Much has been talked and written about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) due to the great promise it holds for the industrial community and its potential to disrupt traditional operations and business practices. The IIoT has moved beyond the conceptual, “blue sky” stage; ARC Advisory Group is starting to see numerous products, solutions, and use cases.
Currently, the major driver behind adoption of the IIoT is its potential to reduce unplanned machine downtime through remote monitoring. However, we have started to see acceptance of IIoT for a range of other applications. For example, many companies have started to implement advanced IIoT capabilities to strengthen their safety programs.
Gas Detection: Critical Component of Plant Safety
Most process industries are exposed to numerous risks that can not only damage property and environment, but also result in severe injuries and loss of human lives. Operations at many process plants typically involve the production or use of highly toxic and combustible gases. This creates a pressing need to continuously monitor for the presence of such gases. Typically, a combination of fixed and portable gas detectors is used to detect these harmful gases.
Fixed detectors are generally mounted near the process area of a plant or control room. Cables typically connect the detectors to a central system such as a fire and gas system, emergency shutdown system, or DCS for continuous monitoring. When these devices detect harmful gases, a signal is sent to the central controller to initiate alarms and other mitigative actions.
In contrast, portable gas detectors are standalone, battery-powered units. Portable detectors are designed to be carried by plant personnel who work in higher risk environments. When dangerous levels of gas particles are detected, these devices warn the worker via audible alarms and flashing lights. This signals the worker to evacuate the affected area, inform others, and perform other required safety actions.
Bringing IIoT to Gas Detection
Gas detection devices have advanced in recent years. Gas detection technology suppliers continue to innovate. Gas detection sensors are smaller, faster, and less expensive than ever before. However, gaps remain and several factors can compromise the effectiveness of gas detection systems. In the past, most organizations considered safety as an overhead “expense” and often overlooked any shortcomings in their gas detection systems and programs. To limit expenses, many organizations deployed only bare-minimum technology. Fortunately, this behavior has been changing and ARC Advisory Group has observed that proactive companies are now looking for advanced products and technologies to help ensure the highest practical safety levels. Increasingly, these take advantage of the connected sensors and advanced visualization approaches that typically characterize IIoT solutions.
Marathon Petroleum Utilizes IIoT for Improving Gas Safety
As ARC learned during an end user presentation at a recent ARC Industry Forum and in subsequent discussions with executives from Accenture’s Life Safety Solution group, Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC), one of the largest petroleum product refiners and transporters in the US, previously relied heavily on portable detectors to keep its plant workers safe in remote and confined spaces of the refineries. While these portable detectors are compact, easy to use, and can detect harmful gases quickly, they could only provide a local alarm for the individual in the field. This presented the potential to expose workers to unacceptable risks.
For example, in certain situations, such as in case of extremely quick toxic gas build up, a plant worker could lose consciousness before reaching a safe area or informing others. It could be hours before the unconscious worker is discovered.
Realizing the limitations of portable detectors, MPC reached out to Accenture, a global technology services company, to help develop a better gas detection solution. MPC was looking for a well-connected portable detection system that would provide it with much higher visibility into its gas detection data and alarms, enabling quick and appropriate response in an emergency situation.
To meet MPC’s specific requirements, Accenture developed a wireless multi-gas detection system, which it now calls the Accenture Life Safety Solution (ALSS). The Accenture solution brings together Industrial Scientific’s portable multi-gas detectors and iNet service, AeroScout (now owned by Stanley) Wi-Fi RFID tagging and location technology, and Cisco’s wireless infrastructure.
Based on Accenture’s patented-design approach, the Life Safety Solution uses multiple Wi-Fi access points to triangulate the location of workers. Its portable gas detectors also incorporate panic buttons and a motion sensor. When a gas is detected or a worker becomes inactive, the detectors not only initiate local alarms but also send readings and alarms in near-real-time to the control board operator responsible for that area or a central monitoring station.
By bringing together these leading technologies, the Accenture solution makes it possible for MPC and other industrial organizations to oversee and ensure the safety of large numbers of workers spread across large plants in near real time. The Accenture solution was first deployed at MPC’s 212,000 barrel-per-day Robinson Illinois refinery in 2011. Since the initial pilot, it has been deployed at multiple other plants.
Ken Johnson, Principal Director and Global Lead for the Accenture Life Safety Solution, highlighted how the solution is promoting safety culture and helping industrial organizations strengthen their safety programs. With the Life Safety Solution, since each detector is tied to an individual and all the incidents are reported automatically, plant senior management and safety managers now have much more visibility into the exposure of their workforce and a fact-based approach to support continuous improvement.
Marathon has used this solution as the stepping stone to make the wireless infrastructure available for other applications, especially those related to increasing workforce productivity, both during normal plant operations and periodic maintenance turnarounds. According to Accenture, employees have also been using the application effectively during emergency evacuation and mustering situations.
Gas Detection as a Service
With industrial IoT, suppliers can not only improve performance of service operations through remote connectivity but also generate entirely new revenue streams, while helping owner-operators save on maintenance costs. Giving rise to a new business model, IoT has now enabled the suppliers to sell the value of the product, or sell their product-as-a-service.
In the gas detection space, Industrial Scientific, which contributed to the solution that Accenture developed for MPC, is a pioneer of the product-as-a-service business model. The company’s iNet subscription-based service allows users to buy gas detection as a service for a monthly fee, instead of buying gas detector. The iNet service includes Industrial Scientific’s portable gas detectors, iNet DS docking stations, and iNet Control, a web-based application.
With iNet DS docking stations, plant workers need not worry about bumps tests and calibrations, as these are performed automatically when the detectors are docked into the docking station. Furthermore, the DS docking station upload the detector data to iNet. This data is then accessible through iNet Control application anywhere using a computer web-browser. With all the detector fleet information, usage information, and gas alarm data available through the application, Safety personnel can manage their entire gas detection program using iNet. Moreover, when iNet docking station detects any detector failure, Industrial Scientific is notified automatically and can then send out a replacement part or detector. According to the company, it has deployed the solution at over almost 7,000 customer sites.
Industrial organizations should periodically assess their existing gas detection solutions to ensure proper operation. Furthermore, organizations should continue to evaluate technology, procedures, and policies as necessary to ensure highest level of safety possible.
Companies looking for advanced features such as high availability, and connectivity in their safety equipment to help ensure the utmost level of safety, should consider deploying IIoT-enabled gas detection solutions. As Marathon Petroleum did with Accenture, in those situations where the desired safety solution is not readily available, it may make sense for owner-operators to collaborate with technology suppliers or research institutions to develop the new technology.
The pervasiveness of the IIoT requires policy making at a high level to ensure security, continuity, and maximum benefits. Owner-operators should work closely with the technology supplier to address any potential security vulnerabilities and protect sensitive data and records. Both parties should emphasize stringent account management and network security.
Owner-operators should show strong commitment to safety endeavors and culture. This must be supported at all management levels – from the executive suite to line managers. A strong safety culture helps ensure that all workers are not only aware of the safe practices but are also motivated to follow them on a daily basis. Although it takes time to create a safety culture, in the long run it can reap many benefits for the organizations by lowering accident rates, insurance costs, and non-compliance fines.
Strong focus on safety can also help organizations increase employee retention. When organizations invest in technologies to ensure employee safety, employees gain greater sense of assurance that their safety is a priority.
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Keywords: Gas Detection, Safety, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Portable Gas Detectors, Accenture Life Safety Solution (ALSS), Industrial Scientific iNet Service, Gas Detection as a Service, ARC Advisory Group.