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Industrial and Fixed Gas Detectors: Types and Uses

industrial gas detector

Industrial fixed gas detectors are used to monitor high gas levels and warn workers in the event of a gas leak. They are crucial in many industries including mining, refining, petroleum extraction and manufacturing. 

Fixed gas detectors make it possible to safeguard a facility 24 hours a day. They can be connected to a building management system (BMS) to trigger shut-off valves or to alert emergency personnel.

To help select the right type of industrial gas detector, we've put together this overview of different types, their operating principles, and their strengths and weaknesses. 

With industrial gas detectors both staff and management can have peace of mind to ensure they are protected and that productivity is continually maintained.

What is an Industrial Fixed Gas Detector?

All industrial gas detectors have common components including one or more gas sensors, an enclosure, a link to a power source, and audible or visual alarms. What makes them different from regular gas detectors is:

  • They use an enclosure or case designed to meet industrial specifications. This may be made of steel or hardened polymers. It may include a metal cage to prevent crushing, or pipe fittings to protect internal components..
  • Depending on the gas, the enclosure may be certified for Zone 1 or Zone 2 explosive rating.
  • Power is hard-wired to the detector by an electrician to ensure they are not unplugged by staff.
  • Different outputs may be available including relays, Modbus, BACNet or Ethernet.
  • If the gas level is transmitted to a central control panel or BMS a display is not required.

Because industrial gas detectors are most often regulated as required by code, they can easily help facilities meet inspection criteria while protecting workers.

How does an Industrial Gas Detector work? 

The primary function of an industrial gas detector is to continuously or periodically sample the air in a specific area and alert users if the concentration of a particular gas exceeds a normal or pre-specified threshold. Depending on the sensor installed, industrial gas detectors can be configured to monitor various types of gases.

The most common include:

  1. Toxic Gases: Examples include carbon dioxide (CO2) hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO), ammonia (NH3), chlorine (Cl2), and others.

  2. Flammable Gases: Gases that can ignite and pose a fire hazard, such as methane (CH4), propane (C3H8), and hydrogen (H2).

  3. Oxygen Depletion or Enrichment: Monitoring the gas levels of oxygen (O2) in the air potentially crucial. Too little oxygen can be harmful, while too much can increase the risk of fire.

What is the Difference between a Fixed and Portable Gas Detector?

Fixed gas detectors are used to protect a facility in a single area and act as an early warning indicator of high gas levels or leaks. Portable detectors are designed to protect workers "on-the-go" or for tracing down gas leaks in multiple hazardous areas. 

To learn more about the differences between fixed vs. portable gas detectors, click here.

Types of Industrial Fixed Gas Detectors

Depending on the manufacturer, industrial gas detection systems are based around one or more gas sensors. The type of sensor depends on the gas being measured.

  • Pellistor/Catalytic Bead (CB): Uses catalytic combustion to measure combustible gases at lower explosive levels (LEL) concentrations. This type of century has been used for decades and responds to a full range of flammable gases. Detectors that use this technology typically monitor hydrocarbon gas, hydrogen, or acetylene.
  • Infrared Sensors (NDIR): Measures the absorption of infrared light by the gas to identify its presence. These industrial gas detectors work best for detecting carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon gases, and low-oxygen environments. NDIR sensors are referred to as one of the most accurate and commonly used.
  • Electrochemical Sensors (EC): These sensors utilize a chemical reaction to generate an electrical current proportional to the gas concentration. These sensors work best for detecting trace hazardous gases in the ppm range or in confined spaces that may experience oxygen enrichment or deficiency.

Do You Need a Industrial Fixed Gas Detector?

An industrial fixed gas detector is a device used in factories, labs or any industrial setting to continuously monitor and detect hazardous gases. If a hazardous gas or low oxygen level is sensed, they alert personnel by audible and visual alarms.

Industrial gas detectors typically detect a single gas, such as carbon dioxide, or can also measure oxygen deficient environments. 

Industrial gas detection systems serve several important purposes:

  1. Safety of Personnel: The primary purpose of industrial fixed gas detectors is to ensure the safety of workers. Many gases that are present in industrial environments can be harmful, toxic, or pose a risk of asphyxiation. By continuously monitoring the air for the presence of such gases, these detectors can provide early indication and allow personnel to evacuate or take appropriate measures to protect themselves.

  2. Prevention of Accidents: Industrial processes often involve the use, production, or storage of gases that can be flammable or explosive. Fixed gas detectors help prevent accidents by monitoring the levels of flammable gases and triggering alarms or automatic shutdown systems if concentrations exceed safe limits. This proactive approach can significantly reduce the risk of fires and explosions.

  3. Compliance with Regulations: Many industries are subject to regulations and safety standards that require the monitoring of specific gases. Industrial gas detectors help businesses comply with these regulations and demonstrate a commitment to workplace safety. Non-compliance can result in legal consequences and jeopardize the well-being of employees.

  4. Early Detection of Gas Leaks: Fixed gas detectors are continuously operational and can detect gas leaks promptly. This early detection is crucial for preventing the buildup of dangerous gas concentrations, minimizing the potential for explosions, fires, or other hazardous situations.

  5. Protection of Equipment: Some gases can be corrosive and damaging to equipment. Detecting the presence of these gases early on allows for preventive maintenance and protection of industrial equipment, reducing the likelihood of equipment failure and associated downtime.

  6. 24/7 Monitoring: Fixed gas detectors operate around the clock, providing continuous and accurate monitoring even when personnel are not present. This ensures a constant level of vigilance and allows for the detection of gas hazards at any time, including during non-working hours.

  7. Process Optimization: In addition to safety considerations, fixed gas detectors can contribute to process optimization by providing real-time data on gas concentrations. This information can be used to adjust processes, improve efficiency, and minimize waste.

Pros and Cons of using an Industrial Gas Detector

 Pros:

  • Assure the safety for personnel by providing early detection
  • Easily prevent accidents by triggering alarms or shutdown systems when gases exceed safety limits
  • Instantaneous audible/visual indication should hazardous levels be present
  • Comply with safety regulations and standards, avoiding legal consequences and ensure a safer work environment
  • Real-time data can be used for process optimization, improved efficiency, and minimized waste.

Cons:

  • Routine calibration and testing is required for accurate performance
  • Some gas detectors only last 10 years dependent upon the gas sensor
  • No ability to monitor every hazardous gas in one platform

 

 

What Industries use Industrial Fixed Gas Detectors?

Industrial fixed gas detectors are employed in a wide range of industries where the presence of hazardous gases poses a potential threat to workers, processes, and equipment. Some of the industries that commonly use industrial fixed gas detectors include:

Oil and Gas:

  • Exploration and production facilities
  • Refineries
  • Petrochemical plants

Chemical Manufacturing:

  • Chemical processing plants
  • Specialty chemical manufacturing
Manufacturing:
    • Automotive manufacturing
    • Aerospace manufacturing
    • Electronics manufacturing
    Utilities:
      • Power generation plants (coal, natural gas, nuclear)
      • Water and wastewater treatment facilities

        Mining:

        • Coal mines
        • Metal mines
        • Quarrying operations
        Pharmaceuticals:
        • Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities
        Food and Beverage:
        • Food processing plants
        • Breweries
        • Distilleries

        Laboratories:

        • Research laboratories
        • Analytical laboratories

        Warehousing and Storage:

        • Facilities storing gases or chemicals
        • Cold storage facilities for food
        Healthcare:
        • Hospitals and medical facilities with on-site gas storage or production

        These industries all use fixed gas detectors as a crucial component of their safety protocols to protect personnel, assets, and the environment.

        Is a Fixed Gas Detection System Necessary?

        Fixed gas detection safety systems are often required to protect facilities by code compliance. For example, here are the NFPA, NBIC and IFC codes for stored CO2 gas.

        Here are some additional industrial applications where a fixed gas detector would be necessary:

        • Industrial Facilities: Industries like chemical plants, refineries, manufacturing facilities, and power plants often deal with hazardous gases as part of their operations. A fixed gas detection system can continuously monitor the air for the presence of these gases and alert personnel to any leaks or releases, allowing for swift response and mitigation measures.
        • Confined Spaces: Enclosed or confined spaces such as storage tanks, sewers, tunnels, and silos can accumulate dangerous gases, posing a significant risk to workers entering these areas. Fixed gas detection systems can provide continuous monitoring to ensure the safety of personnel working in or around such spaces.
        • Laboratories: Laboratories working with hazardous chemicals or gases must maintain a safe working environment for researchers and staff. Fixed gas detection systems can help prevent accidents by detecting leaks or abnormal gas concentrations before they reach dangerous levels.
        • Commercial Buildings: Large commercial buildings, such as shopping malls, office complexes, and hotels, may use fixed gas detection systems to monitor for the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) or natural gas leaks, which can result from faulty heating systems, appliances, or gas lines.
        • Hospitals: In medical facilities, gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and nitrous oxide are commonly used. Proper monitoring of these gases is crucial to prevent potential hazards to patients and staff.
        • Waste Treatment Facilities: Waste treatment plants, including sewage treatment facilities and landfills, can produce hazardous gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide as byproducts of decomposition. Monitoring these gases is essential for worker safety and environmental protection.

        In all of these applications, a fixed gas detection safety system provides an early warning of gas leaks or abnormal concentrations, allowing for quick evacuation, containment, or other safety procedures to be implemented.

        Overall, the necessity of such a system depends on the risks present in a given environment and the regulatory requirements applicable to that industry or facility.

        CO2 or Oxygen Industrial Gas Detectors

        While it would seem obvious to use an oxygen level gas detector to insure worker safety, the problem is that many gases are lethal even when the oxygen level is safe to breath.

        Many commonly believe fresh air is made up of 100% oxygen. In fact, air is primarily made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and the rest as trace gases. Any oxygen level between 19.5% and 20.9% oxygen by volume is considered safe to breath by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

        You may remember the movie Apollo 13, where the astronauts were in danger of carbon dioxide poisoning. You can watch the clip here. The problem wasn't too little oxygen, but too much CO2 in the air.

        The same thing happens with carbon monoxide. This poisonous gas can kill you long before a low-oxygen sensor would even alarm. The same goes for radon, a poisonous gas that can cause breathing problems with long-term exposure.

        For this reason, oxygen level gas detectors are best used in areas where gases like nitrogen or inert gases are stored or produced.

        How to Choose an Industrial Gas Detector?

        Selecting the correct device for your application is critical. Utilizing the incorrect device is as dangerous as not having a device at all.

        Often the application or use case will dictate the type of device you should select. If employees on your team risk exposure to a known gas a single gas detector is the preferred solution. The following factors will determine which gas detection solution is most appropriate for application

        Environment

        Where is the gas or a potential leak coming from? Think bulk tanks keg coolers bib racks grow rooms, laboratories, bio incubators, welding stations, boilers combustion sources, or overhead gas pipelines.

        Know your space

        Indoor or outdoor? Size of facility? Will the device be in an aggressive, humid environment or need to withstand high temperatures? Will seasonal changes affect the device? What is the size of the space in cubic and square footage? Note that sensors have a specific coverage area.

        Capabilities and ease of use

        Single or multi gas? Custom configurable settings or alarms? Relays or other outputs? Audible or visible indicators? Data logging or real time analysis?

        Overall, industrial fixed gas detectors are instrumental in creating a safe work environment, preventing accidents, and ensuring compliance with current safety code regulations. The benefits extend to both the well-being of personnel and the protection of assets and equipment in various industrial settings.

        For more information on gas detection and to better assist you in choosing the right gas detector, one of our gas detection experts would be happy to walk through some common questions to better select the right device that fits your individual needs and environmental requirements. For more information contact us today.


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