Mobile PC for hazardous environments

The advent of mobile computing devices has added a new level of complexity to warehouses.

KEEPING workers safe in hazardous environments may not be a new concept, but the advent of mobile computing devices has added a new level of complexity to warehouse and logistics organisations who store or transport potentially harmful goods.

Chances cannot be taken when it comes to worker safety. However that does not mean businesses should give up mobile computers and the accuracy and time saving benefits the technology provides.

Sealed and safe computers have an increasingly important role in the industrial workplace. Because of growing safety, security, regulatory and reporting requirements, warehouse and logistics organisations are implementing more sophisticated systems to monitor and manage a variety of work environments.

Mobile computers can be important components of these systems because they provide the ability to automatically collect and communicate data from remote and challenging environments regularly encountered by logistics companies.

However, confusion over regulations and certifications has led some companies to incorrectly conclude they can’t use mobile computers where combustible gases and liquids are present.

Clarification of the problem

Much of the confusion centres on the terms ‘intrinsically safe (I-safe)’ and ‘non-incendive’ which have different meanings.

Non-incendive designation means the device does not generate sparks and is incapable of igniting gases, vapours or liquids under normal operation. Non-incendive devices are not necessarily sealed against gases, vapours or liquids.

According to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) non-incendive devices are, “a concept in which any arc or thermal effect produced under intended operating conditions of the equipment is not capable, under specified test conditions, of igniting the flammable gas-air mixture”.

Intrinsically safe (I-safe) indicates a higher level of safety and protection. Devices designated as I-safe will not spark or cause ignition of an explosive environment. The IEC defines I-safe devices as “not capable of causing ignition of a given explosive gas atmosphere.”

Warehouse and logistics organisations should also be aware and understand the relevant Ingress Protection (IP) ratings of the devices they may use within their business. IP ratings primarily apply to device enclosures and are defined by IEC standards.

IP ratings are measures of how well a device is protected or sealed against water, moisture, dust, powder and other substances, which are designated by various letter and number codes. Ratings are typically expressed by the letters ‘IP’ followed by two numbers.

The first number indicates the level the device is protected against particles, and the second digit is the protection against water.

For example a mobile computer rated IP54 has level five particle protection, which means dust deposits may form on the unit but will not effect performance, and level four water protection, which means the device can function when splashed.

For companies who handle potentially dangerous goods, I-safe and non-incendive standards apply to all equipment that can create one or more of a range of defined potential explosion sources including: electrical sparks, flames, hot surfaces, static electricity, electromagnetic radiation, mechanical impact, acoustic energy, and ionizing radiation.

I-safe mobile computing devices are ideal for applications in areas where workers handle unstable or dangerous goods such as employees loading and unloading fuel at service/petrol stations, monitoring gas flow and instrumentation on a gas pipeline and managing inventory of fuel products in a warehouse.

I-safe devices can be used in non-incendive environments, but the reverse is not true. Therefore I-safe devices not only provide more protection, they provide flexibility, because they can be used in more places. I-safe mobile computers are also a good choice for future-proofing warehouse and logistics operations and systems because they can be used in potentially hazardous environments without having to be replaced should conditions change.

A solution

In response to the growing recognition that I-Safe mobile computing devices are essential in delivering accurate cost and time saving benefits in potentially hazardous environments Intermec has developed a safe rugged handheld computer.

The CK32IS meets all requirements for flammable gases, vapours, liquids, plus for dust, fibres and flyings. It has been IECEx certified and ATEX-certified for use in Zone 0 (gases) and Zone 20 (dusts and fibres) environments.

The CK32IS also carry’s an extensive list of global hazardous environmental ratings, including ATEX, IECEx at launch, UL shortly thereafter, so it can be deployed by warehouse and logistics companies anywhere in the world.

It allows petrol tank drivers, plant repair engineers and forklift drivers/warehouse workers whose day to day jobs involves handling potentially hazardous goods, the ability to access to a computer host via the Internet, send and receive emails related to their role and apply SAP or inventory systems.

By taking a systematic approach to managing mobile computers and wireless networks, and understanding safety certifications, warehouse and logistics organisations will be able to specify products with the right level of safety for each area within their enterprise.

The results of this approach will be a lower total cost of ownership, simplified device management and support, and a safer, more productive work environment.

Intermec Technologies 1300 304 468.

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