Industrial Real-time Location Systems Improve Safety, Security and Productivity

Industrial Real-time Location Systems Improve Safety, Security and Productivity
Industrial Real-time Location Systems Improve Safety, Security and Productivity

Real-time location systems (RTLSs) have long been used in health care settings to provide immediate or real-time tracking and management of medical equipment, staff and patients within all types of patient-care environments. In other commercial settings, RTLSs are frequently used to provide access control for commercial spaces of all types. Industrial spaces and industrial operations have unique safety and security needs that can only be met by RTLSs designed from an industrial perspective.
Commercial location systems typically associate wireless RTLS tags with specific objects, machines or people who can then be “located” within a defined space when they pass fixed reference points, which receive wireless signals from the tags when the people or objects move by. The physical layer of RTLS technology is often radio frequency (RF) communication. Although other technologies like infrared or radio beacon have been used for location in real time, the focus of this article is on industrial real-time locating using active radio frequency identification (RFID) and industrial wireless technology protocols.

In an industrial setting, RTLS tags are similarly affixed to mobile items or worn by industrial facility personnel or contractors. Using a wireless mesh design, RTLS reference points, which can be either transmitters or receivers, are spaced throughout a facility such as a refinery or oil rig to provide more accurate location information and faster communications. In most cases, the more RTLS reference points that are installed, the better the location accuracy, until the technology limitations are reached.
The benefits of an industrial-grade RTLS include:

  • Reduced mustering time
  • Faster search and rescue during emergencies
  • Improved worker safety and policy compliance
  • Enhanced security
  • Reduced time delays due to less than desirable productivity
  • Accurate contract billing; improved contract workforce productivity
  • Reduced project delays and lost work hours due to missing assets
  • More value from user investment because of multi-use wireless infrastructure.


Reasons to use RTLS

The business challenges that companies are dealing with on their digital transformation journeys include:

  • Rising business and operational costs as inflation increases.
  • Limited resources to manage locating systems because many are currently based on human interaction.
  • Increasing safety and security compliance issues because more regulations are put in place around safety.
  • Contractor rationalization relating to actual versus planned hours.

Work-time rationalization of planned versus actual hours is a challenge that can cause problems over time. For example, if a worker goes into a facility to do work, they may plan the work to be eight hours. The worker does the job and enters their time. If the worker enters 10 hours because they don’t feel like entering time line-by-line, the next time the planners recall that piece of information on that task from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, it reflects 10 hours. The next time that job is planned, it becomes 10 hours, which could prompt the worker to enter 12 hours; and the cycle continues. Traditional location systems can do little to prevent the billing of excess work hours by contractors (contract leakage), loss of onsite work hours due to movement bottlenecks or long and manual processes, and delayed project activities due to missing assets. With RTLS, users can understand the actual time on tools, or work-face engagement time, of their field personnel.
Operational issues involving safety involve a workforce distributed throughout a large area, with limited resources to manage workforce safety as well as their productivity. With traditional access-point badges, there is no real-time visibility of personnel location; safety operators don’t understand the “location” of personnel, other than that they entered a facility. In addition, there is no real-time monitoring of worker safety, no enforcement of safety policies, and obtaining headcounts or search/rescue during emergencies requires more time.
With RTLS, personnel locations can be identified precisely, and individual work safety issues such as “man-down” events can be identified. Call buttons on tags can request emergency assistance, and emergency mustering and counting of all personnel can also be facilitated. Gaining insight into the location of personnel also gives safety operators the ability to replay past events and to understand the workflows of individuals or assets within a specific timeframe. For example, if an operator or manager is preparing a project readiness report, they need to understand how their personnel will move throughout the site. If managers can understand where to put the lunchroom, tool crib, and lay out every piece of material they have based on the location requirements that meet their schedule, they can gain business intelligence and optimize workflow.
Another important drawback of traditional point solutions for access control is the problem of data integrity and data integration. Multiple point solutions, such as video surveillance of parking lots, badge readers for human access control, and RFID tags for equipment control, solve individual problems but keep their data in multiple systems. This has safety personnel or control room managers consulting multiple screens and systems. In addition, manual entry of some data can result in data inaccuracy and inconsistency, which requires time-consuming data validation efforts. With an industrial RTLS, managers gain an integrated solution that puts all location data in one place, ensuring higher integrity data, ease of use, and fatigue management to monitor workers exceeding their shift time and ensuring that businesses are complying with regulatory workday, lunch, and breaks.

Honeywell Safety Watch

Honeywell Safety Watch’s industrial multi-protocol wireless network infrastructure supports three major wireless standards/technologies.
Honeywell Safety Watch addresses these business challenges related to safety, security and productivity. Honeywell Safety Watch, an industrial real-time location solution (RTLS), comes with tags required for personnel and assets, field device access points (FDAPs), and the software to run it in the backend. The small battery-operated tags for use with the RTLSs are active RFID devices. Although the tags are to a certain extent battery-operated, they can be used in hazardous zones due to their Zone 1 and Zone 2 certification.
FDAPs communicate to the process transmitter connected to the server where the RTLS software is running. The two types of FDAPs are RTLS with wireless instrumentation devices and RTLS with wireless instrumentation devices plus Wi-Fi. The wireless system is deployed over Honeywell’s multi-protocol OneWireless mesh network. These wireless “anchors” send signals to a wireless gateway, which is connected via Ethernet to a Wireless Device Manager (Figure 1). The router sends signals to either the security network or a Process Control Network (DCS/SCADA) depending on whether the data is RTLS related, or process related. Operators view RTLS status via the security operator console. Backend RTLS software handles the system’s data overhead and analytics.

Figure 1: Wireless “anchors” send signals to a wireless gateway, which is connected via Ethernet to a system router.

Competing systems’ access points have limited coverage. Some are using third-party hardware and are being used exclusively for RTLS. Honeywell uses its own hardware (including access points) and software—a competitive advantage. The Honeywell equipment is classified for Class 1 Div. 1 or Class 1 Div. 2.

Solutions to business challenges

Here’s how Honeywell Safety Watch meets the business challenges of industrial facilities.

Improved safety: If an emergency occurs at a refinery or other type of facility, the safety of plant personnel hinges on successful mustering. A muster point is where personnel should be evacuated to in case of an emergency, which allows every individual in a facility to reach a safe place quickly after receiving an emergency call. And e-mustering is when this is done automatically.
Without e-mustering, an operator would need to use a sign in/sign out sheet while walking around the site to each muster station (or call on a Walkie-Talkie) to count personnel. However, Honeywell Safety Watch provides a real-time vision of everyone in the facility—hot zones, cold zones, and muster zones—at any given time. Once an emergency is encountered, personnel must quickly make their way to a muster point. The system generates periodically refreshed reports, providing constant updates on who is safe at a muster point and who is not where they should be. Emergency responders looking for personnel onsite can see where people are within ±3 meters. Emergency responders can get to personnel quickly. They are looking for a specific expected worker count; individual anonymity is maintained.
Honeywell Safety Watch not only locates workers, but it also locates assets too. If personnel are working near gas-fired equipment, the system locates critical assets like fire extinguishers, makes sure they are where they are supposed to be, tracks whether they are in compliance, and indicates whether people are working in these areas. If there are critical valves and safety shutdown equipment, the system shows where that equipment is, which is important during an emergency—especially if there are new employees onsite. Safety Watch’s ability to tag assets and people can be integrated to better understand safety options.
Fatigue monitoring is another area where RTLS can support. Fatigue monitoring is not about working too long but rather, it’s ensuring that businesses are complying with regulatory workday, lunch, and breaks. Also, with contractors working on a specific schedule in a certain area of the plant for a specified period, Safety Watch provides the ability to audit to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time.
Improved security: Automatic sign in/ sign out is done via geo-fencing. Personnel can walk in and out of buildings while staying in contact with the control room. Operators can see people walking in and out in a digital atmosphere in real time. There are no stragglers. There is no forgetting to sign out at the end of the day.
Monitoring restricted areas for unauthorized access is a visitor management function. If a worker’s administration tag allows them to be only in the administration building, and that worker walks onto another part of the site without an escort, there will be an alarm. Another scenario for restricted area movements involves contractor rationalization. If a contractor is brought in to do work at the tank farm, and they are found in the boiler block, Safety Watch makes operators aware of that because either they’re not trained to be in that area, or their contract states they should be doing a specific job in a specific area.
Safety Watch can track valuable assets for theft protection. One of the ways this works involves understanding the medium-to-low value assets like welders, high-torque pumps, and other medium-to-low value assets that are costly to replace but seem to walk offsite often. Larger value items like compressors, trucks, and excavators usually have GPS-enabled devices. Safety Watch provides the ability to tag every piece of equipment onsite and show a flag if somebody tries to walk off with it. The key asset and inventory location functionality also allows users to enhance their preventive maintenance program, ensuring the right pieces of equipment are maintained at the right time.
Improved productivity: With Safety Watch, movement bottlenecks can be identified and removed. Worker time onsite is available for time and attendance. All the data within the data lake can be anonymized. The objective is a high-level understanding of the business intelligence around productivity, not singling out certain individuals. There is also time-on-tool and tool engagement functionality. Daily force reports (DFRs) can be automated.

Key system functionality and advantages

Key system functions include:

  • Zone-based rules that support enhanced safety monitoring (Figure 2). This includes worker count within zones, unauthorized entry detection, and monitoring of worker entry and exit.
  • Automatic or e-mustering (Figure 3).
  • Tags with emergency/man-down alarms (Figure 4).
  • Worktime monitoring
  • Fatigue monitoring
  • Tracking of tagged assets
  • Tracking history
  • Alarm management
  • Reports.

Figure 2: Zone-based rules support enhanced safety monitoring.

Figure 3: Once an emergency is encountered, personnel must quickly make their way to a muster point.

Figure 4: Tags with emergency/man-down alarms, along with an alarm summary, allow faster-emergency-response.

As mentioned earlier, Safety Watch reduces mustering time, which means faster headcount during an emergency. It also improves the e-mustering process based on historical data. In addition to mustering, the system enables faster search and rescue during emergencies. Missing personnel can be tracked using the last known location functionality.
Real-time employee monitoring allows operators to stay on top of worker fatigue as well as movements in hazardous areas, which can enhance worker safety and compliance with company safety policies. The ability to monitor areas without gates using the virtual zoning for unauthorized access functionality can improve incident response time, which enhances security.
Automatic sign in/sign out reduces queuing and enables operators to identify movement bottlenecks. This reduces unproductive time delays. In addition, contractor workforce productivity is improved because overbilling is avoided, and onsite work hours can be tracked and reconciled. If assets go missing, work hours can be lost, and projects can be delayed. Safety Watch allows businesses to avoid this scenario by tracking critical assets and providing real-time location status.
The multi-use wireless infrastructure—RTLS wireless instrumentation and optional Wi-Fi—provides businesses value for their investment. Safety Watch’s industrial multi-protocol wireless network infrastructure supports three major wireless standards/technologies (Figure 5). Mesh topology offers redundancy, ensuring network reliability. ISA Secure Level 1 Certification and 128-bit AES encryption ensures cybersecurity. In addition, the system integrates with Honeywell Experion and other DCS vendors.
Honeywell Safety Watch enhances safety and productivity in an industrial environment. Personnel safety, asset security, and more can be enhanced with an industrial wireless alternative to commercial access control and mustering systems designed for the unique needs of industrial operations.
For more information on Honeywell Safety Watch, visit this website.

All images courtesy of Honeywell.

About The Author

Jack Smith ([email protected]) is a contributing editor for and ISA’s InTech magazine. He spent more than 20 years working in industry—from electrical power generation to instrumentation and control, to automation, and from electronic communications to computers—and has been a trade journalist for 22 years.

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