The Burning Question – Mobile Plant Machinery
Few waste management sites would be able to operate without mobile plant machinery. Being such an operations-critical asset, it’s important to ensure that suitable systems and procedures are in place for their protection.
Common Causes of Engine Bay Fires
- Hydraulic Lines
Hydraulic lubricants have a spontaneous combustion temperature from as low as 250°C. In the event of a leak in the engine compartment, the oil can be coming in contact with surfaces in excess of 600°C, which causes it to immediately burst into flames. With a constant supply of flammable liquid, fires resulting from these can be extremely vicious.
- Build-up of solid deposits (dust)
When working in the dusty environments typical to the waste management industry, a build-up of dirt and dust is common in engine compartments. Due again to the hot surfaces, the material can be heated to spontaneous combustion temperature and quickly spread to other parts of the compartment
- Electrical equipment
Wear on wiring looms is a common cause of electrical fires. Due to the constant vibration during operation, friction can cause the protective covering to be worn away and expose the cable, short-circuiting the electrical loop and starting a fire in the looms and surrounding equipment.
How to protect against vehicle fires
- Regular Component Assessments
Regular checks of the engine bay components can help identify areas of wear. Worn hydraulic lines, electrical cables and associated parts can be a sure sign of imminent failure resulting in a fire. As the saying goes “Forewarned is forearmed” and any parts replacements identified by a quick check can be actioned to ensure a fire is less likely to happen.
- Effective detection solutions
Effective detection solutions are important in identifying fires quickly when they occur. One of the best is linear heat detection cable. This small and insignificant red cable has two wires positioned parallel to each other separated by heat-sensitive polymers which soften at a certain temperature, allowing the wires to touch, creating a short circuit which triggers an alarm and discharges the suppression system.
- Effective Suppression Systems
There are two main types of suppression agent: Powder and Foam.
Powder is one of the oldest engine bay suppression systems. It’s designed to displace the oxygen in the engine bay and cover the components in a layer of solid particles. However, it has no cooling effects so, if the components are still hot enough, there is a risk of re-ignition. In addition, the agent is abrasive, corrosive and very hard to properly clean away – which can have a detrimental effect on the very engine bay it is trying to protect.
Foam is the best suppression agent. It is so effective because it removes all of the three elements required to start a fire in the first place – Heat, Fuel and Oxygen. The liquid-based agent impregnates accumulations of solid material, cools the hot surfaces and displaces the oxygen by creating a thin film over the top of the material to suffocate the fire. This means that there is a significantly reduced chance of re-ignition.
In conclusion, regular checks and maintenance of plant are as important as suitable and effective detection and suppression systems. However, when it comes to suppression systems foam is very much the recommended option.
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