Industrial facilities are finding ways to prevent fire damage by identifying hot spots with thermal imaging and connecting sensors via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Early fire detection devices
There are various fire-detection sensors available today that alert of fire formation with varying timing during the progression of a fire. Figure 1 shows the relative detectability of fire-detection devices at different stages of fire development with corresponding damage levels.
IR cameras operate on the heat transfer principle of radiation. The infrared camera has a focal plane array of detector elements that sense infrared light from object surfaces. The radiation captured by the infrared camera detector is digitized, converted to data and displayed as a viewable image. Calibrated IR cameras can report temperature measurements from specific spots, lines and areas on live or recorded images. IR cameras are available in different wavebands, pixel resolutions, lens configurations and communication protocols to meet various installation requirements.
IR camera systems are the first to alert before a fire develops. They ‘see’ a warming-up of material early in the fire development process before forming smoke particles or flames. These warming materials appear as hot spots in a thermal image and are quantified with regions of interest (ROI) that report temperature values. Applying multiple ROIs to an image and setting temperature thresholds allows the monitoring and alarming of multiple locations within the camera’s view. Alarms trigger alerts to the appropriate personnel when ROI threshold conditions are met.
IIoT and Early Fire Detection (EFD)
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to interconnected sensors, instruments and other devices networked into software applications that use predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). These connected networks create systems that can monitor, collect, exchange, analyse and deliver valuable insights into a system or process. IIoT uses cloud computing to simplify integration and enhance process control.
Fire safety is an area that realizes the benefits of IIoT when combined with thermal imaging and other fire-detection sensors. By connecting sensors that alert at different stages of fire development, potential fires can more readily be detected and prevented. With IIoT, safety alerts are sent to hundreds of people quickly and effectively. Communication options include voice calls, texts and emails to targeted recipients to establish quick and effective awareness. Another advantage to IIoT EFD is scalability. Facility managers can connect multiple facilities into a central monitoring and alarming dashboard. Understanding the situation at all facilities improves the oversight and management of multiple systems from a single control point.
IIoT EFD systems can improve emergency planning by using algorithms and analytics to help quickly prepare better emergency and evacuation plans. For example, analytics can consider factors such as the number of people in the facility, facility maps, location of the fire and the rate at which the fire is spreading to develop better evacuation plans. Analytics-based evacuation plans can prevent congestion by guiding workers to different locations for optimum evacuation routing.
IIoT EFD systems are less expensive to install and maintain than traditional detection systems. As the EFD software resides in the cloud, there is no need for a dedicated facility computer server. Additionally, any potential for operating system software conflicts is eliminated as access to the cloud-based application only requires an Internet connection. Users access the EFD system anywhere and anytime with any Internet-connected device. And with the appropriate credentials, control and alarm settings can be modified remotely to optimize performance.
Another key advantage to a cloud-based EFD system is sharing dashboards and map views with others. For example, sharing a live map view with first responders on route allows for scene assessment before arriving on-site, saving time and optimizing safety. These map views identify the alarm sensor location, monitored area, alarm conditions, facility entry and exit points.
IIoT EFD systems integrate multiple detection technologies to track temperatures and detect smoke particles at critical locations. The most common detection sensors include:
- IR cameras for quantitative and qualitative monitoring of hot spots.
- Visible cameras for identifying smoke or flame.
- Smoke detectors for detecting smoke particles.
Correct sensor selection and placement within a facility are critical to ensure optimum detection performance. For example, IR cameras require a direct line of sight to the area of interest to provide detection. Critical areas obscured from the camera’s field of view could be monitored by smoke detectors, thereby augmenting the camera’s detection. For outdoor or high-airflow installations, IR sensors are best for detection as dilution effects may limit smoke detectors’ performance.
Another critical consideration for EFD is early warning notification to individuals responsible for material handling. Before EFD, material handlers would unknowingly spread hot materials, increasing the size of the fire hazard. With EFD and early alert notifications, informed heavy machine operators can avoid problem spots and prevent spreading potential fire hazards.
It is important to note that IIoT EFD systems do not replace existing detection and response protocols. Instead, the system functions as an early warning system, detecting areas in the facility where ignition may occur. New detection methods for heat, smoke and fire are continually developing. Many new detection devices include wireless capabilities that make integrating IIoT EFD a straightforward exercise. Beyond alarms and notifications, IIoT EFD systems can provide automation controls like initiating and directing an extinguishing system. Because IIoT EFD systems leverage cloud computing, they require less hardware with a reduced installation burden. Available communication technology can be added to existing detectors, making retrofitting existing systems for IIoT easy. By warning earlier on the pathway to ignition, operators of industrial facilities avert costly and potentially life-threatening fires before they can start and spread. Because IIoT EFD systems are easily configurable, they are ideal for a wide range of industrial settings including metal recycling, coal mining, biomass power generation, industrial laundry, wood processing, battery storage and more.
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