This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Digitalisation for a new age

Author : Andy Russell, ATEX Solutions

14 May 2020

In 2020, there have been and will be many developments across all industries where explosive atmospheres mean strict rules need to be adhered to.

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

There are some particularly exciting developments happening in terms of mobility in hazardous areas, including operating systems/chipset upgrades and new mobile products. However, the certification process for these products can take a long time – up-to 5 years in some cases. This is why the specifications for hazardous area mobiles and tablets, for example, aren’t the same as your desktop/laptop. Certification is for the proposed specification only and they cannot be upgraded (for ATEX/IECEx Zone 1). For Zone 2, there are more options and an I5/I7 Processor similar to the current specifications of ‘mainstream’ desktops/laptops can be used. You can therefore have confidence that the devices are fit for purpose when they are officially released. All are MIL-STD-810G certified and have varying IP ratings. This is only one piece of the ‘jigsaw’ for digital transformation though – it all needs to be linked, accessible, secure and relevant to the job role or use case. 

We have all heard the terms IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0 in relation to sectors looking towards the future and key plants looking to become more efficient through the optimisation of assets. The Industry 4.0 market was valued at an estimated US$71.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach US$156.6 billion by 2024. The technology advancements related to Industry 4.0 will see much improved Return on Investment for many companies.

For large refineries, downtime is extremely costly and many are adopting new technology to keep operations up and running. A Shell refinery in the Netherlands for example has its equipment and operation monitored by 50,000 sensors that generate 100,000 measurements a minute. Machine learning and AI were also implemented to analyse and process this key data – preventing failures, helping maintenance strategies and keeping the plant working. The technology meant large cost savings for the operator and notification periods increased dramatically.

Digital Twins

Digital Twins, where a cloud-based asset is digitally run in the background, also offer ways for production to be improved. Breakages and failures can be seen before they happen, meaning operations teams can optimise the output without risking lives in the field. Edge computers are an ideal solution for companies adopting Industry 4.0 technology as they are more flexible, save costs, and help with innovation. Operating a closed loop system means data/systems can be managed more easily. Key drivers for Edge computing are that as the number of sensors increase, plants gain more insight and data sets. Local devices no longer have the processing power to deliver scaled analytics and the ‘Cloud’ can suffer latency issues.

As Digital Twins communicate, low latency is key to make sure processes are done correctly. Edge computers will be heavily used for analysis, data cleansing, and filtering which means only important data is ‘sent’ to the engineering team to ensure all is in order. By using AI/Machine Learning, algorithms can be used to build in operational limits that, if exceeded, cause an alert to be sent to an alarm system or the control room, depending on the risk associated with that part of the operation.

Onshore and Offshore networking

How does this all work? First an initial radio frequency (WiFi) Survey, through proof of concept, then roll-out and integration, before then linking to ERP (back-end databases). There are key milestones that need to be met – initially network. Without a suitable 4G network, it is not feasible to employ digital devices or technologies in the field. Everything is linked so that data can flow to the right people when it is needed. Without a network, this is not possible. So maximising uptime and having backups in place to ensure 24/7, 365 coverage for key operations and assets are essential. Low latency with LTE base stations are located in all major active areas. VSAT does have limitations on bandwidth and needs expensive receivers at the other side – also high latency. The typical Round-Trip Delay (RTD) is around 580-600ms – the new LTE networks require little hardware in comparison to the older solution and can reduce RTD by 90% to around 35ms – which enables machine-to-machine communication. All this is done with a secure private network with many applications available.

There is key infrastructure supplied by a handful of specialist companies for offshore who offer fibre networking for 4G LTE networks. They offer data and voice SIM cards and all the hardware for building a PTP (Point-to-point) or PTMP (Point-to-Multi-Point) where distances covered can be as high as 240 km. There are a handful of options and the technology is a step forward, meaning easier implementation, further distances so fewer links to the Bridge/Link and therefore, in theory, more cost effective.

Data can be sent ‘Full Duplex’ or ‘Half Duplex’ depending on the need. Full Duplex means that data is sent one way only while Half Duplex means data is split and can be sent both ways (VOIP/Data etc). A BATS gyroscopic solution (the large dome you see on top of ships) helps with offshore assets as a straight line of sight is essential for smooth operation. 

Once a network is established and connected, the RF (WiFi) survey is conducted, offering an insight into areas where there is not a strong enough 4G network. From here, depending on the ATEX Zone, WAPS (Wireless Access Point Enclosures) specifically designed for use in the Zone are installed and configured to the network. Normally, the main players in the Wireless Access Point market are covered so you can use the same infrastructure for both Onshore and Offshore. This helps integrating and linking to key plants and sensors, as well as giving real time data and analytics for evaluation. Different businesses and different sectors will have differing needs and requirements, so systems can be scaled, upgraded, and deployed as and when they are needed as the options available increase and technology develops.

This also links to mobile devices and again these are now beginning to offer better ‘bang for your buck’ with processor speed and chipsets improving and delivering the same ability in a Zoned area as in an office.

Developments in the wearables market, such as asset and personnel tracking, are also enabling data to be sent immediately to the right people for real-time troubleshooting.

All the key players have applications designed for specific job tasks – be it timesheets, P&ID, dates of manufacture, condition monitoring etc. – which provide real-time data. Understanding the needs of a business drives the development of an application and many companies can now design bespoke software in various formats and link it to CRM/ERP so that information is visible to anyone who needs it.

Augmented Reality is playing a key role in showcasing the abilities of new technologies as data and knowledge can be shared in real-time across the globe. This means all stakeholders can be made aware of any problems and get a fix in play without having to wait for a specialist team to mobilise. So, time can be saved due to less travel being needed and when coupled with a Digital Twin, a realistic plan of action can be deployed.


There are many steps to digital transformation, but they lead to lower costs (ROI), enhanced efficiency, optimised operations, and offer real-time data which means decisions can be made with clear analytical data that has been fully evaluated, in a shorter amount of time than before.

The global COVID-19 pandemic forcing countries into lockdown will see a major demand for new technology to help deliver the services that we are used to, so it is an exciting period for technology across all sectors.

About the author:

Andy Russell has been involved in engineering projects for over 15 years. Initially from a recruitment background, Andy has experience covering many projects within Oil & Gas, Construction, Commissioning, Nuclear, Pharma, MoD and others. Andy has worked with many ATEX technologies with certification from global names to ensure he is at the cutting edge of new technology for Industry 4.0/IIoT. You can find Andy on LinkedIn with #atexandy or feel free to get in contact via

Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page