Video and beyond: the multiple benefits of explosion-protected cameras

Explosion-protected cameras are, as their name suggests, designed to remove the risk of the camera creating a spark that could cause an explosion in a hazardous environment (though this is often confused with explosion-proof cameras).

While this is, of course, a key feature, it doesn’t fully describe the multiple benefits that explosion-protected cameras can bring. Safety and security remain at the forefront, but the high-quality of the cameras and, increasingly, the ability to integrate other sensors into the solution opens the opportunity for cameras to play a central role in many aspects of operational efficiency.

It’s an obvious thing to say, but the compelling need for an explosion-protected camera comes in those environments where there is a genuine risk of explosion. What might be less obvious is how often this is the case, and in how many sectors of industry both for Critical Infrastructure and other industrial operations.

The explosion risk: from oil and gas to farm and factory

Explosions are a risk wherever combustible or flammable material meets an ignition source (an oxidiser is also necessary, but as this can be air it’s almost always present).

Gases and vapors are two of the most obvious and easily ignited materials, and these can appear in many forms and for many reasons in different industrial settings. The extraction of gas from the earth places this highly-flammable material at the center of the operation, while it’s also a byproduct of the process of oil extraction and processing. Gas is also commonly used as an important material for production in many industrial and manufacturing sectors, and vapors are often present in any sector making use of chemicals or flammable liquids.

Fertilizer, a potential ignition sourceWhile these are some of the obvious materials where explosion risk is high, devastating explosions can occur in other environments where significant amounts of dust, fibers or small fragments find their way into the air. Whether from ingredients for food, such as flour, material used in farming, like fertilizer, or a byproduct of a sector such as the timber industry, the risk of a catastrophic dust explosion is ever-present.

Potential ignition sources for explosions are equally varied. Electrical sparks, or those generated through impact or friction, open flames, electrostatic discharge, high surface temperatures, shock waves and even lightning strikes – all these have the potential to either directly cause an explosion, or start a fire that could subsequently present a risk if not quickly addressed.

Explosion-protected cameras: mitigating risk, and more

The explosion risk across sectors is well-known, of course, and for this reason strict regulations are in place with respect to specifically hazardous areas of industrial sites, factories and facilities. These regulations specify different zones within which only certain equipment is certified to be placed, as well as the design requirements for that equipment itself, surveillance cameras included.

In simple terms explosion-protected cameras are enclosed in a heavy-duty housing, usually made from stainless steel or aluminium, which removes the risk of any spark being emitted by the camera that might cause an explosion.

Hazardous environmentAs a result, explosion-protected cameras can be placed in the most hazardous environments. This brings immediate benefits in Health & Safety. By their nature, hazardous areas are those where personnel should spend as little time as possible, if any at all. High-quality images from network surveillance cameras allow remote visual monitoring and verification in forensic detail, allowing operators to assess exactly when intervention by personnel is required, if at all.

But today’s network video cameras are about much more than live visual images. With the increasing use of deep learning, cameras can now detect patterns, trends and anomalies that bring additional benefits in Health & Safety and operational efficiency.

Analytics can detect whether those working in hazardous areas are wearing the appropriate protective clothing, for example, while ‘man down’ analytics will alert operators if a worker has fallen or collapsed and requires assistance.

Detail from cameras can also be enhanced greatly through integration of other sensors. Heat and thermal sensors, for instance, can detect of the temperature of machinery is moving beyond safe thresholds and reduce power automatically or shut it off completely.

Gas sensors can detect leaks and both alert personnel to address the issue, and if cameras detect people in the affected area evacuation messages can be triggered over audio speakers. Similarly, if cameras detect people moving into restricted zones or areas where, for instance, industrial robots are operating, alarms could be triggered and the robots shut down until the area is clear.

The combination of data from cameras – both visual and meta data – along with that from other sensors, can be collated and analyzed in the data center; over time leading to insights that will result in operational efficiencies, safety enhancements and proactive maintenance.

Explosion-proof to help future-proof

Given the need for safety and security is greater in hazardous areas than perhaps anywhere else, it’s ironic that many organizations compromise by not investing in explosion-protected cameras. Placing standard surveillance cameras outside the hazardous zone may result in short-term savings, but clearly reduces the level of detail captured.

As the ‘beyond video’ capabilities of explosion-protected cameras continue to grow, the benefits of their placement within hazardous areas will continue to multiply. These will deliver benefits in safety and security, but also create efficiencies and enhancements in operations that can represent a compelling return on investment.

It’s time to take a closer look at explosion-protected cameras. More detail can be found here, and our white paper can be viewed here.

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