust and oil cannot settle on them. The LED luminaires may also have slots for the dust to fall off. These also keep the luminaire cool.
LED lights designed to be used in hazardous environments must comply with standards and rated as per the stringent requirements needed in such areas. It must be checked to ensure that a hotspot or a spark does not lead to fire. Even if an internal ignition occurs, the fixture and the housing should be such that it is not allowed to escape from the fixture or the housing. In LED lights, the hotspot is generally found at the T junction, which is put inside the LED assembly. This aspect has to be checked at the manufacturing stage. The manufacturing and testing standards for these LED luminaires are controlled by NEC, IEC and other standards and testing bodies. The industry feels that there should be one accepted standard for temperature rating of LED luminaires.
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