Intrinsically Safe Computers – What You Need to Know


An oil rig in Australia flaring natural gases with workers using intrinsically safe devices

When you’re working in an area where hazardous gas or dust may be present, you’ll need an intrinsically safe computer. Knowing which device is right for your work area can seem like a challenging task. But if you know the basics about intrinsically safe equipment, you can make an informed decision on the computer that’s right for you. 

#1 What is an Intrinsically Safe Computer?

An intrinsically safe computer uses equipment and wiring which is incapable of releasing sufficient electrical or thermal energy (under normal or abnormal conditions) to cause ignition of a hazardous atmosphere.

There are different ratings for intrinsically safe equipment. All equipment must display its safety rating and the test laboratory. 

Jump to point #3 for Intrinsically Safe Ratings.

#2 Terminology – What it All Means

Intrinsically safe – a protection method or standard for electrical equipment being used in a hazardous environment.

Explosion proof – a product that contains the risk in a robust casing.

Hazardous environment – a location where a fire or explosion could occur from a flammable gas, liquid, vapour or combustible dust or fibres. An area may also be referred to as Hazloc, short for Hazardous location.

ATEX – stands for ATmosphères EXplosible. The French acronym is used to identify hazardous, potentially explosive atmospheres where gases (petrochemical) or dust (saw mills, flour mills) may occur. 

ATEX Ratings – used to rate the risk level of a location. ATEX Zone 2 is the lowest risk, ATEX Zone 1 is mid-range while ATEX Zone 0 is the highest risk.

IECEx – stands for International Electrotechnical Commission System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for use in Explosive Atmospheres. The Standard assists with international trade in equipment and services.

 #3 Ratings for Intrinsically Safe Computers and Tablets

The Australian standard for certifying the design and where it may be used is AS/NZS 60079.25, denoted by IECEx certification.  

Hazardous Area Zones

Hazardous areas are classified (by ATEX and IECEx) into zones. The frequency and duration of an explosive atmosphere determines the zoning: 

  • Zone 0: An area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods;

  • Zone 1: An area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation;

  • Zone 2: An area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is not likely to occur in normal operation and, if it occurs, will only exist for a short time.

The most common time limits placed on the zones are:

  • Zone 0: Explosive atmosphere for more than 1000h/year

  • Zone 1: Explosive atmosphere for more than 10h/year, but less than 1000 h/year

  • Zone 2: Explosive atmosphere for less than 10h/year, but still sufficiently likely as to require controls over ignition sources.

Before selecting an intrinsically safe device, a worker must know the zone classification for their work environment. Devices may be suitable for Zone 1 or 2 but not Zone 0, for example.

#4 How is a Computer Made Intrinsically Safe?

A computer or tablet is intrinsically safe because the electronics or wiring within the product cannot accumulate enough energy to ignite a gas or vapour in normal conditions or with a failure.

A device is made intrinsically safe with the battery designed for use in explosive atmospheres. The batteries are designed to limit the energy stored and the heat generated, in case of an internal fault.

Intrinsically safe tablets aren't any less powerful and offer the same functions as non-rated rugged devices. The operating systems are high-performance, and they use powerful lithium-ion batteries.

#5 Difference Between Intrinsically Safe and Explosion Proof

The two terms ‘intrinsically safe’ and ‘explosion proof’ might sound similar, but their meanings are quite different. Intrinsically safe means a device is suitable for a hazardous environment because it isn’t capable of causing an explosion. The power is controlled and limited. This can be a problem if the product needs to operate in a power range higher than allowed. Intrinsically safe equipment has ratings for one or more zones - Zone 0, Zone 1 and Zone 2.  

Explosion-proof devices have less power limitations on them so high-powered devices can operate safely in hazardous areas. The wiring requires conduit and seals to isolate the circuit from hazardous gases. An explosive-proof device is suitable for use in Zone 1 and Zone 2 but not Zone 0. Explosion-proof devices are usually more expensive than intrinsically safe ones.

Intrinsically Safe Devices

It’s a big decision when you’re choosing an intrinsically safe tablet for your site. Two reputable brands for Intrinsically Safe devices are Ecom and Getac. 

Ecom Tab-Ex 02 Rugged Tablet Zone 2 - Android

This Intrinsically Safe device is safe to use in Zone 2, it’s a lightweight and portable Android 9 tablet. Based on the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active2, it has an 8 inch display, 1.6 GHz Octa-Core CPU and 3 GB of RAM. 

Ecom Tab-Ex 02  Rugged Tablet Zone 1 - Android

The 8 inch display (1280 x 800 px) unit runs on the Android 8.1 operating system, Octa core 1.6 Ghz processor and 3.0GB of memory. The device is ideal for Zone 1 hazardous areas so it’s suitable for the oil and gas workplaces, chemical plants, refineries, pharmaceutical manufacturing and any other industries. 

Getac F110-EX Fully Rugged Tablet Zone 2 - Windows

The large screen 11.6 inch display with LumiBond technology achieves more contrast and crisp colours. Powered by Intel Core i5 (1.9GHz) or i7 (2.1GHz) processors, 4GB RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive, the tablet is certified for use in Zone 2.

Getac T-800-EX Rugged Tablet Zone 2 - Windows

Certified for Zone 2, the T800-EX uses the latest wireless technology, and unique SnapBack add-ons that run Windows 10 and the Intel® Quad-core CPU for a smooth operation. The screen is an 8.1 inch LumiBond Display with Getac Sunlight Readable Technology.

Getac EX80 Fully Rugged Tablet Zones 0,1 & 2 - Windows

Certified for Zones 0, 1 & 2 making it ideal for industries that experience explosive atmospheres for long periods. The EX80 runs Intel Atom® x5-Z8350 Processor 1.44GHz and has an 8 inch display.

If you need an intrinsically safe computer, call the experts at Roaming Technologies on 1300 131 933 or contact us online.

Category: News