Wireless technology is at the heart of the latest development in industrial safety, with a shift away from individual or point strategies to connected solutions.
Eliot Sizeland, business development leader, Rosemount Flame & Gas Detection at Emerson Automation Solutions, explains the options: “When looking to provide gas detection for a facility, it is usual for a broad array of gas detector types to be used, depending on the risks present.”
The devices range from ultrasonic gas leak detectors for highpressure gas releases, through to point type and open path devices for spotting the presence of gas accumulations, whether they are toxic or flammable in nature.
“Wireless gas detection systems that integrate location tracking and software are used to inform safety managers of the real-time gas status throughout a facility or at a specific location,” explains Mahesh Joshi, European product marketing leader for gas detection at Honeywell Industrial Safety.
“Wireless gas detection systems that integrate location tracking and software are used to inform safety managers of the real-time gas status throughout a facility or at a specific location
Mahesh Joshi, European product marketing leader, gas detection, Honeywell
Importantly, developments in connected safety solutions also offer scalability. If a company needs around-the-clock monitoring for an entire plant, the technology can provide the highest level of real-time safety awareness.
“By using a permanent wireless infrastructure for monitoring everyday operations, safety managers can track worker location and communicate two-way with workers on the ground,” adds Joshi.
There are two main limiting factors concerning the uptake of wireless gas detectors.
“The first,” explains Sizeland, “is that there are very few devices commercially available, although this is growing. The second is power consumption.”
Most flammable gas detectors are simply too power hungry, although many toxic gas sensors could be used in a wireless system. Later this year, Emerson is due to launch a wireless toxic gas detector, with hydrogen sulphide the first gas being detected.
The growth in Big Data and connectivity also brings significant challenges. Inevitably, technology creates huge amounts of complex data, which places demands on the end user.
“For instance,” says Joshi, “in terms of information capture, analysis, data life cycle management and information privacy, which is why it is extremely important that we ensure the technology is accessible and easy to use.”
In industries such as the oil and gas sector, well-designed, wireless technology can become an enabler for businesses.
While the ability to capture and send data can inform decisions, safety and health considerations can be built in upfront as part of businesses’ strategic planning.
The process industry is often regarded as conservative when it comes to safety and most gas detectors are connected the traditional way to a dedicated safety PLC or gas panel using home run wiring.
“We expect the wireless toxic gas detector to enable Emerson to challenge the status quo, and as other gases are added to our detection portfolio, this will expand the acceptance of wireless gas detection,” says Sizeland. “We may also find that there is faster acceptance of the technology away from our traditional markets.”
A connected safety approach that combines wireless portable gas detectors with location data and software allows safety managers to remotely monitor readings instantly, whether it’s toxic gases, oxygen deficiency, flammable gases, particulates, radiation or other hazards.
The critical data received means users can immediately determine the location and severity of an incident. It also means that they can find out if a worker is down and make better decisions on how to rescue the worker and potentially evacuate others that might be at risk.
“By equipping the individual with a wireless portable gas detector and a hazardous area smartphone,” explains Joshi, “real-time safety and location data can be sent via existing cellular infrastructure to remote monitoring software.”
This critically important data can then be accessed from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. Should an incident happen, immediate help can be requested.
The data gleaned can also be used to alert others, safeguarding additional workers who will then be directed away from hazardous situations.
In some confined space scenarios, individuals can use wireless technology to report gas detector readings back to their supervisor who is based remotely. This removes the need to stop work every few minutes to send the information back manually and reduces downtime.
“The technology can also be used to send real-time threat readings to attendants standing outside. They are then able to monitor their gas detectors and keep track of any hazards,” says Joshi. “In the event of a man down, they can send immediate rescue.”
By equipping the individual with a wireless portable gas detector and a hazardous area smartphone, real-time safety and location data can be sent via existing cellular infrastructure to remote monitoring software
Intelligence can also enhance safety for emergency response. Take, for example, the first responders arriving at a chemical facility to deal with a large spill.
“Centralised command and control needs to maintain real-time situational awareness of what’s happening on the ground,” states Joshi.
A connected safety solution can provide real-time monitoring for multiple wireless detectors for up to several days so that fire-fighters and clean-up crews dealing with chemical spills can be protected remotely.
“We are also seeing further developments in wearable wireless technology,” says Joshi.
Critical data can now be collected from smart personal protective equipment, biometric monitors [that can measure personal vital statistics such as heart rate, body temperature, breathing rate and posture] and gas monitors worn by workers.
This information can be sent via the Cloud and shared across an enterprise with all remote stakeholders on a smartphone, PC or other internet of things (IoT) devices.
Recent advances in gas detection technology have also resulted in the industry’s first wireless four-gas monitor to operate with all of the most essential wireless communication protocols – bluetooth, mesh, GPS and wi-fi.
“Workers can use a single device with wireless and non-wireless capabilities to monitor gas hazards in real-time at remote locations,” adds Joshi.
Developments in the software applications are also providing new opportunities. It is now possible to use a hazardous area certified smartphone via a cellular network.
Where companies do not use wireless gas detectors they generally don’t have wi-fi installed, the end user can achieve wireless connectivity without the expense of a private network.
“Equally important is that if a worker is using wi-fi to communicate back to their safety manager, and they step into a blackspot on the site or there are holes in the mesh radio coverage, an industrial-grade smartphone and app can provide real-time visibility of their movements,” explains Joshi.
“It is becoming increasingly commonplace for end users of gas detectors to install them as part of connected safety systems,” explains Leigh Greenham, director for the trade association CoGDEM (Council of Gas Detection & Environmental Monitoring).
“This has been made easier in recent years by the introduction of reliable wireless communication networks having exceptionally high levels of compliance with functional safety standards.
“Even portable gas detecting instruments are now available with wireless communications, and these can become an integrated part of the safety process covering both plant and personnel.
“This trend is enabling end-users to use their gas detectors not just as warning devices, but also as triggers for automated executive actions such as plant shutdowns.”