Safe Industrial Plant Gas Monitoring

By: Del Williams, Contributor

Detecting dangerous gases with versatile, advanced modular systems can speed compliance and construction project completion. Whether new or retrofit construction, monitoring hazardous gases in industrial plants that process pulp and paper, as well as at loading docks and receiving areas, is often crucial to safety, compliance and productivity. Exposure to potentially toxic gases can come from a wide variety of sources—particularly in partially or totally enclosed areas.

According to an OSHA Factsheet, carbon monoxide (CO) is a common industrial hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of material containing carbon, such as natural gas, gasoline, oil, propane or coal. “Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed, because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overcome you in minutes without warning—causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate,” states the OSHA Factsheet.

“You may be exposed to harmful levels of CO in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, pulp and paper production, and steel production; [also] around docks, blast furnaces or coke ovens.” Occupations where exposure can occur include forklift operator, diesel engine operator and welder, the OSHA Factsheet adds.

Similarly, industrial workers in pulp and paper processing facilities can also be exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from the burning of fuel for vehicles, equipment and power generation, which can cause respiratory irritation and aggravate respiratory diseases.

Within pulp- and paper-related warehousing and around loading docks/receiving areas, propane-burning forklifts and equipment can result in a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) with complete combustion—or result in excess CO with incomplete combustion.  Breathing too much CO2 can cause headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure, and even coma, asphyxia and convulsions.

Wireless capability is extremely advantageous for reducing installation time and costs; all that’s required is mounting the sensors and establishing the connection with the system. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

While loading docks and shipping/receiving areas are only partially enclosed when warehouse bay doors are opened, the prevalence of diesel trucks can make monitoring toxic gases essential. Even with ventilation systems installed, the systems can be insufficient; become overwhelmed; or break down and fail. So, any areas at risk in pulp and paper process-related industrial plants and warehousing should be continually assessed to avoid the inadvertent accumulation of dangerous gases.

To enhance safety, comply with regulations and minimize the risk of dangerous gases that can be inhaled—or even flammable or explosive—gas monitoring systems can be set to detect for specific thresholds. After detection, such systems will typically alarm workers in the vicinity and can also text or email supervisory personnel or managers to trigger an immediate response. A record is often kept to document compliance.

However, pulp and paper industrial processes and capacities can change over time.  Design specifications written at the start of a project can evolve and so can the requirements. Also, local jurisdictions and code officials may have different demands that must be accommodated. Consequently, working with a vendor with expertise in pulp and paper gas monitoring systems and one that utilizes advanced, flexible modular systems can significantly speed project completion, while also facilitating design changes. It’s also helpful to install new and more reliable wireless detection systems that promise to speed installation and reduce wiring costs when retrofitting or expanding detection in existing structures.

“On almost every project, design changes occur, so we choose to work with expert vendors that help us quickly adapt,” said Adam Hitchen, President of Atlantis Comfort Systems, a Rhode Island-based HVAC contractor that provides commercial and residential service across the East Coast of the U.S.

According to Hitchen, in one project in Boston, there were changes in the design of a loading dock area that required accommodation. “They erected a wall, which required an extra ventilation system, a makeup air system, an independent CO/CO2 detection system and a change in the existing panel planned for the job,” Hitchen explained.

On the project, Atlantis Comfort Systems relied on a vendor that provided engineering expertise. “Our vendor helped us change midstream seamlessly. Acme provided the new system and the new panel, and they adjusted the existing panel,” said Hitchen, who notes that the wiring diagram, engineering drawing and necessary sequence of operations was also provided.

Acme Engineering is an ISO 9001:2015-certified manufacturer of environmental controls and systems with integrated mechanical, electrical and electronic capabilities. The company has expertise providing equipment for monitoring a variety of gases, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ammonia and refrigerants. When designing a pulp and paper gas detection network, after receiving a floor plan, the company creates performance-based specifications; identifies the optimal sensor locations; designates the most energy-efficient activation sequence for the ventilation system; and prepares a job-specific wiring diagram—usually within a day or two.

According to Hitchen, when design changes occur, the gas monitoring company reacts quickly. “They start with the intent of the design engineer and, when project requirements change, they rapidly revise it and provide what is needed.  This helps with code compliance.”

Expediting Construction Projects

For John Rainone, previously a Senior Project Manager with Automated Logic, a Carrier company, the main benefit of working with a vendor with gas monitoring expertise was expediting complex projects. The vendor provided certified engineering drawings up front and as needed.

“No one waited for us on a multi-million-dollar project, which was key, because it carried a significant per-day late penalty. Altogether, the design expertise probably saved us between two-four weeks,” said Rainone.

The Multi-Gas Monitoring System (MGMS), installed on the project to prevent excess carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide accumulation, is a gas detection network capable of communicating in real time with any smart device. The system utilizes industry-standard communication protocols, like Ethernet and BACnet, that allow remote supervision and reporting to building automation systems.

Such a system can also save pulp and paper industrial facilities energy from the intermittent operation of ventilation equipment. Without detectors to check air quality, ventilation would need to run continuously to change the air. Instead, the gas detection system can check the air quality and only run ventilation when it is necessary.

According to the ASHRAE Applications Handbook, this type of advanced, variable CO-based demand ventilation control strategy can decrease energy costs by over 60% compared to continuously operating ventilation. Additionally, wear and tear and maintenance on the mechanical and electrical equipment is reduced.

Next Generation Wireless

Exposure to potentially toxic gases can come from a wide variety of sources—particularly in partially or totally enclosed areas. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

Although wired installations have long been utilized to install gas monitoring networks in industrial settings, new advanced wireless systems are ideal solutions for large open spaces, like pulp- and paper-related warehousing and loading docks, particularly for retrofits or expansions of existing systems.

Wireless capability is extremely advantageous, from an installation point of view, for reducing installation time and costs. Gas detection networks, generally speaking, are installed by licensed electricians, and labor costs are fairly high. With wireless gas detection networks, all that is required is mounting the sensors and establishing the connection with the system.

“In terms of installation, a warehouse can have 40-ft high ceilings, so it would be costly to run conduit and wires all over for gas monitoring, power and connectivity. Loading docks tend to be situated at the ends of a facility, so wireless could be a big benefit there, too. By avoiding the cost and complexity of requiring an electrician for such areas, you could probably save about 20% on installation costs,” stated Rainone.

Acme, for its part, has developed a wireless version of its MGMS system that incorporates a unique Wi-Fi capability, so it is not necessary to have a control panel as the sole point to receive feedback from the gas detection network. With the wireless MGMS, users can observe current conditions via their computers, tablets and phones, with real-time alarms in case of emergency.

“When it comes to reducing installation cost and expediting the project, there is going to be a benefit with wireless. Because anytime you eliminate conduit and wire from one sensor to the next, to the next—and you eliminate all that material and labor—there are going to be savings with wireless,” concluded Rainone.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in California. For more info, visit Acme Engineering Prod. Inc. at acmeprod.com.

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