Enhancing Gas Detection with Pattern-Finding & Predictive AI

Sean Stinson, Chief Revenue Officer

A Brief History of Gas Detection

For years, gas detection solutions have been hardware-driven. When looking to solve a problem, companies have typically invested in and relied solely upon sensors with gas-detecting capabilities, such as gas alarms from fixed or personal gas monitors. Additionally, site managers and industrial hygienists will conduct periodic manual assessments across a worksite in order to identify problem areas, observing infrastructure and gathering testimony from employees.

While these tools have proven effective, opportunities still exist to enhance gas detection as industry continues to digitize. For example, by just relying on sensors and human testimony, companies might miss a developing pattern of volatile organic compounds (VOC) readings, among others, from a certain area of a site that data and more advanced tools would identify. This narrow approach can result in oversights—leaving gaps in gas detection and workplace safety.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Gas Detection

Enter artificial intelligence, otherwise known as “AI.” AI is quickly increasing its footprint across industrial worksites. At its broadest definition, AI is a program tasked with solving a specific problem using data. AI works 24/7 to turn data into information that is of interest to and actionable by a person.

While the term “AI” was officially coined in 1956, advancements in AI have only begun to disrupt the industrial sector in recent years, as organizations started to invest and see the value in digital transformation. Since then, applications and opportunities to improve both productivity and safety have multiplied quickly.

For gas detection, AI is a tool that—when combined with data produced by industry-leading, cloud-connected sensors—automates the process of clustering non-zero gas readings, providing organizations with stronger situational awareness of safety threats across operational assets both in the past and into the future.

Specifically, this application of AI can assist IH professionals and the broader HSE teams to automatically surface patterns from all the non-zero gas readings logged by worker wearables, area monitors and cloud-connected sensors. This enables HSE and IH professionals to identify and address issues across operational assets—before they become mission-critical. Without AI, the safety team’s field of vision is quite narrow, involving manual and costly work. It may take weeks or months for enough gas to escape from a small leak for traditional instruments to pick it up and alert employees, prompting an investigation—all while workers are exposed for 10-plus hours each day.

Additionally, AI keeps HSE teams from having to do the guesswork of thinking about gas presence based on testimony or information that only tells a narrow story. An AI module uses its pattern-finding capabilities to also help predict where gas leaks may occur in the future, empowering safety teams with better visibility and the insights needed to proactively look ahead and solve emerging problems. This application can also help in cost-effective and proactive deployment of fixed gas emission monitoring systems.

When leveraging AI, the risk of human error or overlooking patterns in low-level gas readings is mitigated, improving organizations’ ability to keep their people safe by identifying short- and long-term exposure threats, especially those related to VOCs.

In addition to worker safety, AI can also be an effective tool for compliance and supporting the worldwide effort of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recently issued an Executive Order, which aims to reduce methane emissions in the oil & gas industry, is the latest example of how organizations will be faced with the task of reducing gas exposure both for their people and the environment. Using AI to better detect and address these leaks can serve as a meaningful part of an organization’s gas detection strategy and GHG reduction program.

Implementing AI: How it Works

With the right tools and partner, the process of incorporating AI into an organization’s operations is seamless. The most important prerequisite is utilizing an instrument that collects millions of data points across a worksite every day, which is possible through a modern, cloud-connected gas sensor. If a team is already equipped with gas monitors with these capabilities, then integrating AI requires no additional equipment or infrastructure.

The AI, along with a team of data experts, does the work from there. The module’s algorithm will automatically gather data from the devices and will surface gas clusters. In many cases, safety teams and industrial hygienists will be provided with a digital map of the worksite with markings of where these hotspots are present. The module can also provide the opportunity to analyze each reading further, helping see where and how long – and often – each reading has been happening and how it’s trending.

The beauty of AI is that it is highly customizable and can be tailored over time to address specific challenges. Whether a safety team seeks a macro view that summarizes the levels of gas readings over time, or a more micro view of each gas reading for industrial hygienists to review and address, AI provides the insight and learnings needed to enhance safety, visibility, efficiency and sustainability.

AI is the Future of Gas Detection

From successfully teaching a machine to master the game of checkers, to tech-giants such as Amazon and Google using machine learning for a significant commercial advantage, AI has proven its effectiveness across a broad range of industries and applications. And the opportunities for implementation are going to only continue to grow.

With AI finally making its way to the industrial landscape, organizations that have often been limited to traditional methods of gas detection can now take their processes and safety programs to the next level.

A criticism that is frequently cited in reference to AI is that it takes jobs away from people. It is important to note that in this application, AI is, in fact, doing the opposite. We consider it AI-assisted HSE, as it is providing people with data and insight to do their jobs more effectively and safely. AI assistants are everywhere, helping people to focus on their work, much like Siri or Alexa in your kitchen—while they don’t cook for you, they help you pull up recipes and play music while your hands stay busy with the job at hand. AI for gas detection serves a similar purpose.

Through practical and pattern-finding insight, using existing infrastructure, companies can empower their industrial hygienists and HSE teams with greater situational awareness of gas levels across worksites and operational assets. It also provides organizations with an added tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, furthering their sustainability goals.

As AI continues to increase its footprint in the industrial sector, organizations that see how machine learning can help them proactively address challenges will come out most successful. While AI helps meet our important objectives of improving operational efficiency and corporate sustainability, it also helps us accomplish our critical, common goal: keeping our people free from harm in the short and long term so they can work with confidence knowing they are safe.  IHW

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