More speed, less hazard
Asia Pacific - Allan Neo, director of systems engineering for Intermec APAC explains how mobile computing devices can help companies that manage hazardous materials or practices.
It’s no secret that chances cannot be taken when it comes to worker safety, especially in supply chain and procurement environments where unavoidably hazardous materials or practices are present. While the idea of keeping workers safe in these kinds of environments is not a new concept, the advent of mobile computing devices adds a new level of complexity to procurement and supply chain organisations that store or transport these potentially harmful goods. The mistake that many procurement and supply chain providers in Asia make is assuming their operation needs to give up mobile computers and the accuracy and time saving benefits the technology can provide, in some cases even reverting back to time-consuming paper based systems.
It’s becoming increasingly important for supply chain and procurement industry professionals to understand the terminology and technology available in terms of sealed and safe computers. Organisations across the region are implementing more sophisticated systems to monitor and manage a variety of work environments due to growing safety, security, regulatory and reporting requirements. Mobile computers can be critical components of these systems because they provide the ability to automatically collect and communicate data from remote and challenging environments regularly encountered by procurement professionals.
However, confusion over regulations and certifications has led some procurement and supply chain organisations to incorrectly conclude they can’t use mobile computers to support maintenance, monitoring, data collection and other activity where combustible gases and liquids are present. Much of the confusion centres on the terms “intrinsically safe (I-safe)” and “non-incendive,” which have different meanings.
“Non incendive” generally means the device does not generate sparks and is incapable of igniting gases, vapours or liquids under normal operation. Non-incendive devices are not necessarily sealed against gases, vapours or liquids. According to the International Electrotechnical Commission Non-incendive devices are: “a concept in which any arc or thermal effect produced under intended operating conditions of the equipment is not capable, under specified test conditions, of igniting the flammable gas-air mixture.”
Intrinsically safe indicates a higher level of safety and protection. Devices designated as intrinsically safe will not spark or cause ignition of an explosive environment. The International Electrotechnical Commission defines intrinsically safe devices as: “not capable of causing ignition of a given explosive gas atmosphere.”
Procurement organisations should also be aware and understand the relevant Ingress protection (IP) ratings of the devices they may use within their business. IP ratings primarily apply to device enclosures and are defined by International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards. IP ratings are measures of how well a device is protected or sealed against water, moisture, dust, powder and other substances, which are designated by various letter and number codes. Ratings are typically expressed by the letters “IP” followed by two numbers. The first number indicates the level the device is protected against particles, and the second digit is the protection against water. For example a mobile computer rated IP54 has level five particle protection, meaning dust deposits may form on the unit but will not affect performance, and level four water protection, allowing it to function when splashed or exposed to low-pressure spray.
Importantly for procurement companies and supply chain organisations who handle potentially dangerous goods, intrinsically safe and non-incendive standards apply to all equipment that can create one or more of a range of defined potential explosion sources including: Electrical sparks, flames, hot surfaces and static electricity.
Intrinsically safe mobile computing devices are ideal for application in areas where workers handle unstable or dangerous goods such as employees loading and unloading fuel at service/petrol stations, monitoring gas flow and instrumentation on a gas pipeline and managing inventory of fuel products in a warehouse.
Intrinsically safe devices can be used in non-incendive environments, but the reverse is not true. Therefore intrinsically safe devices not only provide more protection, they provide more flexibility, because they can be used in more places. Intrinsically safe mobile computers are also a good choice for future-proofing procurement and supply chain operations and systems because they can be used in potentially hazardous environments without having to be replaced should conditions change.
By taking a systematic approach to managing mobile computers and wireless networks, and understanding safety certifications, procurement and supply chain organisations will be able to specify products with the right level of safety for each area within their enterprise. The results of this approach will be a lower total cost of ownership, simplified device management and support, and – most importantly – a safer, more productive work environment.
Written by Allan Neo, director of systems engineering for Intermec APAC
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