Best of Both Worlds A New Hybrid Gas Monitoring System is Making Strides
New gas detection solution combines wireless and fixed elements, allowing technicians to work from the safety of ground level to maintain gas detectors and create compliance reports on the fly.
- By Mike Holmes
- Oct 01, 2019
There are two very good reasons why putting Bluetooth-enabled smart phones with specialized apps in the hands of a technician can be a great time-saver and efficiency-booster when it comes to managing an effective gas detection/ life safety program.
For one, it gives the worker the comfort, convenience and security of interrogating and maintaining gas detectors from ground level instead of relying on ladders or lifts to access equipment in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas. Second, it allows them to create safety records right then and there instead of spending hours afterward crunching numbers in the office.
The use of wireless connectivity in gas detectors has become well-established in the past few years, particularly with portable instrumentation. However, a new breed of detector configuration has emerged, one that pairs fixed-install gas detectors with a Bluetooth-enabled smart phone (or intrinsically safe phone for classified areas) and app.
This new hybrid gas monitoring solution allows one to wirelessly interrogate a gas detector within a 32-foot, or 10-meter, radius. It also hosts AES encryption for security against malicious activities to perform a variety of maintenance tasks on the detector such as commissioning, diagnostic checks and calibration—all from the convenience and safety of terra firma.
Here’s how the scheme works: the gas detector is hard-wired to a controller, but the smart phone provides wireless connectivity to the detector, becoming, in effect, both a remote display and operational extension of the detector. Because the apps are created to look and feel like other consumer apps in use, the interface is easy to understand, navigate and manage.
This new arrangement is of particular value to petrochemical plants, gas processing and other industrial sites including office and laboratory areas where workers carry out tasks remotely or must negotiate physical obstacles to get to the detector to commission, troubleshoot and calibrate it. Machinery, pipes and distillation columns often force plant workers to carry out these essential maintenance tasks in awkward positions, and these installations are typically located at-height that requires fall protection.
Location, Location, Location
The truism of heeding location as the most important element in choosing real estate applies to the case of a gas monitoring/life safety systems. It is imperative that gas monitors be positioned in the pathway or proximity of an accidental gas release. Most flammable gases, like natural gas, are lighter than air and will rise, which means that gas sensors often must be positioned at-height. Other gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, are heavier than air and tend to travel along the ground. Knowing where to place detectors for reliable performance is a skillful task.
A decade ago, many plant managers were afraid to install wireless gas monitors in an oil and gas processing area because of perceived reliability or security issues. However, wireless gas monitoring systems have proven themselves time and again on these two counts, with the added benefit of location-based flexibility. Today’s new hybrid model takes the design a step further, offering the online security and continuous area coverage provided by traditional fixed systems as well as the flexibility and cost savings of contemporary wireless systems.
Minimizing health and safety risks when carrying out maintenance activities is of critical importance to companies. In the oil and gas industry, carrying out maintenance tasks safely often has a direct effect on plant operations; for example, 11 percent of all hydrocarbon releases are directly attributed to maintenance activity.
This new hybrid model is designed and constructed to prevent ignition sources from arising, even in the event of frequent disturbances or equipment operating faults. The detector provides an industry standard 3-wire, 4-20mA source or sink output for connection to a dedicated gas detection control system or PLC. The detector can also be connected via relays to alarm notification and ventilation activation systems so that equipment can be shut down and plant personnel evacuated as part of a larger risk mitigation plan.
When Simpler is Better
Bringing familiar smartphone technology and software to maintenance tasks simplifies commissioning, calibration and diagnostic checking—all routine tasks associated with the gas maintenance program.
The interface is essentially similar to the ones people use in their everyday lives. The detector is managed through the phone app. With this convenience, a single worker can carry out a range of set-up and maintenance tasks from up to 32 feet or 10 meters away. The app enables the worker to access vital information in real time, including the gas concentration reading, diagnostic information, service history, date of the last calibration of each detector, type of detector and more.
This convenience and utility helps minimize costly downtime while enhancing safety and productivity. What’s more, because the maintenance work carried out is non-intrusive, there is no need for the operating area to be shut down while the essential work is carried out.
This Bluetooth-enabled solution can also help tackle the problem of excess administration time spent on the job. Many organizations report that maintenance teams often spend up to half a day each week filling in calibration reports by hand. The smartphone app can help to speed up the process significantly.
The app captures the information during the calibration process and can produce a simple report showing the calibration parameters. The worker can then include a signature, close the job, send a PDF to the customer directly from the phone and move on to the next job. This improves efficiency and productivity, and the customer can get the essential information without delay. Creating the reports on the go can also help reduce the risk of errors occurring in the reporting and other documentation.
Connected technology has the potential to deliver customers real benefits in gas detection in terms of ease of maintenance, improved productivity and worker safety, all of which contribute to profitable operation in an ever more competitive environment.
By introducing an element of wireless connectivity to fixed gas detection, companies also are acknowledging the swelling ranks of younger workers coming to the fore. These connected devices that leverage Bluetooth connectivity and the smart phone have the potential to speed up the training process on the plant floor. Also, in hazardous classified areas, an intrinsically safe (IS) phone may be substituted for a standard consumer-grade smart phone.
While the industry is still early in its journey to fully embracing the possibilities of connectivity, the near future will see gas detection technology increasingly leverage the power of both fixed and wireless solutions to better protect people and assets as efficiently as possible.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.