Monday, July 18, 2011

Smoke- A PID Gas Detector's Worst Enemy?

PID (photoionization detectors) are generally used for the detection of volatile compounds and certain classes of toxics.  They've been around for awhile, and are generally included in every HAZMAT team's toolkit.

There has been some controversy over the impact that humidity has on their readings, with one company- Ion Science- claiming that humidity variations have a significant effect on detection suppression.  In high humidity environments that claim this suppression could be in excess of 50%, which makes humidity and serious consideration when trying to get an accurate reading out of a PID.  However, there are rumors of a new study showing that improvements in PID technology have knocked that down to the range of only 10%.

Of more concern to me is the effect of smoke on PID readings at the time of an emergency event and residual contamination on the detector cell because of the smoke and/or chemical extinguisher vapors.  In earlier postings I have stressed the importance of cleaning PID cells after a chemical event.  Now I raise the question of how much smoke or other particulate and/or condensate fumes have on the accuracy of a PID's readout.

To my knowledge, there have been no studies conducted on this issue by any of the gas detection companies or sensor manufactuerers.  I'm going to keep pushing them to look at this problem, and hope you'll push for the same.  This problem shouldn't be ignored.  After all, the responders actually are at risk in the field.  Gas detector salesman typically don't tend to show up at emergency events where toxic gases are involved.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Technical Support That Actually Helps? A Review of BW Technologies Technical Support

It seems every week I have a new experience with gas detector technical support, and for the first time on this blog, it's time to give a gas detector technical support department a gold star.

That happy smile is my face after I got off the phone.

Lets lay out my experience so other gas detector companies can learn how the pros do it.

1. When I called, a person answered the phone. Not just a person asking who do I want to be connected to, but an extremely friendly woman who sounded like she'd been waiting for my call just so she could have the joy of directing me to the correct department. I know that may sound hokey, but call the BW Technologies customer support line and hear for yourself : 888-749-8878.

2. When I mentioned I needed technical support, she told me it may be a few minutes on hold while I wait. No problem, I'm a savant when it comes to holding for tech support, I've called Microsoft and actually gotten a person before. What really impressed me about the holding, of all things, was that every minute or two, the woman who originally answered my call actually picked up the line to make sure I was still there and to apologize for the wait. To my knowledge, BW Technologies is the only company on the planet that does this. At this point, as far as I'm concerned, this woman is a saint. Which put me in a much better mood by the time I got tech support.

3. My issue had to deal with the eeprom sensor firmware going bad. Specifically, on startup, you get a Code 11 Sensor Eeprom Error. The only option is to press a button to turn it off with a message that says contact your local vendor. On my first call, I got a guy named Pete (his actual name according to the email is Pedro, in case any of his bosses read this). He looked up the issue in the computer, and the solution was to update the firmware on my Quattro. He walked me through a few attempts, and then we hit the snag point, I had an old IR connector and would need a new one. At this point, Pete said that he wanted to try a few places and look for a workaround and would then get back to me. Later that day, I had an email from Pete explaining what I'd need to do and what equipment I'd need.

4. The next day, I emailed Pete asking when he'd be available to walk me through something I still had a question on. He actually called me back within a half hour, while I was in a meeting, but left me a detailed message as to how I could get hold of him specifically when I called back. Lesson to all the other companies out there: Getting a personal bond between a technical service guy and a customer is a great thing for your business and causes blog posts like this to show up on the internet. I happened to call back while Pete was at lunch, but a guy named Mike was available to help me out. Here's where I assumed it would go bad, and that I'd get a jerk who I'd have to explain the whole problem again to.

5. Wrong. Mike was awesome too, and we spent about half an hour on the phone trying different methods of getting my detector back in running shape. What's the key here? When the first tries failed, MIKE KEPT TRYING. He worked with me, he asked me questions, he was involved and CARED that my gas detector got back up and running without needing it to be sent in. We ended the phone call with his giving me both his and Pete's direct lines in case I had any problems in the future.

Wow. Just wow. I was blown away. After the experiences I had a week ago, I was to the point that I thought all gas detector support departments were full of jerks. When Honeywell first bought BW Technologies, I was worried that they'd can all of the support staff and put in cheap people reading from a book. I couldn't have been more wrong. The BW Technical support staff does a phenomenal job, and I'd really like to commend them for all the help they've given me.

As an aside, if you have a GasAlert Quattro giving you the Code 11 Sensor Eeprom error. Call me, I'll walk you through everything we worked through and how to set it back up. 734-956-0539.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Industrial Scientific Drops the Ball

Who's Ever Had this Experience?

"Now you're throwing too many big words at me, and because I don't understand them I'm going to take them as disrespect. Watch your mouth, and help me with the sale." -Kevin Hart in The 40 Year Old Virgin

How many times have you wanted to say that on the phone with a gas detection company? Customer service reps who don't actually know anything about the product line because they haven't actually ever used the product. Technical support guys who don't actually listen to what your problem is before bulling you over with technical terms they don't really understand in an effort to get you off the phone?

Why can't gas detection companies operate in plain English?

Now, of course this doesn't apply to all companies, and I'm going to single one out in particular for their complete lack of respect for the customer over the phone. Why? Because they're the largest gas detection company on the planet and they should know better. Yes Industrial Scientific, I'm talking about you.

My family has been in the gas business for over 40 years, in a variety of positions including emergency response and class A poison blending, as well as certifications for gas detector repair from all the major manufacturers. So when I call up with a question, I'm not asking how to turn the monitor on in most cases, it means I have a serious problem and I'm looking for some help. Now, some companies I know of (MSA, GfG Instrumentation, RAE Systems to name a few) have great technical support. When they don't have an answer, they go looking for it or forward you on to someone who does. They HELP. However, in my experience, Industrial Scientific technical support people shut you down and move on to the next call. Then you get a nice email explaining how they enjoyed solving your problem and look forward to serving you again.

Sorry guys, no amount of emails make up for the fact that your technical support guy basically told me to shove off.

Last week, I had to order an extra pump for an MX6 unit. So as usual, we called up, got the PN, and then ordered it through a local distributor. On the call, ISC told me they had the parts in stock and ready to ship. A week later, when I call to ask how the order is coming, I'm told that the PN I gave was for a sensor, not a pump, and was then told it in an exasperated tone that it would be 5-7 days, sorry. No suggestions on distributors to call, even though my need was urgent. No apology for giving me the wrong part number. No consoling tone, just a desire to get off the phone and move on to the next call.

This is unacceptable.

As an example of bad technical support, here's my favorite emailed reply from an Industrial Scientific Technical Support Representative regarding how reproducible readings are on their gas monitors with regards to different cylinders of calibration gas with the same value on the label:

-----Original Message-----
From: James Moore

Hey Matt,

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you here, but I do have a

"If you use it to detect concentrations in another bottle the readings may be off because of the fact the monitor was given set points based off of another bottle of gas thus the reason it is a detector and NOT an analyzer."

Are you saying that the other bottle of gas would be inaccurate in that case or that your monitors/sensors have a low degree reproducibility?

Best regards,

James Moore



Our equipment has ZERO "reproducibility". Our equipment is to be used for detection of gas for personal safety. It is not an analyzer which is what you are trying to use it for.

Our equipment has a tolerance of -+ 5%, that is also why it is a detector and not an analyzer.

The way the MX6 gives you readings is this,

1: You Zero the unit which basically tells the unit there is zero gas present, it doesn't know otherwise because it is a detector not an analyzer.
2: You apply a known concentration of gas, It is not an analyzer, therefore it doesn't know what you are really applying but whatever you tell it, it bases its readings off of that zero point and that told concentration of gas.

If you are using ISC bottles of gas, they come with NIST traceable analysist reports.

All of Industrial Scientifics equipment is for personal safety. It is not meant or designed to be used as an analyzer.

Best Regards,

Technical Support Specialist

Wow. Thanks Matt. I appreciate knowing that your monitors aren't analyzers, and your putting that in the email 5 times really answers my question. He does actually answer my question with the -/+ 5% answer, but he does so while making numerous other errors and just generally being unhelpful. Instead of realizing that we had a misunderstanding about what the word reproducibility means, he launches onto the offensive. Humorously, Matt doesn't realize that GCMS and TCD analyzers have tolerances and are calibrated just like portable gas detectors.

Thanks Matt, for bludgeoning me on that point 5x.

Now I'm not saying Industrial Scientific makes bad instruments or that Industrial Scientific doesn't have brilliant people working for them. I love the ISC MX6 gas detector. I think Dave Wagner over at ISC is a genius for how he presents advice on gas detectors and teaches people in a common sense fashion. I think ISC gives the best calibration and bump test advice in the industry (bump daily, calibrate monthly). But their technical support department needs to check itself, and quickly, because until this changes, I won't be recommending Industrial Scientific to anyone I know, regardless of how great their instruments are.