The silent killer

Gas detection devices are critical in areas where hazardous gases are involved.
The silent killer
By Administrator
Thu 26 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

Gas detection devices are critical in areas where hazardous gases are involved.

In the dark sooty depths of the UK's old coal mines, where thousands of working class men were plunged daily to extract the solid hydrocarbon fuel from beneath the surface of the green rolling hills above, the risk to those workers lives on a daily basis was very real.

Black damp, after damp, fire damp, stink damp and white damp: these were not the state of one's clothing, but a way of describing different types of hazardous gas build up, which could without warning lead to the death of the miners.

The importance of having a reliable and accurate detector cannot be over stated. Say for example you have a leak of H2S; you won’t be able to smell it or see it, and you can die if you are over exposed to it. - Svein sivertsen, simtronics.

The UK was famous for adopting the ‘miner's canaries' detection system - not one for modern day animal rights activists. Essentially, it required having a caged canary near to where the miners were working, continuously chirping happily away. In the unfortunate event of a hazardous gas leak, the bird would sing its last song and ultimately perish, and in doing so warn the workers of the danger at hand.

Gladly, modern day technology has saved the lives of numerous workers and little canaries around the world. Move forward into the 21st Century and we find a raft of gas detection devices which adopt the latest detection sensing equipment to ensure those working where deadly gas may be present are always safe.

"We supply the industry with both gas detectors and flame detectors. Within gas detection you have different types of gas, such as toxic gases like H2S [hydrogen sulphide] and benzene, and combustible gases like natural gas, oxygen and methane," explains Svein Roar Sivertsen, general manger for the Middle East, Simtronics.

The Norwegian company Simtronics specialises in fixed gas and flame detection systems to primarily the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Their range of technologies include the latest laser detectors capable of picking up H2S levels in the surrounding air, as well as ultrasonic detectors which can pick up on gas leaks not audible to the human ear.

"Our systems are incredibly robust and reliable, as they have been developed and designed for use in the North Sea market. The importance of having a reliable and accurate detector cannot be over stated. Say for example you have a leak of H2S; you won't be able to smell it or see it, and you can die if you are over exposed to it," warns Sivertsen.

"The sensitivity achieved makes GD1 suitable for personnel safety purposes, covering the new long term exposure recommendations. The GD1 laser open path gas detector has been designed with features that provide an effective response to the detection of gas hazards in a wide range of industrial environments from offshore production facilities to wastewater treatment plants," a company statement reads.

The Simtronics GD1

The new GD1 product released by Simtronics is said to set new standards for H2S gas detection. The GD1 works by using a tunable laser diode which can detect particle levels of H2S or methane at very low ppm (parts per million) levels compared with other detection devices.

"Our newest detector is laser based. It has a very narrow parameter and can scan the exact footprint of the H2S up to 1000 times per second. The single laser can detect both H2S and methane, or can be configured to detect other gases," says Sivertsen.

What makes the product unique, according to the company, is the high sensitivity and the reliability of the device, and the ability to change the configuration to detect other gases present.

One of Simtronics competitors, Rae Systems, who manufactures a range of chemical, gas and radiation detection systems, were present at this year's fire, safety and security exhibition, Intersec 2009.

They were there displaying some of their portable and fixed gas detection devices, as well as their brand new MeshGuard system, a network of wirelessly connected detectors.

"In the Middle East we focus on two main sectors where there are hazardous materials involved: the oil, gas and petrochemical industries and civil defence. However, approximately 80% of business is done primarily with the petrochemical sector, so it is our main focus," says Michael Jorgensen, general manager, Middle East, Rae Systems.

What we bring to the table is not just a standard gas detection system, but now a comprehensive wireless system that can be integrated with not just fixed devices but portable ones as well. - Donald White, RAE systems.

Some of the gases involved in the industry which pose a real risk are hydrogen sulphide (H2S), commonly associated with sour oil and gas; benzene, a known carcinogen; combustible gases such as natural gas, oxygen and in some cases carbon monoxide.

Asked whether demand has increased in the Middle East for fixed and portable detectors, the two companies believe there has been positive move to adopting such technologies, despite economic worries.

"Demand is high, because what we bring to the table is not just a standard gas detection, but now a comprehensive wireless system that can be integrated with not just fixed devices but portable ones as well - this sets us apart form our competitors," says Donald White, regional sales manager, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Rae Systems.

"The next stage of development is linking the wireless network with other portable devices, for example you can already connect a Blackberry phone to the system, so if an alarm goes off it will send an e-mail to your phone. Seamless wireless connectivity is the future of gas detection," concludes White.

Likewise, Simtronics is still experiencing demand in a market that is starting to feel the affects of the slowdown.

"At present it is good and there is growth in the market for this region," says Sivertsen. "The Middle East market is especially important to us at the moment due to the growth in projects across the region, and there is still high demand in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, so we plan to continue our growth in 2009."

Rae Systems MeshGuard

When asked what the future of gas detection systems is, you usually are provided with the same response: wireless. With this in mind, Rae Systems has just launched its range of MeshGuard systems, a range of battery powered toxic gas detectors which link wirelessly through a mesh radio modem.

"A move to wireless is definitely the trend in the market right now, and all the products we are now developing are wireless enabled" says Jorgensen.

"Essentially the MeshGuard system is a device that has absolutely no cables and can be set up in roughly 30 minutes. But the most important feature is the Mesh wireless network, which enables a constant connection by interlinking all the units, so that if a connection the central modem is blocked, it will connect to another unit which will then send back to the information from a clear sight," adds White.

The cost of the entire system, which includes six detectors, the controller, the router and seven spare batteries, will cost in the region of US$20 000.

"The next stage of development is linking the network with other portable devices, for example you can connect a Blackberry phone to the system, so if an alarm goes off it will send an e-mail to your phone. Seamless wireless connectivity is the future of gas detection," concludes White.

Asked whether the Middle East customers are as ready to adopt and spend on sophisticated safety technologies, when in the past there has been a tendency to neglect such practices, Jorgensen believes the mentality has shifted to a more safety conscious one.

"For example, benzene has been recognised as a carcinogen in the US and Europe for many years, but has largely been ignored in developing countries. However, the philosophy is changing in the Middle East and this is why many of our line of safety products are becoming more attractive," he says.

"I think there has been a real shift in mentality, especially over the past 12 months, and the awareness of the dangers of H2S, benzene and volatile compounds has increased dramatically. We expect this to continue on a daily basis moving into 2009."

I think there has been a real shift in mentality, especially over the past 12 months, and the awareness of the dangers of H2S, benzene and volatile compounds has increased dramatically. Michael Jorgensen, RAE systems.

New entrants

One new player to the portable gas detection market is global giant 3M, present at Intersec 2009 displaying its range of new products. The company plans to focus on the petrochemical and oil and gas sectors when it continues its push to bring its new products to market.

"3M is known for its innovation culture, which is what we are bringing to the detectors we have launched. We also have an established sales and distribution presence in the region, so bringing the products to market shouldn't be a problem," said Farah Haddad, technical sales specialist for safety, security and protection services, 3M.

"The awareness of the dangers now is much better than before, as there is no legislation yet, portable gas detectors are used extensively, and that is down to the hazardous materials they are exposed to which you cannot just ignore."

Of course, international companies in the region bring their own rules, forcing other companies to adopt similar safety regimes.

"At 3M we look to find the solution before you go into the protective gear. It is better to be able to discover the problem as quickly as possible, and isolate the leak before anyone is hurt, especially when you are dealing with a silent killer," he concludes.

Honeywell Signalpoint Pro

Honeywell recently launched its fixed gas detection device, the Signalpoint Pro, to offer a low cost solution for the detection of toxic and oxygen gases. The small detector can be used either indoors or outdoors, and is adjustable for different gas ranges and spans.

"The device offers excellent reliability and ease of use; its smart gas sensors are automatically recognised when plugged into the detector and access to the sensor does not require opening the main terminal housing. This reduces down-time during sensor replacement procedure," says a company statement.

"Signalpoint Pro utilises a magnetically activated switch, permitting initiation of calibration and test routines without opening the enclosure or having to obtain a hot work permit. In addition, on-board diagnostics provide fault and warning codes on the display that are invaluable when troubleshooting an installation," it proudly adds.

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