July 1999


ISMS, functionality figure in design of M&C’s infrared facility

big rig
The high energy involved in operating the 300,000-watt plasma-arc lamp made safety planning a crucial element of the infrared facility.
There is very little unused space in Building 4508’s high-bay area, where much of the Metals and Ceramics Division’s materials research that involves heavy machines is performed. One of the area’s unique devices is a 300,000-watt plasma-arc infrared facility, the only one of its size in the United States.

The M&C Division’s Vortek plasma-arc infrared facility is an example of how the Integrated Safety Management System, especially the job-planning aspects of it, functions in the actual workplace. Phase two of ISMS verification, which will occur at some unspecified time this fall, will assess how well ISMS has been instituted in the ORNL workplace.

Because the facility is so powerful, setting it up involved dealing with many safety issues. Principal investigator Craig Blue says he worked with Plant and Equipment employees to design safety into the facility and the workplace around it.

“It took a lot of P&E personnel to get this up and running,” Blue says. The facility’s infrared lamp operates at 300,000 watts, and there are many safety issues involved with that.”

Blue worked closely with many P&E staff members to construct a containment room within the high-bay area to house the infrared facility. Within that room is an array of shields, safety switches and sensors designed to protect the operators and to operate the facility safely.

“The facility’s infrared arc lamp is housed inside a quartz tube charged with about 100 psi of inert gas,” Barry Whitson, one of the P&E electricians, says. “The tube is cooled with circulating water and gas. It involves high pressure and high voltage. The room around the facility was built to protect people near the facility.”

Protecting workers and controlling access to the facility is important because on either end of the facility’s infrared lamp are high-voltage electrodes that arc at up to 480 volts. The pressurized quartz tubes are capable of rupturing, so a containment facility was deemed necessary. Within the room is a computer workstation for the operator, who is protected by a polycarbonate barrier. The operator also has a welding hood to wear when direct viewing of the stabilized arc is necessary.

Blue, along with Whitson, Dave Harper, Greg Engelman, Johnny Norris, Randy Howell, Bill Fellers and many other P&E crew members “thought of everything” to ensure that the infrared facility is a safe operation. The electricians designed an elegant dual-use electrical trough that runs supply power and communications lines to the facility through one metal conduit “trough.” The trough is out of the way and barely noticeable.

Blue also suggested a series of safety switches and lockouts. The resulting facility has some sort of safety device in nearly every cranny.

“For instance, the containment room has a window, but it also has vision-protecting welding curtains that are raised and lowered electrically,” Whitson says. “The facility cannot operate if the curtains are up.”

A similar system of switches and reflectors shuts the facility down if someone enters the inner area while the facility is operating or if the robotic arm carries the lamp above the top of the room’s open ceiling. The robotic arm, which manipulates the arc lamp, in fact is instrumented with electrical and mechanical limiting switches to keep the arc operating within safe limits.

“Everyone chipped in on ideas for the facility,” Whitson says. “We’d come up with an idea and run it by Craig. We worked very closely to address all the concerns.”

The infrared plasma-arc facility is used for research into new techniques for treating surfaces, curing coatings and annealing that could prove very valuable to industry. The M&C and P&E division employees’ attention to safety and teamwork stands to pay off through a successful and reliable operation.

“You obviously don’t want people hurt on the job,” Whitson says. “But an accident could also shut us down for a year. And we definitely want to avoid that too.”

For more information on the Integrated Safety Management System, see the Web site at http://svr1.cmo.ornl.gov/isms/ismshome.cfm.—B.C.