Fixed versus wireless

The use of wireless connectivity to gas detectors can help take efficiency in operations and maintenance to the next level and give that equipment a new lease of life in the digital age.

Fixed gas detectors that indicate the presence of flammable or toxic gas often provide the first line of defence for worker and plant safety in any downstream facility. However, for all their proven performance in thousands of installations worldwide, from oil and gas refineries to petrochemical plants, many well-known operational and maintenance challenges can be associated with these instruments.

Location is often the first challenge when it comes to interrogation or maintenance of fixed gas detectors.

To provide the best protection, detectors must be located in places where gas leaks are most likely to occur, often above or below the pipelines, which can make them hard to access. The process can involve multiple personnel and require various pieces of access equipment, such as platforms, to be set up before the detector can be interrogated. 

Minimising health and safety risks when carrying out these activities is crucial, as according to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the majority of all offshore injuries are associated with maintenance and construction tasks. Maintenance tasks are also likely to pose a risk to plant safety; for example, 11 per cent of all hydrocarbon releases are directly attributed to maintenance activity.

Acknowledging these challenges, safety equipment manufacturers have answered by introducing an element of connectivity to fixed gas detection. These connected devices offer the same capabilities as traditional fixed gas detectors, but leverage Bluetooth® connectivity to provide a quicker, safer and a more user-friendly experience.

The latest Bluetooth-enabled detectors can be set up and interrogated remotely using a smartphone app and an intrinsically safe smartphone, specifically developed for use in hazardous environments. Bringing familiar smartphone technology to mission-critical maintenance tasks makes training new personnel easy, as the interface is essentially similar to the ones people use in their everyday lives.

As the detector is managed through the phone app, a single worker can carry out a range of set-up and maintenance tasks remotely, from the safety of the ground level, as reliable connections can be achieved from up to 10 metres away. The app enables the worker to access vital information in real time, including the gas reading, diagnostic information, service history and the date of the last calibration.

This ease of access helps minimise costly downtime, improving safety and productivity. What’s more, as 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.

Bluetooth-enabled solutions can also help tackle the problem of excess admin time. Many organisations report that maintenance teams often spend up to half a day each week filling in calibration reports by hand. The smartphone app can help significantly to speed up the process.

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 and 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.

While connected technology can solve many of the issues associated with fixed gas detection and enable more cost-efficient and safer operation, it does not help operators who have a facility with a gas detector infrastructure of fully-functioning, yet more traditional, fixed devices. Replacing the detectors with new units having the required connectivity would be costly and time-consuming, and inevitably lead to downtime. 

Wireless connectivity can be a more cost-efficient option to existing fixed gas detectors. Chief among these is an improved class of add-on wired accessories known as smart junction boxes or Bluetooth-enabled local displays. These solutions provide the users of traditional fixed instruments the key benefit of wireless gas detectors: the workers are able to perform various maintenance tasks away from the detector’s inaccessible or hazardous location.

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.

While the industry is still early in its journey to fully embracing the possibilities of connectivity, the future will see gas detection technology increasingly leverage the power of these solutions to better protect people and assets, as efficiently as possible.

Duncan Gooch is product manager for fixed gas detection at Honeywell Industrial Safety