On this week’s episode of Swarfcast, we’re talking about preventing fires inside of machinery. Our guest is Mike Campo, Midwest Regional Sales Manager with Firetrace International, makers of fire suppression systems and solutions. Fire suppression systems keep businesses, people and equipment safe by automatically detecting and suppressing fires in high-risk equipment, like CNC machines, vehicles and wind turbines.
Mike says that machine tools are most at risk for fires when running oil based coolant while unattended. Suppression systems aim to hold back the fire, helping to mitigate the damage and allowing time for emergency personnel to respond.
Mike shares his background. He has been in the fire protection field for 43 years. He began his career in the engineered fire systems business, protecting data centers and telecommunications centers. He eventually went on to work at Firetrace International, a fire suppression system manufacturer that specializes in protecting critical small environments like CNC machines and wind turbines. (2:50)
Mike talks more about the niche market of working with what he calls micro environments. He says that the Firetrace system is designed for small enclosures, not rooms or spaces where there are people, such as a residential structure. (3:40)
Mike says that sprinklers are a valuable type of fire suppression for structures and are often mandated by local fire codes. He says Firetrace works heavily with the wind energy business to help protect wind turbines, which have structures that do not lend themselves to using sprinkler systems. He says that though an insurance company or local ordinance may instruct a business to purchase a fire suppression system for specific equipment, there are generally no official laws requiring a machine shop to install fire protection systems on its machines. (4:45)
Mike says the biggest risk for fires in machine shops occurs when machine tools are running unattended using oil based coolant rather than water soluble. (8:40)
Mike says that machine tools running oil create an oil mist that can ignite. Mist collectors can help evacuate some of the mist, but any kind of activity that would cause a spark in the oil mist such as a broken tool or failure of an oil pump, could lead to a violent fire. (10:50)
Mike says fires often occur when machining titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum because a lot of friction can occur, which can lead to broken tools. (12:10)
Mike explains that various Firetrace fire suppression systems correspond to different sizes of machine tools. Different volumes of space inside the machines require different amount of chemicals necessary to suppress fires. Larger machines necessitate larger tanks. (13:40)
Mike describes how the Firetrace systems work. A man in Great Britain developed a thermoplastic tubing that could hold pressure for a long period of time. Initially this technology was applied to create a fire suppression system for engine compartments of farming equipment. When pressurized, the tubing becomes a linear pneumatic heat sensor, so that if the tube comes into contact with high heat or flame, the tube ruptures, releasing the pressure that is holding down a piston in the fire protection tank. It releases and then dispenses chemicals to control the fire. (16:00)
Mike points out that Firetrace’s system “only works when it fails,” meaning that it will only go off only when the tube loses pressure. Thus Firetrace systems should not produce false alarms or go off when they are not supposed to. (18:00)
Mike says that Firetrace fire suppression systems target Class B and C fires. Fires are classified into four types, A, B, C, and D. Class A fires occur in materials such as wood and paper. Class B, fires are caused by flammable gasses or liquids, such as oil based coolant. Class C fires are electrical fires, which can occur in the electrical cabinets of machine tools. Class D fires are metal based fires. Those can occur when machining certain metals such as magnesium. Mike says that Firetrace’s system is not designed suppress metal fires, and the most common way to put out those fires is applying sand-like powder. He says if you see a yellow fire extinguisher next to a machine it’s probably meant to put out metal fires. (18:50)
Mike talks about the chemicals used by the Firetrace system. He says Firetrace’s goal is to have a clean fire suppression system that leaves no trace after use in the machine. (20:30)
Mike says that Firetrace is usually purchased aftermarket, though a few machine tool builders offer it as an option for purchase. (24:35)
Mike says the wind turbine business has been very successful for Firetrace. The company sees mostly electrical fire applications in the turbines. (27:25)
Mike says that the Firetrace has been very busy lately. Medical and automotive industries make up the majority of the company’s machine shop customers, while the Aerospace sector has fallen off since COVID-19 hit. (28:40)
Mike says that the cost of a fire suppression system for most CNC machines is $6,000 to $7,000.. He says that Firetrace’s systems are engineered to be simple, as they have no electrical components. Installation typically takes 2-4 hours. (29:25)
Mike says there are several competitor fire suppression systems which emulate Firetrace’s technology, as well as some others that function differently. He says that some systems that come installed on used machines coming from other countries might not be in compliance with US regulations. (30:35)
Mike talks about something he recently learned. He says COVID-19 has presented him with challenges that come when working from home. He says he has been honing is patience for working a lot in close quarters with grandchildren (who he says he loves dearly). (34:50)
Mike states that Firetrace is a simple technology, but the company is constantly performing R & D. He says although the system rarely fails, pressure leaks can present a challenge, whether it’s a leak in the suppression system or in the machine itself. (38:40)
Question: Have you experienced a machine fire in a CNC shop?