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Interview with IECEx new Chair Paul Meanwell

On 1 January 2020, Paul Meanwell became the new Chair of IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres. He takes over from Thorsten Arnhold, who chaired the System for the past six years and is now IECEx Immediate Past Chair. 

Paul Meanwell, new Chair of IECEx
Paul Meanwell, right, is the new IECEx Chair

A lifetime in mining 

Meanwell has spent his entire career in the mining industry for companies including the British Coal Corporation, Gencor in South Africa, Davis Derby, and currently Komatsu Mining Corporation, which manufactures construction, mining, forestry, military equipment and industrial equipment like press machines, lasers and thermoelectric generators. As Engineering Governance Manager in the Underground Soft Rock Mining division, he runs the certification department which follows IECEx certification. He also manages the design risk assessment department, which covers legal issues and compliance with in terms of standards, laws and regulations. He is also responsible for policies and procedures within the engineering department. 

Standards development and certification at national level 

Based in South Africa, Meanwell joined the South African Flameproof Association (SAFA), which acts as the South African mirror committee of the IECEx System, and was its President for 18 years, until September 2019. 

He is Chair of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) TC 065, the South African technical committee on explosion protection technology, and has a seat on the IEC National Committee of South Africa (SANC). Over the years, he has been on a number of working groups in the Ex arena. 

Regional role 

Meanwell is also involved in the African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission (AFSEC), serving on its Conformity Assessment Committee. He was chair of its technical committee 31 on equipment for explosive atmospheres, disbanded in 2019. He has participated in IEC-AFSEC workshops, notably leading a course in area classification in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He regularly makes presentations at conferences and seminars and writes articles for various trade magazines. 

Involvement in IECEx 

Before his appointment as IECEx Chair, Meanwell was involved in the System for many years, as a member of various working groups (WGs), notably the Business Development WG and the Ex Mark Committee. As such, he has seen how the System has increased its reach to industry. “IECEx is the only system of its kind for the Ex equipment,” he explains.  

However, while IECEx has taken off in industrialized countries, the situation is different in Africa, where only a few countries are IEC members. Most of the others participate in the IEC Affiliate Country Programme, which allows them to become familiar with standards development and conformity assessment activities. 

Another reason is that, in Africa, a lot of investment comes from overseas, mainly from Australia, China or Europe. When overseas companies come to Africa to open a plant or a mine, they do it on their own terms, using the same standards they rely on in their home countries. African countries, in turn, will accept those standards which are based on IEC International Standards. IEC Standards are used on the continent, if only indirectly. 

Meanwell says that in his experience, Southern Africa tends to use IEC Standards, while in the West and North, they tend to favour European standards. However, one of the roles of AFSEC is to promote the use of IEC International Standards on the continent. “It is generally accepted that IEC Standards are the way to go but governments and authorities still have to be convinced to adopt them.” 

Evolution of mining equipment 

Meanwell explains that automation has come a long way in mining. “I have observed that in general technology tends to develop more for surface applications, and is only later adapted for the mining environment, although a minority of specific technologies are developed for underground mining.”  

“Today, all surface and underground equipment is or can be monitored by surface monitoring stations. For instance, our monitoring centre in South Africa is linked to all our mines. We can see how equipment is working or not working, we’re using predictive software to monitor the various components so we can anticipate and prepare for breakdowns before they occur. We can bring spare parts to the site and advise the mine to change components during maintenance shifts rather than waiting for a break down which stops production.” 

The challenges ahead 

For Meanwell, one of the key issues for the IEC and IECEx is the speed of the services the IEC, the IECEx certification bodies (ExCBs) and test labs (ExTLs) have to provide. “We’re in a world now where technology is advancing at a rapid pace. By the time we have written standards for these new technologies they are already obsolete and industry is moving on to something else. And of course, once new standards are released, then within IECEx, accreditation processes have to be followed to allow ExTLs and ExCBs to test and certify to those standards. We have to find new ways of streamlining those processes, to adapt to new technologies in standards development and in certification.” 

As an example, Meanwell cites the release, a few years ago, of the standards on the risks of ignition of non-electrical or mechanical equipment. “They have rapidly taken off around the world and IECEx has done a really good job with more than half of the CBs and testing labs now accredited to certify to those standards.” 

The System also needs to attract young people into its fold. “We’re also facing some skill gap with older staff getting close to retirement. We need to modify our marketing approach to appeal to young people. IECEx will have to use the technologies favoured by the younger generation and adapt to the mindset of younger people to get them active in IECEx.” 

As IECEx Chair, Meanwell will have influence over the business development of the System. “Both Arnhold, who now chairs the Business Development WG, and Vice-Chair Martin Cole agree on this marketing effort. IECEx is the only system of its type in the world and if we want it to be accepted globally, we need new people on board to support our drive to convince regulatory authorities of the countries where we operate that they can accept our certificates without further testing within their countries.” 

On gender diversity 

Meanwell agrees that there has been a big change in recent years. “In the South African National Committee of the IEC, we’re working hard to get a better gender balance. It is a very hot topic today in my country. At SAFA, more women have responsibilities in our executive committee. The situation is improving but we still need to hire more women in both standards development and conformity assessment.” 

Meanwell concludes: “I am just taking over from Thorsten Arnhold and I want to keep pushing forward and hopefully be at least as good as he while he was Chair. In representing IECEx, I hope I’ll be able to invigorate and energize people.” 

For more information on IECEx: www.iecex.com 

About Komatsu

Komatsu is a Japanese multinational corporation that manufactures construction, mining, forestry, and military equipment, as well as industrial equipment like press machines, lasers and thermoelectric generators. Its headquarters are in Tokyo, Japan.