Making products safer

UL Camas adds short-circuit testing laboratory

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UL LLC

The 115,000-square-foot testing laboratory, located at 2600 N.W. Lake Road, is one of six main certification locations in the U.S. UL has been located in Camas since 1994. The local facility, which is part of the UL-West Coast Division, employs 255 individuals who test products and develop safety standards.

The Transaction Center, created to handle administrative tasks for the West Coast Division, services all of UL’s North American operations.

The short circuit test lab, which was just completed, is the only one of its kind for UL locations on the West Coast.

In 2014, there were 44 countries with UL labs, and 22 billion UL marks appeared on products.

For more information, call 817-5500 or visit www.ul.com.

Most everyone has dealt with this unfortunate scenario: You stagger to the kitchen, half-asleep, fumble for the necessary items to make coffee and hit “start,” on the coffee maker.

Nothing happens. After hitting that little button several more times, you accept the fact that your coffee maker is busted.

Although this seems like a bad way to start the day, it could be much worse, if not for short-circuit testing that takes place before the product is sent to market. This testing is performed to determine the ability for a product to withstand a short circuit condition, generally caused by internal component failure.

UL in Camas now has a short circuit testing laboratory and is the only one of its kind on the West Coast. Before, customers would have to fly to the East Coast if they wanted to see product testing in action.

Officials from UL unveiled their new laboratory to employees and members of the local media last week.

“We put a lot of time and effort into making this happen,” said Ed Lemos, senior staff engineer. “There will be a variety of different products we are testing for our customers on the West Coast, who are seeking quicker turn-around times.”

By offering a testing facility locally, UL is helping customers bring their products to market quicker and eliminating additional East Coast travel and expenses.

The Camas UL location was selected due its proximity to the Portland International Airport and access to the power grid, which is critical for some of the high-voltage certification tests, noted Lemos.

UL Camas opened in 1994 with 30 employees, and that has now expanded to 255. The company has nearly 11,000 employees worldwide in 159 locations.

“Back then, our mission was working for a safer world,” said site manager Ralph Parker. “Now, we’re also looking at a safer living and working environment for people. UL does its best to make sure a product is safe when it hits the market.”

During Wednesday’s unveiling, Lab Manager Jody Brittenham performed a short circuit testing procedure on a circuit breaker. The item was placed in the testing facility, which was separated from the audience by bullet-proof glass and concrete walls with a half inch of sheetrock. The short circuit lab is capable of testing up to 5000A of current at either 120 or 240 volts alternating current test values.

The primary reason is to test electrical hardware installed in many common devices to ensure that, if they fail, they will fail in a safe manner, according to Michael Goelze, a West Coast UL equipment team leader.

“If you had to choose, would you rather have an electronic device fail in your home that goes up in a ball of flame and sparks, or ends in a mere puff of smoke? I’d prefer the later,” he said.

After audience members donned safety glasses and various pre-testing protocols were complete, there was a loud popping noise, a spark from the product and testing was complete.

“A lot of times, some of the items we test are prototypes, and customers don’t know what will happen, and neither do we,” said West Coast Lab Manager Charles Temple. “We know we are safe in this lab.”

Typical products tested include thermostats, surge protective devices, industrial control equipment, appliance controls, small appliances and electric vehicle chargers.

After the testing was complete, UL officials conducted a tour of other parts of the facility, including the impact lab, wet lab, calibration lab and fabrication shop.

In the wet lab, employees will spend an hour spraying each side of a product, such as a heating element for a stove, with water for an hour. This is to determine if any liquid will get inside.

The calibration lab was created to provide on-site calibrations of UL’s own testing equipment, such as pressure gages and temperature monitoring probes.

The fabrication shop just opened at the end of December. Before, UL employees would have to trek all the way to the other end of the sprawling campus. Having the new shop in the same area as the other labs helps streamline operations, and keep lab equipment working properly.

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