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Digitalisation and predictive maintenance – even in hazardous areas

11 July 2023

Collecting and analysing maintenance-related data is the foundation for predictive maintenance in industry. To ensure that data is collected and recorded as thoroughly as possible, each plant should be fully integrated, including those in hazardous areas. Intrinsically safe mobile devices close the digitalisation gap in hazardous areas since they enable information and data sets to be analysed and exchanged in real time, anywhere in the plant.

Visor-Ex® 01 smart glasses - Image: ecom instruments
Visor-Ex® 01 smart glasses - Image: ecom instruments

This makes maintenance and support scenarios significantly easier and faster, thereby minimising the downtime of individual components or entire systems.

Operators need real-time transparency about the status of all smart production plants to enable them to make decisions related to maintenance and servicing processes. Plant operators must also be able to communicate and act in real time to detect critical situations as soon as possible using various indicators and counteract them before accidents or failures occur.

Image (right): Visor-Ex® 01 smart glasses provide the ideal tool for mobile workers carrying out tasks requiring hands-free operation and continuous communication.

Infrastructure is crucial

Extensive plants that cover large areas require remote data harvesting and communication capabilities. In this context, intrinsically safe mobile devices offer technicians the greatest possible freedom of movement. Users have access to all the information and documents required for the application, and can use intelligently networked mobile devices to restore the results of an application directly in the system. In tricky situations, support technicians from headquarters or the manufacturer of a particular component can connect in real time to the location of the incident and support or guide the mobile worker. This can shorten maintenance operations and significantly reduce the cause of the error.

For a long time, these advantages of digitalisation reached only as far as the outer limit of the hazardous area – areas in which flammable materials (such as gases, vapours, and dust particles) occur permanently or temporarily. Only a few smart devices can be considered due to the strict safety requirements of explosion protection. These devices are certified for use in hazardous areas while also meeting the requirements of users. Until now, technicians had to remove all non-intrinsically safe devices before entering a hazardous area and often used analogue workflows in these hazardous areas. This "media disruption" contributes to a delay in reaction times in complex plants and represents a potential source of error that could be avoided. With the latest generation of intrinsically safe smart devices, Pepperl+Fuchs brand ecom instruments is bringing digital transformation to hazardous areas.

Everything close at hand: all information, always available

Mobile workers require intrinsically safe devices for predictive plant maintenance to have a light, rugged design and to offer maximum ease of use. The Tab-Ex® 03 intrinsically safe tablet series from ecom instruments is the tried-and-tested assistant for mobile workers undertaking servicing and maintenance tasks. It combines the high performance of an Android 12 operating system with maximum usability in a lightweight and robust design. The technological basis for the Tab-Ex® 03 tablet is the proven Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3, with Android Enterprise Recommended certification. The new Enterprise Edition from Samsung Knox ensures that the tablet benefits from a high level of data and device safety.

Image (left): The Tab-Ex® 03 is a tablet with the latest specifications, which enables considerable time and cost savings when carrying out everyday work — whether in the field or in the office.

The 1920 x 1200 pixel display allows mobile workers to view detailed information such as mechanical drawings more easily. Two cameras are available for photo and video recordings: a back camera with a resolution of 13 mega pixels and a front camera with a resolution of 5 mega pixels. This allows technicians to easily add images or videos to the documentation of their applications. This knowledge management benefits mobile workers as soon as they begin using it, and it also benefits plant operators by collecting maintenance-related data.

The touch screen of the handy Tab-Ex® 03 can be operated using gloves without any problems – an especially important consideration given the harsh ambient conditions in hazardous areas. With the S Pen, users can record precise entries, make notes, mark up texts, or digitally sign documents. Due to its high pressure sensitivity, the IP68-certified S Pen writes just like a real pen. Technicians can connect the tablet to a monitor using the Samsung DeX function, therefore providing a fully-fledged workstation that easily transitions from plant to office.

Smart glasses enable hands-free working during maintenance operations

Mobile workers may need information and guidance in some maintenance tasks, but do not have their hands free to operate a tablet. For such scenarios, ecom instruments has developed the Visor-Ex® 01, an intelligent ecosystem consisting of smart glasses, a smartphone, and a pocket unit for supplying power. The distribution of functions among the individual system components is unique for this type of product and minimises the weight of the headset unit to just 180 g without compromising performance, connectivity, or battery life. The intrinsically safe Visor-Ex 01® smart glasses from ecom instruments are the first device of their kind to be certified according to ATEX and IECEx.

The modular design of the system offers technicians maximum flexibility as they work, since they can seamlessly switch between hands-free work and tasks on the smartphone display. Users can view important application documents such as checklists via either the proven Smart-Ex® 02 smartphone or via the smart glasses display in hands-free mode. The OLED display of the Visor-Ex® 01 only shows the information required for the application directly in the wearer's field of view. The integrated microphone and touch display allows mobile workers to issue commands to the device or to communicate with remote support experts in real time. If necessary, the display of the ergonomic Visor-Ex® 01 can be folded completely out of the wearer's field of view.

Technicians can provide the required documentation using their smartphone, and add photos or videos if necessary. For this purpose, the device features two 16-mega pixel cameras, which are positioned centrally in the smart glasses to represent the wearer's natural field of view. This solution means that even live streams using the "see what I see" principle are possible. A secondary camera with a 6x optical zoom means barcodes and QR codes can be scanned to retrieve identification or diagnostic data from individual machines.

Predictive maintenance requires a digital infrastructure to capture and process data in real time and to be able to retrieve the insights gained from this data at any time. Mobile devices such as intrinsically safe smart glasses and Ex-certified tablets make it easier for teams working in the plant to plan maintenance operations in advance, share knowledge, prevent device failures, and virtually bring experts to the location in real time. Last, but not least, smart devices pave the way for collaboration – wherever it may be. It is the remote work of the future. The result is more predictable, streamlined processes, cost savings from fewer failures, increased productivity, and sustainable knowledge management.

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