ATEX zones are hazardous locations where combustible vapors, mists, gases and dust specks can form volatile explosive atmospheres when exposed to air. They can occur in various workplaces, from large industrial chemical plants to places where vehicles are spray painted.
In an industrial work environment, ATEX zones potentially put employees at risk of serious injury or death, in addition to financial loss from damaged equipment.
In addition to complying with the current regulations for ATEX zones that establish controls and restrictions in dangerous workplaces, industries must have adequate alarm systems and comply with all the requirements that guarantee that work in ATEX zones can be carried out carried out and ensure the safety of employees.
Protection in automation technology
Explosion prevention has to be one of the highest priorities, so it is mandatory to have explosion-protected automated equipment in hazardous areas. Machines that require ignition or produce sparks in a highly combustible atmosphere are, of course, an unaffordable danger in these environments. Industrial plants in a wide range of industries, from the petrochemical industry to wastewater treatment plants, may require bespoke applications to maintain adequate levels of safety in hazardous areas.
A proper critical alarm management system that is safe for use in ATEX zones is also vital, especially if single operators are working. Fortunately, there are many high-tech solutions available with innovative features like tilt sensors, panic buttons, and custom software to increase security.
Areas where explosive atmospheres occur
If there are flammable gases in an industry, it is necessary to have graphical descriptions of the site area classification to show which equipment is in which zone classification. This can help determine what electrical equipment can be installed in that posted area, what gases are present, and any other precautions that need to be taken.
Hazardous area classification is a way of identifying areas where explosive atmospheres are most likely to occur. The company is required to designate hazardous areas by zones.
Zone 0, where the risk is continuous; Zone 1, where an explosive gas atmosphere is a situation that occurs on a normal day of activity; and Zone 2, where an explosive gas atmosphere is rare and likely to last only a short time, if at all.
There are also Zones 20, 21 and 22 which are used to classify areas where a combustible dust cloud is likely to be present for various lengths of time in normal operation.
Intrinsically safe devices
Intrinsically safe devices are designed to operate at power levels low enough that the potential for accidental arcing is physically eliminated under normal conditions. Explosion proof devices are typically legacy equipment designs where the housings are sealed to prevent the ingress of flammable gases.
With the advent of certified intrinsically safe devices, the entire workforce of an oil and gas operation, even critical workers in the most restrictive hazardous areas, can handle and edit information. It is no longer necessary for ATEX area personnel to use pencil and paper to later –in a safe area– transfer the information to digital systems. For some time now, these workers have been able to stay connected and work more efficiently inside hazardous areas, capturing information and reacting in real time through the use of certified, cloud-connected devices.
Using new mobile technologies like certified intrinsically safe tablets, technicians can now manage all assets, even those at high risk. Performing maintenance inspections, retrieving past maintenance data, and recording on-site maintenance reports on digital devices helps companies assess assets in near real time and more quickly and accurately report situations that may require doing so.
Real-time data entry reduces human error and immediately conveys critical information to administrative staff. This way, work orders can be issued, orders can be processed, repairs can be made, and compliance requirements can be completed quickly and correctly, resulting in cost savings as well as better overall maintenance of equipment. active.
In hazardous environments where devices must be certified as intrinsically safe, iOS and Android devices for home users should not be allowed. In an increasing number of industrial companies, workers are issued certified intrinsically safe tablets with a version of Windows for use in high-risk areas, while their personal devices remain outside the ATEX zone, in their vehicles, or in other non-protected areas. dangerous company.
Collecting data with IoT-enabled devices and sharing it in near real time with personnel in hazardous environments can provide significant advantages for manufacturing, especially in time-sensitive industries. Typically, edge devices, such as IoT sensors, collect vast amounts of data and transmit it to the cloud, where it is then processed. But in some operations, massive amounts of data are collected when only specific data or anomalies need to be reported.
In hazardous cloud-restricted environments, IoT sensors can collect myriad data and then transfer it to a local device that compiles the data and sends periodic reports to a storage center or to the cloud. This local data processing greatly reduces backlog and allows IoT devices to not be constantly connected to the cloud. This helps to reduce costs.
IoT devices in ATEX zones can help in the following aspects:
• Reduce downtime with predictive maintenance.
IoT sensors can monitor production flow and detect anomalies to alert potential problems. IoT sensors can also send maintenance alerts based on the status of the equipment. Real-time data from IoT devices can alert technicians to take action and prevent mechanical issues and downtime.
• Increase security
IoT devices, including sensors and wearables, can share time-sensitive information and also monitor staff behaviors that can lead to accidents or equipment malfunction. Monitoring injury, incident, or damage KPIs can help improve overall safety and security in daily operations.
• Optimize the supply chain
Asset tracking and fleet management can be optimized by managing IoT data about each asset and its location.
• Improve inventory management
IoT devices can track information from barcodes or RFID tags, identifying inventory parts, as well as storing information about those parts, to increase efficiency and maintain optimal supplies.