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Digital data can streamline safety projects

May 10, 2021
Experts from Emerson, mCloud, Phoenix Contact, Schneider Electric and Yokogawa share process safety strategies

Because two heads are better than one, and second sets of eyes and hands are always welcome, process safety programs and users can always benefit from some outside know-how and perspectives. Here's some advice from several expert suppliers:


To merge its occupational safety and process safety capabilities for easier access and adoption by users, Emerson started its Consolidated Safety Initiative about two years ago, according to Don Fregelette, VP of chemical industry marketing for Emerson’s measurement instrumentation business. 

"We've always had a functional safety mentality, but in light of increasing digitalization and several industry incidents in 2019, we stepped back about two years ago to try and address safety more holistically," says Fregelette. "For instance, we can use measurements that were hard to get without wireless technology, and use the results for personal safety by showing hazardous areas to minimize staff exposure, and show where the staff is located throughout the plant. Or, we can employ analytics functions in our Plantweb Optics software that turns measurements into diagnostics, and use the results to predict safety problems. Likewise, procedural operations (ProOps) steps that used to be manual, such as proof testing. can be automated to improve safety, while some aspects of alarm diagnostics and rationalization can also be automated for better safety."

Doug White, principal consultant for oil and major process areas for Emerson’s Automation Solutions business, adds that COVID-19 has made its safety initiatives more urgent because fewer people are allowed to be in many facilities. This means more remote users need more data, better connectivity, storage and analytics, which typically requires more training. "We're putting all our training classes and workshops online, which is popular because more users are discovering they can do more remotely than they ever thought was possible," says White. "We're glad that some of the restrictions are loosening up, and that some personnel can get back into their plants, but we're still going to keep these online versions available."

mCloud Technologies

Typical process safety projects still begin with risk assessments (RA), hazardous operations (HazOp) surveys and layers of protection analysis (LOPA), and their recommendations are converted to adjusted or new engineering specifications and designs. These help users decide whether to adopt basic process control systems (BPCS) or safety instrumented systems (SIS) with testing and other instrumented functions, as well as calculate and follow safety integrity levels (SIL) defined by the IEC 61508 and IEC 61511 standards. That much hasn't changed, but digitalization, Ethernet and Internet protocol (IP) networking and the need for cybersecurity are impacting process safety just like every other technical, industrial, business and consumer field, according to Ahmed Hanafy, control system team lead at mCloud Technologies Corp.  

"Digitalization can help process safety, but all its new connections require much greater aware of cyber-threats," says Hanafy. "This is why IEC 61511 has added cybersecurity requirements. And, just as we look for safety gap during a controls HazOp (CHazOp), we must also check for cyber-vulnerabilities and mitigations as part of the same process."

Just as Ethernet networking and online connections are enabling real-time production monitoring, Hanafy reports they're also speeding up RAs and responses. "Through our AssetCare platform, we've been developing templates with clients that will give them dashboards and cloud-based interfaces," says Hanafy. "These templates will also help them establish independent protection layers for online clients and their data, and get alerts if any SIL-related changes occur. If any device performance changes happen, such as an instrument breaking, its SIL calculations will change, and we'll know about it. These can include changes in field devices like sensors and I/O, PLCs and other logic solvers, and valves and other final elements."

Hanafy adds that digitalization can extend its assistance to process safety by using mobile tools like mCloud's Connected Worker solutions, which employ mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablet PCs, headsets, cameras and intuitive voice controls for 3D monitoring and enabling field operations. "Our solutions let onsite users look at valves, talk to remote coworkers, connect to P&IDs and data sheets, share screens, and take action more quickly in response to equipment problems and safety issues," explains Hanafy. "The heart of any SIS is good operations and maintenance, so more digitalized connections and mobile work tools can enable safety lifecycles based on operations and maintenance, including keeping SIL calculations at their initial settings."

Phoenix Contact 

One of the major process safety issues aggravated by COVID-19 is that users are more often trying to integrate products from different suppliers, or find replacement parts that aren’t available, according to Raynold Azizian, technical solutions support lead for safety standards and systems at Phoenix Contact. “Many of these are safety-rated or safety-certified products, so you can’t bring in just any replacement, and this has hindered many existing and new projects.”

Azizian reports digital transformation is also affecting process safety as more users try to establish communications and send data to PLCs and from full-blown safety instrumented systems (SIS). “We’re developing new products that can connect and convert different systems, fieldbuses and protocols, so older PLCs can transfer data to other systems, And unify all their data displays on one screen,“ says Azizian. “This can improve safety by making it easier to move data from those old systems and protocols such as Modbus and Profibus to newer protocols like Profinet and EtherNet/IP. We also released our PSRmodular in mid-2020, which is a PLC with analog input capabilities that puts all of a process’s safety relays in one basket.”

Schneider Electric

Three years ago, Schneider Electric embarked on a Profitable Safety initiative, which seeks to shift the traditional mindset that safety is a necessary evil to the view that it can generate better business performance and value. Steve Elliott, senior director of offer marketing for process automation at Schneider Electric, reports the program has gained acceptance and is succeeding.

"Insurers are growing more aware of the value of good operational risk management, process safety and related standards, " says Elliott. "They want their clients to demonstrate and prove they're doing everything possible to achieve greater safety because it reduces their risk exposure and can save revenue, so they're doing more training, checklists and diligence. Of course, COVID-19 turned process operations, companies and everyone else on their heads, and long-term safety efforts became shorter and more tactical, as well as remote and downsized."

Not surprisingly, Elliott reports that process safety programs and activities have been deferred by the pandemic, which has increased the likelihood of incidents. "We've also observed more safety incidents during process application startups recently because there are fewer experts available," adds Elliott. "Safety work hasn't gone away, but because users must do audits and other tasks in different ways, they're experiencing added disruptions in their traditional methods."

Chris Stogner, safety and critical control leader for Triconex at Schneider Electric, explains these recent disruptions are compounded by the fact that many process operators, engineers and organizations haven't changed bypass, critical alarms or other safety procedures for many years, so they could use some added assistance. "We just revamped the TÜV-certified EcoStruxure Triconex SafetyView alarm and bypassing HMI we introduced a few years, so it needs fewer resources, unshackles users from a rigid interface, is more cyber secure, and less likely to introduce errors." Elliot explains that process safety standards like IEC 61508/61511 are shifting their focus from hardware integrity to software integrity, so the tools and applications for use in safety related applications will undergo a similar level of rigor and accreditation. Using software that's already safety certified can reduce the burden on users.      

"In general, digital transformation tools like IIoT and cloud-based computing and analytics are good at recognizing patterns and emerging trends, but these capabilities can also be used for process safety by looking for possible low-frequency or high-consequence events, seeking what-if scenarios, and helping users decide how much risk is tolerable and how to respond," adds Elliott. "These digital connections can mean that users won't have to make as many safety decisions in isolation, and that they can have a more consistent view to make more collaborative decisions. Digitalization makes process safety more visible, which can bring safety to life. For example, our EcoStuxure Process Safety Advisor application lets users go beyond resetting alarms, which adds context to data and predictive aspects. And then typical jobs like factory acceptance tests (FAT) can be automated with tools like our EcoStruxure Triconex Safety Validator software, which can write test scripts for automated testing, and help with designs, startups, maintenance, and periodic testing and validation efforts."


Taylor Schuler, business development leader for digital transformation of safety at Yokogawa, reports process safety is just as important as ever, although spending has become tighter as companies are forced to do more with less. "The IEC 61511 standard was updated in 2016 to require that discrepancies between the expected behavior and actual performance of safety instrumented systems (SIS) shall be analyzed and modified to maintain required safety levels,” says Schuler. “It’s a big challenge to synchronize data from process hazard analyses (PHA) to daily operations in order to take action when risk levels are increased for compliance purposes. Unfortunately, this is due to attempts to chase discrete events in real-time back through safety requirements, layers of protection analyses (LOPA) and ultimately hazard identification. Historically, each of these activities was conducted by internal and external teams with different skills and business acumens, using disparate tools and technologies.”

Schuler adds that Yokogawa is sensitive to today’s spend issues, and has invested in working within existing workflows. Plus, systems end-users have already invested to ensure safer, daily operations. “We're leveraging technology to bridge the gaps between design and operations  to quantify risk per end-users’ definitions to help make better business decisions and, ultimately, change the culture surrounding safety into the profitability conversation,” adds Schuler. ”We look at real-time data, add context to the events as they're occurring, and flag discrepancies between actual performance verses design assumptions. "This should empower end-users to determine if the risk is tolerable per their internal definitions or if action is required.”

Traditionally, industrial automation providers and system integrators become involved in safety once their safety requirements specification (SRS) is solidified. To account for activities leading up to the configuration of the logic solver, Yokogawa has partnered with Sphera and its PHA-Pro software. Yokogawa and Sphera have developed a template in PHA-Pro to seamlessly integrate a PHA into a LOPA and SRS. As a result, the user's final cause-and-effects matrix can be leveraged to pre-configure a SIS, accelerate factory acceptance testing (FAT), and finally set up alarm and event data to digitally monitor performance once in operations.

“Our Sustainable SIS approach ensures consistency from initial risk assessment to SIS design and into run-and-maintain," adds Schuler. "Data can now flow in either direction to identify and address risk on demand, as well as cost effectively manage change moving forward.” 

Having access to front-end data adds more value to Yokogawa’s ProSafe line of logic solvers by helping users:

  • Monitor, analyze and categorize trip events;

  • Ensure testing frequencies per reliability calculations;

  • Potentially credit trip events as functional tests;

  • Investigate risk prior to bypassing safety-critical equipment;

  • Count and aggregate total time in bypass; and

  • Quantify risk performance at macro and micro levels across the organization.

“If a company invested in SIS under the assumption that an initiating frequency is once every 10 years, then they should be able to quickly identify and address when data is showing the initiating event is actually occurring annually,” says Schuler. "Having the data easily accessible will help right-size and address the misalignment from both a cost and a safety perspective."

Another real-world example would be functional testing during scheduled outages. “If a safety function trips before the outage, could it be credited as a test? If so, why not refocus your resources to ensure your plant gets back online as quickly as possible? Our approach provides all of the information required to make these decisions and classifications on demand and without costly churn.” says Schuler. “A good rule of thumb is that it takes somewhere between six and eight man-hours to test a safety function between administration, maintenance technicians and operators. We’ve had an end-user estimate saving 160-240 man-hours hours per year by crediting events. This enables them to repurpose resources with a keen focus on starting up on or ahead of schedule.”

While the concept of an evergreen PHA has been around for years, Schuler foresees the concept as achievable sooner rather than later. “If everything is connected back to the corporate risk matrix and international standards are being followed, then the ripple effect from activity to activity promotes on-demand handling as opposed to prescriptive time-based revalidations,” he explains.

COVID-19 has also accelerated change because pulling subject matter experts into conversations is more convenient with video conferencing than sequestering resources in conference rooms for days or weeks. “The pandemic has definitely accelerated the process safety community's move to greater efficiency," he adds.

In conclusion, Schuler states, “Yokogawa’s Sustainable SIS approach along with our willingness to work with third-party systems positions us to help end users realize more value out of their previous and future investments, and effectively manage risk regardless of where they are in the journey.” 

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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