Wireless devices enable safety from a safe distance

Wireless can provide safety for users, while also giving a big boost to productivity. Wireless units enable operators to control industrial equipment from a safe distance away from heavy machinery, hazardous materials, or dangerous environments and elevate the standard for worker safety and productivity.

By Gregory Hale, ISSSource August 24, 2015

Industrial wireless communication solutions allow for highly flexible, efficient, reliable, safe, and secure automation.

Wireless is suitable for indoor and outdoor applications under extremely harsh conditions. In the manufacturing automation environment, the applications are limitless—from cranes to automated guided vehicle systems to uses in the field of remote control/remote maintenance.

Wireless allows for safer operations where it can reduce human exposure to a hazardous environment, especially when the prior alternative was to have someone stand in a danger zone near a crane, or in a remote area. Also, more frequent measurements and early detection of issues can help reduce, or even prevent incidents or accidents. There is also safety in enhancing operational effectiveness where operators can quickly diagnose and troubleshoot plant operations and support predictive maintenance programs by monitoring facility assets. Additionally, it is possible to identify costly problems that can lead to an unsafe condition or even excess use of energy or raw materials.

In short, greater access to monitoring and control information gives engineers and operators better visibility and ultimately better decision-making power when it comes to industrial environments such as plants, factories, and refineries.

"The market is becoming more and more open to the use of wirelessly enabled devices to enable safety in industrial automation," said Scott Lordo, vice president technology wireless automation and control solutions at Laird.

Safety, productivity possibilities

Safety strategies only make sense when looking at all the cynical possibilities. When everything is running as planned it is smooth sailing, but when Murphy’s Law hits, things go sideways quickly.

"If implemented and managed properly, safety critical wireless control improves productivity when controlling machines," said Lordo. "Our productivity improvements result from ensuring the operator is positioned to better monitor processes effectively, efficiently and safely."

One case in point is a power point coal loading process. The operator works via remote control on the bulldozers used to push the coal in the pit heading to the furnace. There are times, though, where there is a potential for collapse and the operator in the dozer could be at risk. With wireless remote control, the operator can ‘get off to the side of the pile.’ While asset safety is economically critical—human safety is paramount."

Additionally, in an overhead crane situation, instead of having the operator stretching as far as he can, he is able to remain safe. With remote control, the operator can get 100 feet away so they are far removed from the swinging load and the risk.

"All of those trends are heading toward productivity and safety and wirelessly-enabled control systems have met those expectations," Lordo said. "It is this (Internet of Things) IoT space with the whole data collection and aggregation that turns that into information and action. By the time the control system is in place we are connected to the machine, we are connected to the human that is operating it, and we can gather all threat information and as we understand the user’s environment and what they do. We help them turn that data into information so they know what actions they need to take to make their operations safer or more productive."

Wireless: What to look for

Here are some advantages and what to look for in wireless:

Productivity. Wireless can improve productivity including safety, which Lordo said is an element of productivity. "Protecting workers and operators and doing the work more effectively and efficiently." Make sure whoever you work with has the ability to complete the RF survey and study and design of the RF infrastructure to ensure reliable repeatable coverage. These have to shut down quickly and they are always in communication. Robustness of the RF infrastructure cannot be understated how important it is, otherwise it is always stopping and you lose your productivity.

Work with somebody who can hand over their machine and then quickly get back a fully converted electrified remote control. Being able to understand the machine and what is needed to be installed and implemented in order for it to be able to remote control is another critical element. Being able to interface with the machine is a critical element.

Training. Fully implementing operator training. How they would think about doing the job differently based on having this capability.

Actionable data. There are incidents that occur out there, you get the human view of what occurred with different perspectives from those people involved. But now you can get the view from the vehicle of what happened. That should corroborate with at least one of the stories you get. You can listen to the story you get and match it with the data you have.

Real time data keeps operators safe and productive during the action, but also it can act as a teaching tool to learn how to become more productive in the future.

"We designed our own safety critical PLC, that then goes onto the machine and interfaces to the machine and into the machine and can (remotely) enact commands from the operator to make the machine do what the operator wants it to do for that particular movement," Lordo said. "While we are doing that, we are also collecting the data associated with those duties and storing it. We then bring it back to a hosted database and send a web-based user interface back to the users showing productivity reports. This way we can show what actions they need to take to do things better or to mitigate something. The people we work with are very busy and they need to be able to take action quickly and take care of their day job."

Mining a solution

Buried deep below the ground under the blazing Nevada sun, Barrick Goldstrike’s Paul Smith knew remote control was the only safe way to handle the Meikle-Rodeo ore mine in Elko, NV. The large block of gold and silver ore is highly fractured, so safety is the primary concern. To say miners work under a huge safety risk is quite an understatement.

"We had to plan on portable radio remote controls (PRRCs) because there was no way we could mine down there without them," said Smith, general supervisor, at Barrick Goldstrike. "You didn’t want to put any operators at risk in the event of a rock fall or cave-in, and with the kind of fractured ground we were dealing with, those were definite and serious possibilities. Mine workers who operate load haul dumps (LHDs) could easily be at risk."

In this case, the remote controller keeps the operator protected in potentially dangerous situations by enabling him to stand much further away from the machine. It also allows for more aggressive digging since the LHD can continue its progression into the rock much deeper than it would with the operator on the machine. Since workers are not in the area, just machines, they are able to remove more material before shoring up the walls.

These wireless units enable operators to control industrial equipment from a safe distance away from heavy machinery, hazardous materials, or dangerous environments and elevate the standard for worker safety and productivity. Whether it is a mine, rail yard or a refinery, the information and reporting capabilities help executives, managers, and maintenance departments increase productivity, safety, and profitability in their daily operation.

In the safety critical world, people are familiar with safety integrity level (SIL) ratings and in their minds they tend to associate that with wired only implementation, but that is not the case. There are going to be some wireless SIL certifications.

"That would be one element; SIL 3 certified with wireless control," Lordo said. "You can achieve that with untethered devices."

It only makes sense. Safety gains, along with a boost in productivity via wireless brings more opportunities for manufacturers to gain in communication and to grow.

Gregory Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (ISSSource.com), a news and information website covering safety and security issues in the manufacturing automation sector. This content originally appeared on the ISSSource website. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media, jchang@cfemedia.com.

Original content can be found at www.isssource.com.