Explosion Protection Goes Cloud Computing In the Cloud, not up in Smoke – Cloud Based Explosion Protection

Author / Editor: Konstantin Anissimov / Dominik Stephan

Dust explosions – a dreaded scenario in all powder and bulk handling applications. Therefore, monitoring has become a keystone in plant safety – but these elaborate systems can be bypassed and avoided in the hurry of an everyday operation. Now, the advent of data networks and cloud computing could help to overcome this issue – providing the extra amount of safety and transparency that makes the difference between safe and sorry…

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Safety goes cloud computing: Web based monitoring and data storage is both safe and transparent.
Safety goes cloud computing: Web based monitoring and data storage is both safe and transparent.
(Picture: © PictureArt; © ra2 studio - Fotolia.com / [M]-Schmidt)

It is well known that dry dusty materials can create explosive atmospheres. If the following four conditions come together, an explosive state is nearly unavoidable: First of all, there needs to be high concentration of dust, then there must be oxygen and there should also be an ignition source. If all of these appear in a confined space, an explosion will occur.

The most common ignition sources have long been identified as over-heated bearings, misaligned belt, slipping belt and misaligned pulleys. The industry is saturated with various sensors and controllers that monitor those conditions and stop the machines automatically to prevent ignition and ultimately explosion.

The Human Factor – Number One Problem of Safety Systems

These systems work really well, but there is one big problem with all of them: All these solutions rely on the on-site personnel not to modify the system in order to run in bypass mode. With the ever-growing demands on the performance and efficiency of terminals and processing facilities, it is understandable that a shift manager may make a decision under pressure to keep a leg in operation even after an alarm has been detected. One can appreciate that there still are a number of ways to cheat the safety system and carry on running regardless of the dangers imposed to equipment and personnel.

Taking the Digital Plant Into the Cloud

What is needed is a transparent solution that allows the monitoring and record keeping of all safety relevant parameters – a solution that could become reality with the help of web based cloud computing technologies. Bulk materials and elevator systems specialist 4B Components have been working on a secure cloud based industrial monitoring solution that allows any registered user to login and see all their facilities in real-time from anywhere in the world.

The result: Hazardmon.com, a solution that “will revolutionize the industry!”, 4B believes. Centerpiece of this solution is a modern, simple and user friendly website, featuring a secure and encrypted login and data transfer of industrial strength – 256bit SSL for website security and data safety. The data transmission is fully integrated into 4B’s T500 Elite “Hotbus” communication BUS system.

No Onsite Data Storage Needed

Since Hazardmon does not need an on-site server or PLC, it does not cause upkeep and upgrade costs. Requiring no additional or backup hardware, the F500 unit sends data directly to our server in the cloud. All the data is stored in the cloud and backed up in multiple locations making the data extremely secure, 4B states.

A local back-up of the stored data is not necessary – this also has the advantage that, should an explosion occur, all data is stored off-site and will not be lost. It should therefore be possible analyse the data and use it as evidence in determining the cause of explosion. 4B constantly updates the webserver, including improvements based on user experience. “With this product you get the peace of mind that your facility will always be at the leading edge of technology!” the manufacturer states.

Only Working Controls Provide Explosion Protection

It is important to periodically check that the electronics monitoring system will in fact detect an alarm when a dangerous condition occurs. The current standard in the industry is for the technicians to walk around the site and test sensors. A paper report is then generated and in some cases this report is converted to an excel spreadsheet or similar. There is still absolutely no guarantee that the technician actually performed any of the testing.

HazardMon’s automated sensor test tool function on the website now ensures test procedures are carried out, logged and reports automatically generated, facilitating sensor testing for technicians and giving confidence to site managers. This feature provides documented evidence that each sensor has been tested to ensure it is working correctly and is capable of generating an alarm when needed.

The user needs to go to the maintenance tab of the website and click on a sensor that needs to be tested. The website then temporarily stops the alarm notifications for this sensor, so that no nuisance alarm notifications are sent out. The user then has 5 minutes to cause and alarm and 5 minutes to clear the alarm. The whole process is fully automated and a report can be generated at the end of the process in just a couple of clicks.

How Cloud Computing Could Bring a huge Benefit for Explosion Protection

More and more facilities have an electronic system installed to monitor the site’s safety. The main safety factor and cause of problems, which is the human factor and lack of transparency, nevertheless, still exists. Now, the combination of Hazardmon with 4B’s Hotbus monitoring system could allow senior management, engineering management and technicians to have real time access to the data – anytime, anywhere This feature could dramatically increase transparency and help to ensure that company policies are fully adhered to and that a facility is safe.

The new product was initially presented in early 2013 at the GEAPS Exchange/Expo in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. There, Hazardmon caused much excitement from industry leaders and plant managers. Industry experts could see how this new product would give them “eyes on” their plant 24/7 and help make their sites to be safer and more reliable. Since then, a growing number of US and EU grain handling companies have installed Hazardmon and many more are planning on using it.

* The author is Electronics Sales Engineer at 4B