How Do You Optimise Communications In Hazardous Environments?
We are a society of consumers. We grow, extract and process materials and food stuffs into those everyday products that we take for granted. But when was the last time you even considered how complicated, difficult or even dangerous the processes might be behind food on our table or the latest must have gadget?
The truth is that many of the goods we use in our daily lives will have passed through a hazardous environment of one sort of another during their creation and this presents a considerable challenge for those who secure the raw materials and the manufacturers of these products.
Understanding what constitutes "a hazardous environment" is a critical consideration when meeting the communications and operational requirements for these manufacturers:
‘An environment is defined as potentially hazardous if three conditions are met: there is a fuel source, perhaps a gas, a vapour, some sort of ignitable dust; oxygen and an ignition source.’
The inherent danger of working in a gas plant or an oil processing facility may seem obvious, but you might be surprised to discover that a paper or flour mill can prove to be an equally dangerous working environment if the correct controls and safety are not stringently applied. It is easy to identify the stages in a product’s creation where a hazardous environment is encountered, be it the refinement of fuel which powers our vehicles, the production of chemicals we use in detergents, or the processing of metal ores used in our computers or the milling of the flour we eat. Every aspect of our lives is touched with products from these environments.
The scale of production means that many of the facilities encompass large, complex environments that require integrated communication systems to facilitate effective and safe operations. This drives the ever increasing demand for highly reliable, easy to use and intrinsically safe communication equipment. Intrinsic safety is a protection technique used in a wide variety of electrical equipment, allowing safe operation by limiting the energy available for accidental ignition in the presence of Oxygen and a Fuel. ATEX/IECEX radios are a prime example of communication devices that are designed and optimised to meet these very unique and challenging demands.
In conjunction with the intrinsic safety capabilities of a radio, it is vital to address the very particular needs of the user to establish their usability requirements. Invariably, hazardous environments are loud, dirty, hostile places and these conditions will further define the uniqueness of an ATEX communications device.
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSIONS WE HAVE HAD WITH END USERS TO UNDERSTAND THE SPECIFICS OF THE CHALLENGE:
- In what sort of background noise levels do you operate?
Many users will operate in a plant environment with extremely high ambient noise levels, often exceeding +95dB. This drives the need for loud, clear audio from the speaker in conjunction with a comprehensive accessory portfolio, tailored to the user’s needs such as a heady duty headset.
- Do you require the use of any particular specialist accessories?
Fire fighters use ATEX products in response to certain hazardous situations. They may be entering a burning building, which is a loud environment in its own right. To ensure clear communications at all times in these instances, users may adopt skull mics and integrated speakers for use with their fire equipment.
- Where will you be operating?
Be it a plant, an oil field, a chemical production facility in the Middle East or Siberia, it is very likely customers will be wearing protective clothing whilst in the hazardous environment. This drives the need for ease of use and optimisations to minimise problems due to lack of tactility through gloves.
- What is the size of your operation?
An oil field or gas field can be huge. Some sites in the Middle East are in excess of 500km2 . Such large geographical communication deployments demand the best in capabilities to ensure effective user coverage and minimal ’dead spots’.
- How long will you be away from ’base’?
Many such sites where an ATEX environment exists are not necessarily close to a charging station or power socket. This drives the need for excellent battery life to maximise the usage time whilst in the field.
These are the requirements which drove the creation of the highly successfulthat, since its launch in 2009, has continued to be extremely popular with our customers around the globe, recently passing the industry leading milestone of 100,000 TETRA units in market.
In this article, we have just scratched the surface of the ATEX user needs. In the months to come we will explore the specifics in more detail and discover how we help our customers operate in the most extreme working environments on the planet.
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