Wireless systems are well suited for a plethora of industrial monitoring applications that can keep operations up and running and safe. Source: Shutterstock

Environmental monitoring: a wireless ‘sweet spot’

March 29, 2023
Understand the impact of your activities and how they affect long-term operations

Understanding the environment around you is important not only to protect workers, but also to understand the potential impact your activities have on your surroundings. Those activities can impact the long-term sustainability of your operations.

These measurements tend to be widely distributed in and around the perimeter of a facility or temporary, such as during maintenance activities or work outages/turnarounds. This makes collecting this information well-suited to wireless data collection systems. Many environmental monitoring systems also tend to send aggregated data as a burst of information periodically rather than continuously, as is done for real-time control systems. That removes the criticality of timing because, if the transmission fails, it can be sent again a few minutes later without any impact to the overall logging functionality of the system.

Real-time reporting is less rigorous in typical data aggregation. For example, emissions monitoring stations located remotely from the facility capture ground-level readings from stacks. Because these are analytical measurements, they tend to only update periodically when the analytical cycle itself is complete.

Typical data gathering applications also include water stream monitoring for flow and analytical properties, including turbidity and/or status of equipment such as auto-samplers. In addition, wildlife monitoring for migration paths, foraging patterns, or nesting conditions use periodic updates because they rely on collars, which are a form of edge devices, to collect data and transmit at predetermined intervals.

The more common, automation-type connection with real-time notification will be associated with a temporary installation that has worker safety implications such as:

* Enclosed space entry for detection of hazardous gases;

* Maintain communications between workers, monitor for person-down situations, and automatically notify remote safety team to protect the individual in distress and their coworkers;

* Facility outage or turnaround perimeter monitoring for ingress, or the more likely scenario of releasing some substance that needs to be monitored or reported due to opening vessels and related operations;

* Drilling rigs where there is risk of releasing hazardous gases, such as hydrogen sulphide, or the less insidious replacement of oxygen with some other gas with the same potential for injury or loss of life; and

* Spill cleanup to monitor the environment during the event for possible leaks or emissions to protect workers, and following the event to ensure cleanup efforts were successful.

Wireless is well-suited for the above applications and many similar situations, which I’m sure readers are familiar with or can quickly identify.

One of the challenges with any temporary installation will be setup and provisioning of the network within the constraints, physical bandwidth demands and cybersecurity considerations. It also includes the restoration and closure of any connections when the installation is dismantled.

Items to be considered during provisioning include:

* Assignment to a network that can include the necessary subnet and determine which ISM band is being used (typically 2.4 or 5.8 GHz) to avoid conflict with other users; and

* Public/private key authentication for joining the network.

At the end of the project, you shouldn’t forget to “sanitize” the devices to factory settings to prevent accidental loss of intellectual property (IP) or compromise cybersecurity.

Most projects focus on the measurements themselves and overlook the necessary infrastructure, but rarely do it more than once. This is because doing so results in difficult problems or delays, plus the expense of installing necessary equipment to complete required connectivity. These situations are more expensive and embarrassing with wired infrastructure.

Perhaps not as exciting as real-time, closed-loop control using wireless networks for monitoring is still a key piece of the environmental monitoring space since its use to support data collection plays an important role in protecting us and our environment.

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