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Manufacturing Plants Halt Production Due to Lightning Strikes

Optimizing performance is often a key goal of manufacturing facilities. In general, manufacturing plants must maintain high performance levels, effectively manage the flow of materials through the organization, and distribute products on time in order to generate the highest level of productivity and bottom line possible. At times manufacturing plants run into issues that set production back. One unpredictable factor of operations is weather, specifically lightning. There are hundreds of thousands of manufacturing plants in the United States alone that run the risk of being destroyed by lightning. Millions of dollars of equipment and product can be be gone in a flash. Volatile weather can put production on hold, resulting in loss of valuable time and money, but Lightning Eliminators & Consultants, Inc. (LEC) has a proven track record for minimizing lightning strikes.

While a lightning strike on its own is bad enough, when that strike ignites a fire at a building or structure, it opens the door to a host of issues that must also be considered. Large fires of any sort can have a negative effect on the environment. In addition, when toxic materials catch fire, they create an additional hazard to firefighters and others in the area. Those same toxins, once carried into the air, create a corrosive problem similar to the effects of acid rain when they come back down out of the atmosphere. Direct lightning strikes not only have a risk of fire, but of power surge, posing a threat to expensive technology that keep machines and equipment running, resulting in unpredictable downtime. In some instances, a direct strike can destroy significant amounts of electronics equipment without sparking a flame. Many manufacturing facilities have downsized the number of functioning facilities and increased working hours, making it imperative to operate continuously. Downtime at the remaining operating facilities can now have an even more disastrous effect. Whether it be downtime related to sensitive electronic computer systems, phone lines, expensive electronic command and control systems, data, security, machinery or deliveries, the loss of productivity can cost companies thousands of dollars in a single day.

There are no shortages of downtime and damage to manufacturing facilities from lightning. Last year an explosion was reported in a Foxconn manufacturing plant in China. The explosion was caused when lightning struck the building and caused a dust explosion. Personnel had to evacuate the hundreds of employees in the building at the time of the strike due to airborne toxic smoke. The explosion and toxic smoke left 3 workers dead, and 16 injured. At the time, this manufacturing facility housed production lines for the iPad2 and iPhone4. The special dust that ignited when lightning hit is used to clean the screens of the iPads. This lightning strike halted production of the sought after technology causing a setback for Apple in meeting the growing demand for their top products. Further investigation of the strike set back operations even more, delaying not only production, but also shipments. Apple lost crucial production time and money because this manufacturing plant was not utilizing proper lightning protection and prevention systems.

Just recently, a Dow Chemical Plant in Pennsylvania was struck by lightning and ignited a blaze of two 250,000 pound chemical storage tanks containing ethyl acrylate and butyl acrylate, chemicals used to manufacture acrylic paints. These hazardous chemicals released vapors into the air that could potentially cause minor health problems. Fortunately, there was no spike of emergency room visits as a result of the vapors, although one firefighter suffered a heart attack and died after directing traffic during the incident. As a precautionary measure, plant employees were evacuated, schools in the area were shut down and people were advised to stay indoors. It took approximately four hours to contain the fire, slowing production. In addition, a TPC Group chemical plant in Houston, TX was shut down after being struck by lightning. The lightning strike caused the boilers to shut down, which resulting in a loss of steam feeding inside the plant. Black smoke and bright flames could be seen for miles as a result of this lightning strike. The plant has a butadiene capacity of 545,000 tonnes/year – used to manufacture synthetic rubber, fuel additives and other products. The TPC Group lost valuable production time due to the outage caused by a lightning strike.

In May of this year, lightning destroyed Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. bell factory in East Hampton, Connecticut. During the heavy lightning storm, 292 lightning strikes were reported within a 5 mile radius of the factory. At the time of the fire, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. was reported to be the last company in the United States to solely produce bells. Fortunately, the fire blazed on a Saturday when it’s 19 employees were off the clock. Before the fire took over and the building was condemned, the company was reported to manufacture 1.2 million bells in 200 varieties in 2012. It took over 300 firefighters from 30 different counties to extinguish the fire. The Bevin Brothers have decided to rebuild the bell factory, which will likely cost them millions of dollars. Hopefully the rebuild will include lightning protection solutions!

Lightning Eliminators & Consultants, Inc. (LEC) has extensive experience in supplying successful lightning protection and prevention systems to many manufacturing plants worldwide. Of those manufacturing plants is Georgia Pacific, International Paper, and Keystone Foods. Georgia Pacific, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, building products and related chemicals, has been utilizing LEC lightning protection products at four of its plants since 2001. Georgia Pacific’s primary problem was unplanned shutdowns of the Paper Machines attributable to direct strikes to the three 380-ft tall stacks for their in-house power generation plants. There has not been a lightning attributable problem to the paper machines since the  Dissipation Array™ System (DAS™) solution was installed. Dave Lockard, the GP Electrical & Instrumental Planner who managed the LEC relationship stated, “As far as the lightning protection benefits, all I have heard is that it was one of the best things we have done in recent years.”

Lightning is one of the only forms of natural disaster that can be minimized. Countless manufacturing plants have been set back or destroyed by unpredictable lightning strikes. LEC has been providing lightning prevention and protection solutions since 1971. DAS is a charge transfer system which uses patented charge transfer technology that prevents direct lightning strikes from forming by reducing the electrostatic charge in the atmosphere so that lightning cannot terminate within the protected area. When installed, maintained and supervised by LEC, DAS prevents direct strikes with a 99% success rate, minimizing the risks to facilities and operations. The benefits can be substantial, resulting in a healthier bottom line by reducing downtime, maintenance and repairs, while increasing reliability and personnel safety.

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