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Business and Technology Insights

Shape Futuristic Plants: Think Mobility for Personnel Safety and Waste Management

 
May 6, 2016

Mobility and Wearable technology can redefine safety in shopfloor and effective management of waste to protect employees and environment in a better way.

While industrial enterprises have been using mobile technologies for some time to improve plant operations such as materials movement, warranty support, and alerts management, they have started exploring mobility for personnel safety and waste management on the plant shop floor only recently. Gartner has predicted that by 2020, there will be a staggering 25 billion connected things in use. Considering this, the power of mobility can be enhanced even further, by leveraging the fast growing trend of wearables like wristbands. For instance, plant personnel can be notified of the fire, material spillage, or other emergencies, through alerts sent to their wristbands.

Employees are an important asset; personnel safety on the plant floor is paramount

Typically, the safety net on a plant floor comprises signboards that demarcate hazardous areas, and alarms that notify people of an untoward situation. However, one needs to stop and think for a moment is this enough? When the question is of human safety, we cannot afford to leave the minutest of loopholes, can we?

Manufacturers need to ascertain whether they are using the right tools and technologies to ensure the safety of their employees. The expanding landscape of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wireless networks can enhance the safety of employees significantly. For instance, Wi-Fi and RFID can be combined to create adaptive safety zones in plants, which can be created anywhere, anytime, due to an accident or an unplanned outage. Personnel or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) entering such an area will receive alerts on zone-specific safety instructions along with an advisory to move to a relatively safer place. If a worker or robot fails to acknowledge or act on the alert, an alarm is triggered, bringing this to the notice of the operator.

ProGlove is an RFID-enabled safety gear that enables personnel to operate securely and efficiently. Arizona-based Matrix Medical Network uses AlertGPS wearable devices to notify medical staff if they are in danger. It allows authorized personnel to track the location of a staff member to send immediate help. Such apps need to be intelligent enough to identify and map various safety compliance requirements, training needs, and violations for particular adaptive safety zones.Tata Steel recently deployed the beta version of mobility based wearable gadgets to monitor personnel for critical health and environmental parameters such as heart rate, body temperature, fall detection, immobility, and carbon monoxide levels.

Mobility, combined with wearables, can help manufacturers ensure the safety of their staff while improving compliance with industry standards. It also significantly reduces human effort through increased deployment of robots and AGVs for the safe movement of goods across plant facilities. Operators can identify safety zones on their wearable devices, reducing the costs incurred in communicating instructions and monitoring safety.

Waste management is as important as operational excellence

Manufacturers need to pay as much attention to waste management as they do to any other plant operation. The growing popularity of smart cities has led to heightened focus on waste management, making it imperative for industries to proactively track plant waste disposal. Plant operators need to strictly monitor daily effluent levels and waste disposal mechanisms to ensure adherence to compliance requirements. Regulatory compliance is not the sole aim; responsible waste management is a professional code all organizations must follow.

For manufacturing industries that handle and process nuclear materials, tracking every gram of material generated or recycled is essential. If such materials end up in open landfills, one can only imagine how dangerous the consequences would be. In metals and pharmaceutical industries, where even the smallest quantity of material needs to be accounted for, tracking waste material movement is particularly essential. A case in point, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, where large quantities of radioactive material were released into the environment. In addition, a considerable amount of nuclear waste was created during the plant rebuilding process. The management and disposal of such an enormous quantity of nuclear waste were indeed very difficult.

Mobility-based operations powered by wearable gadgets can be of great help here. RFID-enabled waste bins, pallets, and forklifts can be effectively used to track and guide material movement.

Rapid digitization and increasing proliferation of mobile technologies also present greater insights into the management of plant waste, which can considerably help lower operational costs. Picture an RFID-enabled machine or a detection device network that can send signals from areas where waste is sorted, collected, and treated. This will help stakeholders gain enhanced visibility into the whole process. In addition, status reports can be disseminated to people responsible for collecting waste from the zones assigned to them, enhancing the overall process efficiency.

Build new-age plants to stay ahead

We believe that mobility holds the key to making environmentally conscious, responsible organizations. While the industry is increasingly leveraging mobility across diverse functions, the potential for using it in plant safety and waste management holds great promise. The enhanced transparency and communication provided by mobile solutions can help manufacturers not only ensure safety and compliance but also react quickly to changing situations. Has your organization explored this area? Do you use high-end mobility solutions, which have eased the life of plant floor staff? What are some critical success factors for such a mobility initiative? Your thoughts?

Amol Karandikar is a Domain Consultant with the Engineering & Industrial Services (EIS) business unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He is presently working as the Solutions Leader for the Plant Solutions (PSS) group. Karandikar has more than 18 years of cross-industry business consulting and delivery experience in areas such as MES, enterprise integration, SCM, process automation, and manufacturing IT solutions. He has a Bachelor's degree in Instrumentation Engineering from Mumbai University, Mumbai, India, and holds Post Graduate degree in Marketing Management. Karandikar is a Six Sigma Black belt certified professional and also holds the MESA CoC certificate.