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The manufacturing industry relies on computer numerical control (CNC) machines. CNC machinery achieves a level of consistent, improved efficiency and accuracy that manual processes are unable to match through pre-programmed computer software. The software directs the movements of factory machinery and tools.

A few types of CNC machines include milling machines, lathes, routers, plasma cutters, and laser cutters. Whether you’re an operator, machinist, programmer, or just looking for a better understanding of the unique fire suppression considerations to protect your equipment and business, we’ve put together this quick guide to the basics of choosing the best CNC machine fire suppression system.

If you’re wondering “which is the most reliable fire suppression system for my CNC machinery?” then you’re in the right place.

In this blog, we’ll cover:

  • What makes CNC machinery a fire risk?
  • What are the best fire suppression systems for CNC machinery?
  • To retrofit, or not to retrofit?

What makes CNC machinery a fire risk?

Certain CNC machines are more at risk for fire than others. Two of the biggest risk factors for CNC machine fire are the use of oil-based coolants and the implementation of lights out machining. These risk factors are each rooted in the high-speed, high-demand nature of machining environments.

The reason oil-based coolants represent a fire risk is related to the conditions they’re exposed to in the working environment. It's why coolants are needed in the first place, machining processes involve fast-moving parts which generate tremendous friction. That friction releases heat energy, which, when combined with flammable coolant fluids, creates a dangerous situation. One tiny spark could be enough to spur a fire.

Another product of the collective desire and ability to maximize efficiency and productivity is lights out machining. Basically, lights out machining enables increased productivity by running certain machining processes without a dedicated operator, and in most cases during the overnight hours. Even if machines are running well-established programs, issues with dull or incorrect tools as well as improper chip capacity or coolant management increase fire risks. Because there’s no operator to take immediate action, it can be a recipe for disaster.

What are the best fire suppression systems for CNC machinery?

The right fire suppression system will protect CNC machines and facilities, as well as their operators and other employees. What are the different types of fire suppression systems to consider? For the sake of this article, we’ll compare two: conventional methods such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems, and clean agent automatic fire suppression systems.

Common, handheld fire extinguishers can certainly put out a fire, but there are some clear drawbacks. For example, an extinguisher requires an operator to work in close proximity to the fire in order to douse it. Because the machine needs to be opened in order to access the flame, it introduces oxygen to the scene—likely growing the fire. In addition, the use of a conventional fire extinguisher means you will likely need to take the machine out of the production schedule for clean-up and repairs increasing the cost of downtime of that machine.

Advantages to installing an automatic fire suppression system include:

  • An operator does not need to put themselves in danger in the event of a fire. An automatic system is designed to detect a fire at its source, deploy a clean suppression agent, and put the fire out in a matter of seconds.
  • Clean agent fire suppression systems are used in machinery because the agent will not damage the equipment and leaves no residue to clean up. Unlike sprinklers or conventional fire extinguishers, tube-based fire suppression systems work to detect the fire at the source and deploy the agent automatically with no human intervention.
  • Automatic fire suppression systems can be counted on even if a power outage occurs or there is no operator around because they do not rely on electricity and need to have someone present to activate the system.

While an automatic fire suppression system does cost significantly more than a conventional fire extinguisher, the peace of mind of knowing that your machines are protected 24/7/365 and if a fire does occur there will be minimal downtime of the machine, the benefits outweigh the costs.

To retrofit, or not to retrofit?

Realizing the benefits of automatic fire suppression systems, many manufacturers are finding themselves in a position where they have to determine whether or not the benefits of retrofitting any unprotected CNC machinery outweighs the costs of implementation. Costs of implementation go beyond the install cost. You need to consider the costs implications of a fire and if you need to replace your machine or have extensive repairs completed, potential lost contracts, and an increase to insurance premiums.

Should you protect your equipment?

There are a number of factors to consider in your decision to protect your CNC machines from fire. Download our Fire Suppression Assessment Guide to see if you should consider adding automatic fire suppression systems to your machines.

Talk to a suppression specialist today

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