In the demanding environment of machine shops, environmental health and safety (EH&S) professionals have one of the most important and challenging jobs. They ensure workplace and personnel safety. NFPA regulates overall building fire protection, including sprinkler systems and building alarms.  However, more localized protection, e.g., on individual CNC machines, is at the discretion of individual shops. We will address CNC fire suppression and its effects on shop productivity and safety.

CNC machine safety

Overall building fire protection and alarm systems protect against the worst-case scenario but, what happens if a CNC machine were to catch on fire? Using a handheld extinguisher can be an effective method unless an operator is not close enough, or quick enough to suppress the fire before it gets out of control. What if the shop is running machines unattended or using oil-based coolants? If a fire event were to occur in a CNC machine, the safety of the employees, assets, and facility could be in jeopardy.

Does automatic fire suppression systems affect employees?

In the event of a CNC fire, it can go from a manageable fire to out of control in just seconds. Unlike a fire extinguisher, automatic fire suppression systems are just that, automatic. The systems are ready to deploy in the event of a fire 24/7 without any human involvement.

In most cases, automatic fire suppression systems will use either FM-200, or Novec 1230. These two clean agents suppress fire quickly and efficiently and pose no safety hazards to machinists in the shop.

How does automatic fire suppression systems affect machines and coolant?

The installation of an automatic fire suppression system on a CNC machine is simple and non-invasive. Fire detection tubing gets routed throughout the machine to detect a fire at its source and connects to the clean agent suppressant tank mounted on the side of the machine. Once installed, the system is ready to go if needed. Otherwise, it is an afterthought when it comes to day to day activities. The systems do not interfere in the machining process or with personnel on the floor.

If a fire incident occurs and the system will discharge. Clean agent fire suppression systems require zero clean up and do not affect the coolant inside the machines. There is no need to change out the coolant due to agent contamination. If there are any fire remnants from the incident, in most cases you can simply wipe it away. After any fire incident, the machine should have a thorough inspection. After inspection, the machine can be back up and running in as little as 45 minutes by replacing the clean agent tank and routing new fire detection tubing in the machine.  

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