Scuba Engineer – Dry-Side Skills Ensuring Safety
All scuba equipment used by divers underwater or in the provision of their breathing gases is fundamentally life support equipment. Scuba regulators and compressors work at extremely high pressures and use innovative engineering design techniques to work correctly. Only a qualified scuba engineer should work on scuba equipment.
The repair, adjustment and testing of this equipment is not intuitive even for the mechanically minded or those with formal engineering training in other disciplines. The service information, custom spare parts and special custom tools are usually difficult if not impossible to get outside the scuba trade.
Only formal scuba engineer training in the repair and maintenance of dive equipment such as that received during the ASSET approved Dive Industry Technicians Course (DITC) can make sure the continuing safe and reliable operation of life support equipment.
Servicing SCUBA Regulators
A laypersons attempt at repairing a SCUBA regulator usually results in the destruction of the item. An unreliable repair that seems to work OK on the bench yet later fails underwater after just a few uses can be fatal. To discourage unauthorized botched repairs by laymen, spare parts and custom tools should only be available to formally trained scuba service technicians. Scuba manufacturers such as Scubapro, APEKS and Poseidon really do care about the safe reliable performance of their products. They work hard through their appointed service engineers to make sure that service is offered by certified engineers. In accordance with many countries legal systems, they are behaving in a wholly responsible and legally defendable manner by not assisting fools to kill themselves.
The Dive Industry Technician Training Course (DITC) is the only approved training available to give broad-based ‘hands-on’ experience in servicing regulators from all the worlds major manufacturers of dive equipment. Holding this assured qualification offers scuba industry employment. Hold a DITC scuba engineer qualification with in-water scuba professional qualifications and you’ll be widely sought after within the industry. Increasingly scuba centres wish to have their own service facility ‘in-house’.
Holding a position within the scuba diving industry is increasingly about more than leading divers or teaching dive courses. A dive professional is expected to have broad shoulders and take on a number of duties to assist a dive centre in day-to-day operations. To ensure longevity in the scuba diving world it is becoming essential to hold diverse skills. A busy, fully functional dive centre will hold most of the departments of most businesses such as sales and marketing, purchasing, training and service. However, if like most dive professionals you wish to avoid the office during time out of the water then scuba equipment servicing can keep you busy and in demand. Holding a scuba engineering certification will massively broaden your employability within the industry.
A scuba engineer qualification allows you to be as qualified within the dive industry on dry-land as you are in the water. A dive centre requires a scuba equipment service engineer on site else they have to subcontract out all scuba equipment and dive tank maintenance to centres with qualified personnel. This can have the school’s equipment and tanks out of service for a period and cost a lot of money. Wouldn’t it be great to keep all servicing and maintenance in-house?
Scuba operations with scuba engineer services are completely self-contained and do not have to rely on other dive centres for service. Dive centres that hold in-house scuba engineering capabilities have business during low season times servicing other centres equipment and testing scuba tanks. In some remote scuba locations of the world it can be expensive to ship scuba tanks and other equipment to a professional for servicing or maintenance. Money can not only be saved but also generated by having a scuba equipment engineer on site.
Diversjobs.com recommend the ASSET, (Association of Scuba Service Engineers / Technicians) comprehensive training.
Inspecting SCUBA Cylinders
The standard American DOT 3AL 3000 aluminium scuba tank manufactured by the Luxfer and Catalina companies, represents an amazing piece of metallurgical technology. The single piece seamless construction manufacturing technique, plus subsequent heat treatment results in a structure containing 20 times more strength than the original aluminium billet from which it was made. Rough handling, miss-use, corrosion and many other factors can critically affect the strength and integrity of its construction. The end result is an explosion, that usually occurs during refilling, killing the compressor operator and destroying the dive shop.
Further opportunity for death and destruction occurs during scuba tank inspection, when untrained technicians try to remove the pillar valve without testing that the tank is truly un-pressurized. In 2003, a dive instructor working at Koh Tao, Thailand suffered a critical injury when a scuba tank pillar valve plus the removal tool was jettisoned through his leg during a servicing action; the aluminium tank went through a few concrete walls before flying through the air a hundred yards to crash into a tourist’s beach bungalow. Thankfully no one else was injured. A well-trained army medic conveniently located close to the original explosion quickly put a tourniquet on the injured guys leg saving his life.
Even for those Dive Operators attempting a visual inspection, few realize that an aluminium tank is susceptible to Sustained Load Cracking or SLC cracks in the neck area, nor do they carry out thread gauging, or understand what ‘Eddy Current’ NDT testing is.
Further confusion exists in the scuba industry, in that the hydrostatic test is somehow believed to be the usual way a dodgy scuba tank is identified and removed from service. The paradox is that scuba tanks rarely fail hydrostatic test and It is the visual inspection where most scuba tanks are identified as having critical defects and are condemned or otherwise removed from service.
The mysteries of the hieroglyphics on US DOT tanks SP6498, 7042, 3AA, 3AL (or lack of a 3AL ?), let alone the myriad of standards BS5045, EN1964, EN1965, HOAL 1,2,3,4 previously used by countries now within the EEC, and it’s implications for the unskilled cylinder inspector, remain a mystery only to be revealed during an accident investigation.
Further, few ‘visual inspectors’ certified by the recreational and technical training agencies actually bother to buy the expensive Compressed Gas Association CGA pamphlets that contain the standards against which the tanks (cylinders!) are tested to.
Steel tanks are also not without their own problems as anyone who has been near the sea with ferrous materials will testify.
If there is one truth in the world it is ‘that rust never sleeps’ A flooded steel scuba tank lying on its side can show corrosion accelerated by the high pressure of air in the tank, that can lead to critical weakening of the cylinder wall sufficient to cause an explosion within a few months.
Comprehensive training in Scuba tank inspection such as the ASSET approved courses below, saves lives.
Scuba Engineer Training Courses:
- FULL DITC Dive Industry Technician Training (10 day)
- Cylinder Testing Course – Pt 1 (Practices and Procedures)
- Cylinder Testing Course – Pt 2 (Metallurgy, Inspection and Determination)
- Composite Cylinder Inspection Training – Pt 3
- Full Cyinder Testing Pt 1, 2 and 3 combined package
- Dive Compressor Strip Down and Rebuild Training
The above programs Include a full revision of both US-DOT, European, Australian and British Inspection standards.
Using Compressors and Air Banks
It looks just like an engine, so anyone whose tried tinkering with a car or motorbike engine has a go fixing it. When a car engine breaks down, the car drifts to a halt and usually no one gets hurt. If a compressor repair is incorrect or the operator fails checks of oil, filter condition and air purity, or just situates a compressor against a wall in an inadequately ventilated small room, it can be serious. Problems ranging from pumping air with deadly levels of carbon monoxide, to exploding and killing the operator. Pumping moist air into the owners scuba tanks causing internal corrosion will cost thousands of Dollars replacing the dangerously corroded cylinders the next time they get a proper visual inspection.
Attempts at using ‘second source’ or ‘gray manufactured’ substitute compressor spare parts or filter materials to save costs also meet with similar failure or unreliable performance.
Many larger operators use air banks made of 50 litre internal volume ‘J-Bottles’ converted from old medical Oxygen bottles, ignoring that many of these tanks should not be used above 140 bar/2000 psi. Just don’t be in the same street when these abused air bank tanks explode. A lethal blast radius of 10m/30ft would be a conservative estimation!
The only safe, cost-effective and legally defensible use of a compressor air bank systems or Nitrox / Trimix gas blending panels is though the formal scuba engineer training of all key personnel involved in operation of the filling system. It even saves the dive shop owner money in the long run and indeed can be an additional revenue stream, paying for itself.
Other dry-side Scuba Engineer training recommended by diversjobs.com:
- Compressed Air Systems Management Course CASM
- Advanced Compressor Strip down rebuild course ACASM
- Nitrox Service Technician & Gas Blending Course