Can a Distillery be a Hazardous Environment?

springbank 033The business of manufacturing whiskey, vodka, rum, bourbon, gin and a variety of our other favorite alcoholic drinks would not often be thought of as a dangerous enterprise. After all, man has been distilling and enjoying spirits for two thousand years or more. How dangerous can it be?

The process of producing distilled alcoholic beverages usually starts with processing and fermenting the basic ingredients. Typically these are grains, fruits or vegetables. Once the fermentation is complete, the percentage of alcohol in the liquid has to be increased by a distillation process. Typically this is done with a piece of equipment called a Still.

As a general term, distillation is used when a liquid that is composed of different components needs to be separated into those components. This will only work if the components have different boiling points. When applied to alcoholic beverages, the process is used to increase the alcohol content.

There are two conditions that can become the cause of a hazardous environment. The first is a situation that occurs most commonly in a beverage based on grain. High concentrations of grain dust in the air can be quite explosive. In fact, there are many cases of explosions in silos, flour mills and even distilleries. The other is the fairly obvious situation that there is quite a bit of alcohol around. Alcohol is volatile and flammable. Furthermore, distilleries use quite a bit of heat in the distillation process.

So the answer to the question is that a distillery certainly can be a hazardous environment. That means that appropriate steps must be taken to insure the safety and well-being of personnel and facilities. One of those steps includes the requirement to limit the equipment used in the hazardous area to items that have been proven to be safe to use there. There is even an organization called FM Approvals that tests, certifies and approves devices for this type of use.

FM Approvals defines by Class, Division and Group a number of different levels of hazard, including Class I, II and III, Division 1, Groups A through G, along with others. A device that is rated as Intrinsically Safe means that it is covered through those levels.

One of the critical pieces of equipment used in a distillery is a scale. High precision floor scales are needed to weigh out the ingredients before and during the manufacturing process. The partially processed, high proof alcohol must also be accurately weighed as this measurement is vital in determining the correct amount of water to add to achieve the desired proof finished product.

There are only a limited number of scales that meet the many requirements of this application. Most importantly, the scale must be Intrinsically Safe for hazardous environments. It must be very accurate. It must also be very rugged and reliable to withstand the type of usage it will receive. It must also be affordable, so that it can be used in the largest, budget minded factories and the smallest, family owned craft distilleries.

The ArlynGuard series of Explosion Proof scales may represent the very best combination of all of these characteristics. Critically, they are Intrinsically Safe, covering all of the classes listed above, and a number of others as well. The floor scales incorporate a load cell in each corner of the scale platform. While virtually all industrial scales utilize plated steel load cells, the ArlyGuard Floor Scales use a special alloy of stainless steel which is heat treated for additional ruggedness. This is very suitable for the work environment in a distillery, where forklifts may be used to load and unload the scale. An accidental encounter between a forklift and the scale platform can often be fatal for a regular steel load cell. The ArlynGuard stainless steel load cells are much more likely to be survive that type of meeting. This type of load cell will also ensure that the excellent precision that was designed into the scale will continue at that level for years of reliable use.

Corrosion is an enemy of a scale. It is likely that scales in a distillery will be exposed to water or other liquids. While a painted scale platform may resist rust, the surface of the platform is likely to be scratched very early in its life on the floor. Rust will quickly form on the bare metal, and will migrate underneath the paint surface. The life of the scale will quickly be compromised. As part of the general construction goals of the ArlyGuard scales, they use an alternative epoxy coating that includes embedded zinc particles. Not only is the epoxy less likely to scratch, but corrosion will also be minimized due to the preferential oxidation of the zinc. Stainless steel versions of the Explosion Proof Floor Scales are available for particularly corrosive environments.

The best scale in the world will do absolutely no good if it is priced out of reach of the distillery. ArlynGuard scales are generally the most cost competitive Explosion Proof scales available. This is due to the sales chain, which is very short, indeed. These scales are manufactured at our facility here in the US. They are not imported. In fact, contrary to popular practice in the scale industry, we even manufacture our own stainless steel load sensors and digital indicators. We sell them directly to the distillery, bypassing the usual distributor and dealer network. The net result is a very cost effective solution for a safe, accurate and efficient distillery.

Standard capacities range from 2500 lb up to 20,000 lb. Platform sizes range from 3 x 3 up to 6 x 6. We’re happy to fabricate any special size that you need. Just give us a call at (800) 645-4301.