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Information for Intrinsically Safe Radio

Those of you working in or around flammable gases, flammable fuels or in a combustible environment probably understand the term Intrinsic... but how many of you know about Intrinsically Safe Radios ?

Intrinsic Two Way RadioKeep in mind that a radio transmitter generates RF Energy of varying levels or degrees. In order for it (the radio) to be used in an intrinsic environment, it must meet or exceed certain guidelines set forth by governments and safety institutes. Here in North America, the safety guidelines are very strict. Never use a non-intrinsic radio in an intrinsically safe zone.

(Courtesy of WikiPedia)
Intrinsic safety (IS) is a protection technique for safe operation of electrical equipment in hazardous areas by limiting the energy available for ignition. In signal and control circuits that can operate with low currents and voltages, the intrinsic safety approach simplifies circuits and reduces installation cost over other protection methods. Areas with dangerous concentrations of flammable gases or dust are found in applications such as petrochemical refineries and mines. As a discipline, it is an application of inherent safety in instrumentation. High-power circuits such as electric motors or lighting cannot use intrinsic safety methods for protection.

In normal use, electrical equipment often creates internal tiny sparks in switches, motor brushes, connectors, and in other places. Compact electrical equipment generates heat as well, which under some circumstances can become an ignition source. Arcing is also a consideration.

There are multiple ways to make equipment explosion-proof, or safe for use in ex-hazardous areas. Intrinsic Safety is one of a few methods available for ex-hazardous areas. Others include Explosion Proof Enclosures, Venting, Oil Immersion, Powder and Sand Filling, and Hermetic Sealing. For handheld electronics, intrinsic safety is the only realistic method that allows a functional device to be explosion-proof. A device termed intrinsically safe is designed to be incapable of producing heat or spark sufficient to ignite an explosive atmosphere.

There are several considerations in designing intrinsically safe electronics devices: reducing or eliminating internal sparking, controlling component temperatures, and eliminating component spacing that would allow dust to short a circuit. Elimination of spark potential within components is accomplished by limiting the stored energy in any given circuit and the system as a whole. Temperature, under certain fault conditions such as an internal short in a semiconductor device, becomes an issue as the temperature of a component can rise to a level that can ignite some explosive gasses, even in normal use. Safeguards, such as current limiting by resistors and fuses, must be employed to ensure that in no circumstance can a component reach a temperature that could cause autoignition of a combustible atmosphere. In the highly compact electronic devices used today PCB's often have component spacing that create the possibility of an arc between components if dust or other particulate matter works into the circuitry, thus component spacing, siting and isolation become important to the design.

The primary concept behind intrinsic safety is the restriction of available electrical and thermal energy in the system so that ignition of a hazardous atmosphere (explosive gas or dust) cannot occur. This is achieved by ensuring that only low voltages and currents enter the hazardous area, and that no significant energy storage is possible.

One of the most common methods for protection is to limit electrical current by using multiple series resistors (assuming that resistors always fail open); and limit the voltage with multiple zener devices to ground (assuming diode always fail shorted). Sometimes an alternative type of barrier known as a galvanic isolation barrier may be used. Certification standards for intrinsic safety designs, which vary by device type, generally require that the barrier not exceed approved levels of voltage and current with specified damage to limiting components.

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